Epic road trip of discovery

Island intro.

Once the Covid-19 travel restrictions were finally lifted, it was time for a road trip north to see the building for the very first time. This was a pretty significant breakthrough. I was excited, but equally not fully sure of what to expect having never been there before. This would be a whole series of firsts for me.

it’s a long way bottom to top
it’s a long way bottom to top

It was a good 700+ miles drive to the ferry port at Uig on the Isle of Skye. From here it was a short 1.5-hour ferry crossing to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. Then it was a further 58-mile drive north up to the top of the Isle of Lewis to Ness. The adventure begins with just getting there!

As I was unsure of exactly when I would eventually arrive, I had allowed a small contingency time-wise before meeting the person with the keys to the building. One of the many advantages of having a campervan was that I could get some rest before finally getting to the building the next morning.

Finally…

I had no problem waking up bright and early in the morning. Today was the day I finally got to view the building. On the journey up from Tarbert to Ness, I was surprised by just how varied the landscape and scenery were over a relatively small distance travelled.

I had crossed over mountains, driven through areas perforated by lochs, and on the final leg of the journey, it was across wild moorland. It was all beginning to feel fairly bleak at this point. The weather added to the gloominess, the sky was dark and brooding, and of course, it was raining.

To be fair, it was late autumn, I was on an Island in the North Atlantic off the west coast of Scotland, what else did I expect?

Mission Hall entrance via the front lobby
Mission Hall entrance via the front lobby

The person I met was actually from the Church who I wanted to buy the building from. So it was nice to get a little more context about the building from him. It seemed like the building had been unused for 10-15 years now. Local churchgoers were happy to meet more centrally in the main, larger church in the village of Cross, Ness just up the road now.

I guess this building had served its purpose at the time, but was no longer required. He wasn’t exactly sure how long it had been built, but it was there as long as he could remember, and he had lived there all his life.

small entrance lobby space
small entrance lobby space

As a guided tour, this would not take long. There was the front entrance lobby, then there was the main hall area. That was it. Not a lot to take photographs of or write home about. However, being inside the actual spaces helped me visualise some of the ideas I had been toying with before visiting the building.

One of my main objectives for the visit was to get some key measurements of the spaces, especially floor-to-ceiling heights. So I drew a quick sketch and proceeded to take all the dimensions I would need to start drawing up some scale plans to see if the ideas in my head were feasible, and might indeed work or not.

the Mission hall main interior with its church pews
the Mission Hall’s main interior with its church pews

Service, not include

The building had no basic services like mains water or drainage as such. However, there were some existing electrics in place. Hopefully, this was a good thing, and maybe reconnection to the mains would be reasonably straightforward. They’d need testing and checking initially, but it would need a full re-wire anyway moving forward.

no idea on their condition, but some existing electrics in place
no idea about their condition, but some existing electrics are in place

I also wanted to carry out a basic visual building survey. Structurally the building seemed in pretty good condition. The floor was a bit ‘spongy’ in one corner. The joists would need looking at. Factor in a potential new floor then.

The wooden window frames were all shot. It was surprising that the glass was still in place, to be honest! Factor in five new windows. The potential building refurbishment costs soon start mounting up pretty quickly!

yes, it comes with its own little bus shelter
yes, it comes with its own little bus shelter

As a basic shell of a building, I thought it was in surprisingly decent condition. Plus of course, it came with its very own bus shelter. What more could you want? It had what you might say in estate agency parlance ‘potential’ – lots of potential!

Whilst I’m here

Having seen the building in the flesh for the very first time, I now had some big decisions to make. Is this the one to go for? It wasn’t too late to withdraw my offer. Should I just jump back on the ferry and drive away as quickly as possible? I had come a long way just to see the building. It seemed a bit crazy to turn tail and head back without looking at other areas of the Western Isles.

The Isle of Lewis and Harris
The Isle of Lewis and Harris

So this initial visit turned into 2,300+ miles, 13 islands and 6 ferry road trip mini-exploration of the Outer Hebrides. I figured, if I’d come up all this way, I might as well see what the rest of the islands were like.

Traditional ’Blackhouse’ buildings at Gearrannan on Isle of Lewis
Traditional ’Blackhouse’ buildings at Gearrannan on the Isle of Lewis

The islands did not disappoint. There are six main islands – Lewis, Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra. Technically Lewis/Harris are on the same landmass, they are not quite separate islands as such, so go figure that one.

The Outer Hebrides is famous for its stunningly beautiful beaches
The Outer Hebrides is famous for its stunningly beautiful beaches

I travelled from the Butt of Lewis at the top right down to the tiny islands of Barra and Vatersey at the bottom. It gave me time to get an overall flavour of the islands, whilst also mulling over whether or not I should proceed with the purchase or not.

Potential or reality?

As a project, this building will push me well beyond and outside of my comfort zone. Equally, it’s a really exciting design project opportunity that goes beyond the limitations of print and pixels into being a physical entity you can live and work in. I have never taken on or tackled such a project. There is no safety net. I’m the client on this one, so I would have no excuses.

panoramic views and golden hour cloudscapes at the beach
panoramic views and golden hour cloudscapes at the beach

After an incredible few weeks exploring the various Islands, I went back to the Mission Hall for one last look before I headed back home. Whilst looking around outside the building again, I thought I would quickly say hello to a potential next-door neighbour just to be polite and introduce myself.

After we had chatted about things for a couple of minutes, out of the blue, she gave me a fruit cake she had just baked for my road trip ahead. If that’s not a deal clincher right there, I don’t know what is!

fruit cake you say, that’s what I call a friendly neighbour!
fruit cake you say, that’s what I call a friendly neighbour!

Life’s too short to regret the things you didn’t do, so let’s see how this works out, shall we?

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