Updated: Apr 20
I can’t tell you how delighted and excited I am to be back on Tiree, in my gorgeous house, baking in my made-for-baking kitchen, working in my fabulous shop; surrounded by old friends and familiar faces and customers and first time visitors asking questions. Tiree, right now, is exhilarating and breath-taking and full of promise. Even when rain is falling from the heavens like a waterfall, just as it is now and has been for days. It’s beautiful. All of it. Every last damp blade of grass, wind-battered patio and soggy wet sheep. Stunning. And before you ask, there’s been no Buckie in this house. Today or any other day. No, sir. I’m high the on the euphoria of health and happiness. Plain and simple.
The sky was mostly clear and the sea calm. It hadn’t been warm but it was dry, blue and bright. It had been like that on Tiree for the entire week leading up to my leaving Edinburgh two weeks ago. Consequently, I’ve only brought bright clothing, shorts and flipflops to last me through to November. That’s the kind of delusional optimist I am and I don’t mind admitting it. And it’s why I find it so difficult recollecting much of 2021. It has become a blur and part of me is happy to keep it that way.
Exactly this time a year ago, I was preparing to open on a date determined by our government which, exactly a year ago, wasn’t very clear. With three weeks’ notice, that date turned out to be 1st May and set the ball rolling for what became my most difficult year to date. And I do mean in my entire life. Most people assumed it was the recovery year because that’s what it was hailed as, but in fact it became about survival of the fittest. No one had any staff; stock took forever to source and deliver; we had so much debt to recover; we were all burning out; and we had no option but to put the hours in if our businesses were to see this last hellish bit through.
Exactly a year before that, I was spiralling downwards at a rate of knots, together with 1,000s of other businesses, desperately trying to stay upbeat and find the elusive something that would allow my business to survive. Thankfully, I found it in Baking by Mail. And because we – many of us – survived that first year, we thought we were better prepared for the second but we weren’t. Nothing could have prepared us for that.
The contrast between this year and last is almost palpable. It’s the first paragraph vs the third. I’m casting 2020 and 2021 to the wind and getting on with it. The here-and-now is where it’s at.
Right here and right now, I live on Tiree. I’ll be living here until November, after which I’ll revert to Edinburgh until March. If anyone asks ‘do you live here?’, as they did so frequently last year, that’s the answer they’ll get. “Yes,” I’ll say, “I live here, in my beautiful house in Scarinish.”
Some predict we’ll get busier and busier as we continue to rediscover and appreciate what’s on our own doorstep. This could be true. It’s what we did last year and the year before that, but I’m inclined to think that two years from now the great majority of us will rediscover why we spend and crave holidays abroad. Ergo, whilst tourism in Scotland may well continue to grow as was predicted pre-pandemic, I think it doubtful that it’ll sustain the same level of home-hysteria we’ve witnessed of late.
This will please residents in rural areas who, for two summers now, have suffered the indignity of being forced to watch the sudden and wholly unprepared-for blight of their beloved landscape thanks to a stampede of campers, day trippers and revellers who had no idea how to behave outdoors because it was all new to them. It was as though bins, toilets, disposable BBQs and designated paths were entirely new concepts that many struggled to comprehend. Litter and tents were abandoned after use, people peed where they stood and dying embers threatened to start wild fires everywhere. These were the Brits-abroad no longer able to be, and thus were merely behaving as they would in what we all must now surely concede to be the shamefully and shockingly under-appreciated, overwhelmed and beleaguered countries of the Mediterranean and beyond that have been cleaning up after us since the ‘70s. However qualified their staff may or may not be, they don’t get paid enough.
Thank goodness we are a small island able to limit the threat of a similar onslaught due to an infrastructure that prevents over-population, but we are not without our issues; accommodation – or lack of – being one of the more serious. I hesitate to join the political arena on this but it’s difficult not to sympathise with the new-build absent home owner when it comes to the holiday-home debate, be it here on Tiree or further afield. The raft of recently built high-end Holiday Lets on Tiree by those who don't live here are an easy target; they sit on the tip of an in-plain-sight iceberg of holiday/second/part-time/absent/present/brand-spanking-new home owners currently occupying a slice of the Tiree housing market, each of whom impacts the issue in some small way. The spotlight is frequently turned on ‘empty properties’ over winter which are too readily and unfairly attributed to absent holiday-home owners accused of having no real care for Tiree but have recognised an opportunity to exploit it.
And so, as a demonstration of the many varieties of holiday-home out there, here’s my wee list of arachnoid scenarios, most or all of which you may be only too familiar with elsewhere too. They are made-up examples of common situations and if you recognise yourself, it’s not you – at best it’s an entirely imaginary version of you:
The Inheritor on the island
Let’s call him Dougald because I don’t know anyone called Dougald on Tiree. Dougald hails from and lives on the island. At one time the islands were filled with relatives and this has only significantly changed over the past thirty years or so. Dougald’s family goes back generations, stretching to great uncles and aunts and second cousins three times removed, etc., etc. Dougald inherited his house from a relative. As the last living immediate family member, Dougald has inherited three or four houses in this way. One is used by relatives on his wife's side on the mainland who visit Tiree three or four times a year. Another is rented out long-term and a third, rented out seasonally as a holiday-let. The fourth is in a state of disrepair and has been passed to another distant relative who can’t afford to renovate it at this stage. Three of the four houses are empty over winter.
