My wife, Shelley and I live on a medium sized estate in Perthshire with our 2 dogs and 4 horses. We are basically very happy. Our cottage that we rent is high on a hill, remote, and has glorious views. Our dogs are purely domestic and our horses live outdoors all year round in a field about a mile away, along the Cataran Trail. Their field is beautiful, commanding breath-taking views from a high hill looking down Strathardle Glen all the way to the Cairngorms. The hill sweeps down to the flat plain of the wide glen and gives them around 11 acres to run and play and graze. It is an idyllic life for all of us. We love our animals more than anything and their safety and well-being is everything to us. They are our family, and god-willing, they will be with us for all of their lives.
We love Pitcarmick, and our landlords, Sir Michael and Lady Sally Nairn, are the kindest and friendliest of people. I’m uncertain about Shelley but I could happily be here to the end of my days without further change in my life. However, there are seemingly small factors, indicating that a further change and yet another chapter may be part of our destiny.
Firstly, we were informed a couple of years ago by our landlords that it is their plan to increase the rent each year by 5% in line with annual inflation. We were kindly spared this increase in the first year but now pay more, and, undoubtedly will continue to do so. I think there will come a point when the rent will become either unreasonable or unmanageable and it is at this point we may have to explore other option for all of us. We will of course stay together but a move may become imminent and unavoidable.
It is hard to imagine how we will find anywhere suitable for such a family that includes 2 dogs and 4 horses. I have to say that I, and we, since we have been married, have always landed on our feet. Meaning every time we have had to move, we have always found somewhere better than before.
I think there is a lot to be said for a life rooted in love and care and service, and an attitude of custodianship and gratitude for what we have. This is very much how I feel on a daily basis. I observe the beauty all around me, the wonderful feeling of being trusted and loved by our horses and each other, and the feeling that the love and care we give is, in itself a sublime reward. I try to take nothing for granted, or make assumptions or expect anything in return for what I do. Some days I fell so overwhelmed with a deep and profound sense of love for my life and those I share it with, that it almost becomes ecstatically painful and I well-up with emotion.
If there is anything I really want, it is a long life, so that I can see my horses through to the end, to see them over the “rainbow bridge”.
But for now, I think there may be another chapter to come. Another life change. No matter how fortunate our track record of change has been, it is always peppered with uncertainty, and I have to make a conscious effort to stop myself from worrying. However, if a change is inevitable then I accept it willingly and actually get quite excited at the prospect of “moving on”. I don’t even mind the idea of leaving everything behind that is familiar. I think I have always liked change and even now in the Autumn of my life I still welcome it and look forward to a new and fresh beginning with my family.
We do not have much in the way of money. I live on a state pension and Shelley on change that she earns from teaching horsemanship. Approaching old-age without much in the way of supporting finances would be a grim prospect for most, but for me it is not an issue per se. We have enough for what we need, and that is all that matters. However, when I think about Shelley and the horses, there is a long way to go, and I would really like to find them something permanent. A home that is ours. That no one can turn us out of. A home that doesn’t have restrictions or require permission to go where we choose, to grow what we like, to build what we need and to help other horses if the need arises.
I have a sceptical view of the culture of “ownership” when it comes to land. In truth, I feel that land is the birthright of every human being and some method of free distribution could be in place that would increase people’s choices as to how they live their lives. I don’t want to get into this subject here because it’s huge but suffice to say that whilst the kind of life freedom I am talking about for us would invoke the idea of us “owning” land, I think there is a possibility of custodianship. I mean finding some land somewhere that requires long-term care and us becoming caretakers. This may seem remote and far-fetched. Unlikely in the normal course of events. But Shelley and I had a small taste of this very thing.
Soon after we were married, we decided to travel to Scotland, back home for me, but new ground for my new wife. We packed up all our belongings, everything we had, into a second-hand Volkswagen Estate – packed to the gunnels it was – and off we went, on the road. It felt wonderful, never knowing where we would be from one day to the next, always surrounded by awesome beauty, camping and living on our senses and wits.
Some months into our travels we had the opportunity to visit Mull, a person I knew vaguely from Findhorn was living there and we were “guided” to visit her. It was a long way. The drive to Oban, the ferry to Mull, then the drive the whole way across Mull to Fionnphort where the ferry makes the short crossing to the sacred island of Iona. Just before the village we took a sharp left and drove 5 miles down a narrow beaten road through dunes and shore grass, all the way to Knockvologan at the end of the road. There stood a house, a very ordinary modern house with a huge barn next to it. Beyond that a rocky road down to the beach where you could walk across to the tiny island of Erraid when the tide was out.
Carol came out to greet us, asked us in, showed us round the house and offered us a bedroom saying, use this, stay for a couple of weeks and see how you like it, then stay on if you want. This we never expected. We were thrilled actually. We ended up staying in this amazingly beautiful place on the farthest western tip of Mull where the sea water is warm and crystal clear, for almost a year. We tended garden, a system of lazy beds prepared with home-made compost, cardboard and seaweed. Tons of seaweed we gathered from the shore using an ATV and trailer. That was hard work. Under Carol’s guidance we helped her grow the most astounding vegetables which we virtually lived on. With one delivery every month from Highland Wholefoods, which included a few things we couldn’t make ourselves, plus cheese and butter, salt and pepper, some bread etc. We gathered enormous field mushrooms which grew on the rich grass covered cliffs overlooking the sea, our days and the work we contributed in this heaven on Earth were sheer joy and pleasure.
Personally, I never wanted to leave. We visited Erraid – a Findhorn Foundation colony – frequently. In the mornings we would walk the house dog – Blue – down to the beach and sit on the rocks and watch the seals gather in a semi-circle around us, curious, watching us and bobbing in the turbulent tide. Some days we would walk across Tireragan to Traigh Gheal Beach, a two and half hour trek across difficult terrain, heather and brush and a stoney path. But the journey was worth it. The beach was breathtaking. Walking down between two hills on the narrow path the beach opened up to us, a vast expanse of pure flat sand with distant rocks and cliffs and a deep blue sea. You could tell not a soul had been here for a long time. The walk was the only access unless you had a boat. We saw a mink scurry silently to the rocks at our sudden intrusion. It was hot, as if we had reached some remote tropical island. It was like living a dream!
I did some hard work over the months I was there, digging drainage ditches along the track on Tireragen to reduce the flooding during heavy rainfalls. Tireragen is a nature reserve placed into a 35 year Trust by a Dutch family in order to allow the natural flora and fauna to regenerate. Carol, Shelley and I lived in the house on the edge of the reserve, also owned by the Dutch, where we acted as caretakers for this land, and guides to the occasional tourists who ventured this far to see the place.
Apart from Blue, the faithful house sheep dog, who would jump up and try and bite your nose if you stood right over looking down at him, there were geese that laid there eggs everywhere and a ferrell cat that lived in the barn and kept the mice population down. She was not particularly taken by people “petting” her. She would scratch or bite and stroll away. But I did get really close to her after a while, and could pick her up, and she would rub her face hard against my unshaven stubble whilst she purred loudly. I felt honoured indeed to be accepted by such a slumdog princess!
All of this is another story and I digress greatly from the true purpose of this article. Which in essence, is to say that should we have to move again I would hope that, wherever we find ourselves, that it might be a permanent solution, where we, Shelley the horses and doggies, can live out our days in relative freedom and security of tenure as custodians of somewhere remote, here in Scotland, that requires a little manageable care. If we win the lottery then we would have a lot more choice of course, but I would not advise anyone to rely on that and wait for it, so I will not do that myself.
To be continued…