Could we have found what we’re looking for…?
Iwrite this with deep unease but it looks as if we might have found The One. After months of looking for a plot of land on which to build a kit house, it seems possible that we have found one that could suit us down to the ground and back again.
I was noodling on the internet one night last week when I turned up this plot on the website of an estate agency in the Scottish Borders. I must have logged on to that site 30 times this year, but this was the first time anything had appeared which might meet all our needs.
About 25 miles south of Edinburgh, two south-facing plots of about half an acre were each on offer for more than £95,000. Situated on a hillside not far from a main road, they seemed to command a glorious view down a valley into rolling Borders hills (how do you write these descriptions without sounding like an estate agent?)
From what I could see on the Ordnance Survey map, a small spread of farm buildings stood 150 yards along the lane but, otherwise, the nearest house seemed to be about a quarter of a mile away. Footpaths dotted the hills and valleys around the plot and the remains of a Roman road ran nearby. A village with a primary school, pub and post office was a mile distant. Perfect.
Having lived in the countryside for more than half my life, I have picked up two secure rules for assessing a rural property. The first is that you shouldn’t need to put the dog in the car if you want to go for a walk (meaning that you should be able to step straight off your land into authentic outdoors). The second is that the house itself should be in deep countryside but also near a village, near a town and near a city.
Near a village means being close enough to bicycle to the post office in about five minutes. Near a town means being able to nip to the grocer’s shop in a car in 10 minutes; and near a city means being able to be seated in a great restaurant or listening to an internationally renowned orchestra within 45 minutes.
On the face of the agent’s details, this plot matched up to every one of those criteria.
Next day, on a morning when the hills were honeyed with early autumn sunshine, I sped down to the Borders. The lane alongside the land was too narrow to get out of the car and peer over the hedge but it was obvious that a house on that hillside would have rapturous views, especially if its living rooms were on the upper floor.
From the end of the lane, you could see the roofs of the houses in the nearby village so it would seem see that our little girls could safely walk or bicycle to school. On a high hill above the land stands a rugged, Victorian Gothic church where I imagined that our girls might be married and I might be buried.
Last Saturday — as have every weekend for months — we loaded our children into the car for yet another day of plot-searching. This time, however, I felt confident that their weekend was being marred for a good reason.
It was raining when we got to the plot. We found the farmer who is selling the land sitting in his pick-up with a damp Border collie in the footwell. My wife and I took it in turns to wriggle between the strands of fence wire and walk the land. I was scrutinising her face as she walked back towards the car under her umbrella and I could see the breadth of her smile.
“Very promising,” she said, as she sat down. We drove into the nearby town for lunch and more talk, during which we struggled to contain our excitement. She said: “Let’s try not to get ahead of ourselves because we’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t come off. But do let’s give it a proper go.”
So that’s what we’re going to do.
To find out more about self-build, visit The London Homebuilding & Renovating Show at Excel from September 22-24 . Tickets £8 in advance or £12 on the day. Call 0870 906 2002 or www.homebuildingshow.co.uk for tickets and information.