The Inheritor off the island
Let’s call her Sheba because I don’t know anyone called Sheba on Tiree. Sheba moved to Glasgow from the family home twenty years ago, returning several times a year to visit her parents and friends. Sheba remained in Glasgow but consequently inherited the four-bed family house, which she now rents out as a holiday-let, also using it herself twice a year. The house is mostly empty over winter.
The Inheritor Hoping to Return to the island
Let’s call her Maggie. because I don't know anyone called Maggie on Tiree. Maggie was born and raised in the city but had strong family ties to Tiree. Maggie inherited the house from a family member but was settled in the city at the time and not ready to contemplate a return to Tiree, however she was keen to keep a foothold on the island and so had no intention of selling. The house, in need of cosmetic repairs and still with contents intact (there was no reason to remove them) fell into disrepair and over the years holidaymakers would remark on its state and what a shame it was that it lay abandoned when there was so much demand for housing. Curious visitors, on finding the worn front door easy to open, traipsed through it taking photos and posting them on social media. Who would abandon such a beautiful house and why wasn’t it for sale?? Well, not that it’s any of your business but twenty years after inheriting it, Maggie found the means to renovate the house and moved back to the island. The house is now lived in all year round. *note: there are lots of properties throughout the Hebrides that fall into this category. They are not abandoned*
The Part-time Islander
Let’s call them Lexi and Seonaidh because I don’t know anyone called Lexi and Seonaidh on Tiree. They have lived and worked on Tiree all their lives. They have family ties on the island that go back several generations. They don’t rent any property out but they have an apartment on the mainland to which they decant from November until March. Their house on Tiree is empty over winter.
The Owner who used to live on the island but has since left
Let’s call him Peter because I don’t know anyone called Peter on Tiree. Peter moved to Tiree with his family on a whim some fifteen years ago. They wanted to escape the rat race, and so gathered up their things in a hankie on a stick and made for Tiree, leaving behind in the city a house they still owned and began renting out. It was a land of plenty and since they had plenty at the time, they used a chunk of it to buy a house on the island. After a few years it was clear that Tiree was not for them, so they returned to their house on the mainland. They now rent out their Tiree house as a holiday-let, occasionally returning. The house lies empty over winter.
The Resident with no family link who has two houses on the island
Let’s call her Jessica because I don’t know anyone called Jessica on Tiree. Jessica moved up to work many moons ago, bought a house and stayed. Another property came up for sale and she bought that too, taking time and care to renovate it over several years. Now retired, she lives in one property and rents out the other as a holiday-let. The holiday-let is empty over winter.
The Part-time Resident with no family link to the island
Let’s call her Kate, because that’s my name. Kate lives and works on the island from late March until the end of October. She’s had links to Tiree for more than forty years. She transfers to Edinburgh from November until March. Although Kate visits periodically during winter months, her house is largely empty over winter.
The retired home-owners
Let’s call them Bessie and Bobby because I don’t know anyone called Bessie and Bobby on Tiree. Bessie and Bobbie don’t live on the island permanently but have a house which they occupy from April until August. They don’t rent the house out but it is used frequently by friends and family. They are now the fourth generation of the same family to own and occupy the house. The house is empty over winter.
The Second-Home owner in a Re-build
Let’s call him Bertie because I don’t know anyone called Bertie on Tiree. Bertie has holidayed on Tiree since he was a child and longed to buy a house but nothing suitable was coming up for sale. Eventually Bertie settled for a house in a bad state of repair, which he demolished and had rebuilt to the highest standard, using local building contractors. Bertie rents the house out as a holiday-let and his own family also use it. They frequently visit over winter, sometimes staying for up to three weeks at a time. The house is seldom empty over winter.
The Second-home owner in a New build
Let’s call her Margarita because I don’t know anyone called Margarita on Tiree but she sounds delicious. Margarita has holidayed on Tiree a few times and adores it. She has no link to Tiree other than as a visitor. Keen to buy a suitable property, Margarita finally manages to secure a plot of land upon which to build a beautiful high-end home that attracts a lot of interest from first-time visitors as well as regulars to Tiree. Margarita and her extended family use the property and it is also rented out at a premium rate throughout summer. A local resident occupies the house over winter. The house is seldom empty.
Quite a lot of variations, wouldn’t you say? The most innocuous of all being the New Build holiday let. And this doesn’t include the rise of Pods, a few of which are now dotted around the island. We are a wonderful, varied, interesting demographic. Its diversity is part of what makes Tiree so special.
Many properties are already let out for the entire season this year, which looks set to run from now until November, and I for one am excited to be welcoming friends to the island who have never been before. There were lots of first-timers last year, many of whom promised to return, and this year looks set to follow a similar vein. Tiree is a long, long way from exhausting its resources and remains one of the most beautiful and least-known destinations in the western isles. We still get to enjoy the solitude of the majority of its beaches, even in high summer. Our idea of a traffic jam is not being able to get past a slow-driving solitary car on our way to work, or a group of cyclists. Big deal. Slow down. Stop. Make allowances. I’m reminded of the time quite recently when I gave a lift to someone from Tiree to their Edinburgh home and spent two hours reaching the outskirts of the city and then a further three crawling through two miles of traffic to their house. Tiree is pretty darn lucky.
Whatever happens this year, I’m loving it. And I won’t let the sun go down. It’s going to shine and shine and shine all the way through to October. Just watch me. I’m one of those truly irritating individuals who is in her element being happy. I could be doing anything. I could be doing nothing. I have the means to do either. I choose to do this; working and baking for Yellow Hare, meeting and chatting and wrapping and pouring, because I love it. Bring it on!