Tuesday 8 March 2011


My parents rented the top cottage on Nether Hazelfield in 1965, when I was ten, and from that time I've always seen Auchencairn as home. Although my parents bought a house in Kirkcudbright in 1969, I returned to Auchencairn in 1977 to set up a pottery in the old mill. That business lasted until 1981, when Mrs Thatcher had her first recession and eight of the thirteen potteries in Dumfries and Galloway ceased trading, including mine. In 1982 I went away to University, and after graduating, worked as an academic in Artificial Intelligence for three years before becoming chairman of a spin-out company, attempting to market the products of our research. That company traded successfully until the recession of 1991, when it was wound up, and I returned to Auchencairn.

I've been here ever since. This is my home.

If I'm to stay here now, however, I need a home I can afford; and house prices in the village itself have become very silly, as more and more houses have become second homes or retirement homes for people who have not had to earn their living in Galloway's labour market. Consequently the Standingstone proposal has seemed to me a risk worth taking - it seems to be my best chance of staying in the valley. I appreciate that it is a risk.

If I'm to have a house here, it has to be small, cheap and simple. It has to be simple because I cannot afford to pay someone else to build it. It has to be cheap not only to build, but also to run, because the years in which I can continue to earn my living are limited. And, because it's a house to grow old in, it has to be durable enough not to need much maintenance in the next thirty years. All these things do not mean, however, that it shouldn't be well designed. On the contrary, each of them means that it should be well, and thoughtfully, designed. Building a house is something I'm almost certainly only ever going to do once; I want to get it right.

What I want is a house which vanishes into the landscape - one which, when natural planting has grown up around it for three or four years, a stranger can pass within fifty metres of and not know it's there. I want a house which is naturally warm, which doesn't take a lot of energy to heat. I want a house which is graceful and sculptural. I believe that this can all be done. More than that, I believe I can do it. I acknowledge that what I want isn't 'traditional' or 'vernacular' in Galloway, but it is nevertheless a designed repsonse to Galloway's particular geography and climate - and to my budget and needs.

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The fool on the hill by Simon Brooke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License