Tenders open for unique Hebridean longhouse on Jura: builders from the mainland offered once-in-a-lifetime job
The Darroch family are well established in the local community. Donald Ewen is the island’s only policeman, serving as a special constable for the last 26 years. In 2020, he was awarded an MBE for his work.
Jill was the island’s community nurse and now covers patients on neighbouring Islay as well as Jura.
Donald Ewen’s day job is land manager, but after being let go by one of the island’s estates he is now taking early retirement.
The couple, who have four grown-up children, have long had a dream to build a home on Jura for their retirement but, having identified the site, gone through an arduous planning process, and attained building warrants, their project has ground to a halt, because of a shortage of builders.
With a notice to vacate their tied house, time is of the essence to the Darrochs to find help to build on the site, with its vistas of the south and west of Jura, and sightlines over the channels towards Islay and Kintyre and as far as Northern Ireland.
Donald Ewen explains: “My father took on the estate house we are living in, in 1948, but it was tied to my job, so we will be leaving soon.
“But he also passed down eight acres of land, part of which had been tenanted and then owned by my grandfather, and so in the family for decades. It is in a crofting township, but it is not designated as crofting land. Plots like this don’t come up very often on Jura.”
The elevated acreage is just north of the island’s main town, Craighouse, near the settlements of Knockrome and Ardfarnal, and close to Jura’s tiny airstrip.
Donald Ewen continues the story: “The plot is 400 metres outside the planning zone, so the discussions [with the planning department] have gone on for years.”
Frustrated, the couple turned to Stuart Bagshaw, of SBA Architects, a Stornoway-based specialist well used to dealing with unusual rural properties and intricate planning.
His design finally met with approval. Donald Ewen says: “There were a lot of stipulations attached, but it is a 210 square metre property, based on a Hebridean longhouse. It is environmentally sensitive, blending into the hillside, and could be a forerunner for the type of building structure used in the future to fit in the island landscape. It has an open-plan dining-living-kitchen, plus an office and is oriented to make the most of the views.”
The east side will be built into the side of the hill, with a turf roof to shield it from view and provide added insulation, and the design includes a solar array.
All of which means it isn’t going to be a totally straightforward build. It is also some distance away from established services, which is another challenge.
Donald Ewen says: “It would have been much easier and cheaper to build a standard kit house and, had we been crofters, we would probably have been able to do that. But, because of the necessary design, the roof trusses and the turf roof will have to be bespoke.
“We have spoken to local builders, but none can take on the project. The population of Jura has risen in recent years, with lots of people wanting to move to the island. This has resulted in many local trades being booked up.”
As for mainland companies, the couple have also so far drawn a blank. Donald Ewen continues: “We’ve found that larger building companies don’t seem interested in taking on the project.”
Jura’s location is a cost consideration, with added transport expenses for materials and labour, but Donald Ewen feels that the project would be ideal for a smaller building company.
He explains: “We would like someone with experience of this type of build and a rural setting. But our best chance, we feel, is to get a relatively new outfit, who would absolutely relish the challenge.”
The house, when complete, will be spectacular, and you can imagine an ambitious company using it to showcase their work for future clients. Donald Ewen adds: “That would be ideal from our point of view and a real positive end result.”
If they can’t build in the next year or two, the Darrochs may have to consider leaving Jura, which – after such a long family connection – would be heartbreaking.