ouis, the 18th century crofter with an eye for a great view – don’t ask, ‘who’s Louis?’, we don’t know. Even the lyrical locals round these parts can’t shed light on the identity of Croit na Louis’s original owner; though we’ve all been tempted to invent a romantic backstory over the years. But, whoever he was, he clearly knew enough to build his 18th century Black House in the lee of two hills, shelter it from the tantrummy Atlantic’s wildest excesses – north or west – and incorporate some fabulous views into the bargain.
In fact, just about the only things he hadn’t thought of were a surfaced road and how to manage the midges. The latter are as ravenous as ever several centuries down the line, and transforming a cart track into a useable road was number one on our to-do list.
Call it fate, luck or just the Ice Age, but not only were we able to clear huge rocky outcrops without blasting – sigh of relief all round on that one – we also ended up with masses of Torridon sandstone: perfect for building a road to Roto’s fields (as promised) and for access to the croft site – we were still a long way from thinking of it as home at this point.
That’s not to say we weren’t full of ideas and impatient to get started. And that was our first mistake. Or let’s be kind, call it a bit of a misstep caused by the daunting prospect of trying to get planning permission in a designated area of ‘outstanding scenic beauty’.
As it turned out Highland Council were happy to greenlight our simple, T-shaped, larch-clad house design. It wasn’t particularly bold or original, nothing about it stood out and it sat easily enough on the original Louis Croft site. All good news, apart from the fact that we didn’t really want safe and samey: to come all the way to the back of beyond, find a spectacular location and build the safest of houses just didn’t feel right.
Fortunately, while we were pondering the compromise or quit conundrum, fate stepped in and saved the day in the form of a chance encounter with one of Scotland’s most exciting architects; brought about by the serendipitous pairing of Stornoway Black Pudding and Strathearn flooring, via a cottage on Harris and a 2008 episode of Grand Designs.