Traces of a life once lived at a 'time capsule' house in the Outer Hebrides

At the abandoned cottage on the isle of Lewis, the clock stopped just after a quarter past 12.

The calendar remains on 2006 and a landscape painting of an island beach holds on as the wallpaper falls away around it.

Children’s coats hung on the back of a door, their owners likely long grown up by now.

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Photographer Tommy McPhelim came across the deserted croft house while on a recent holiday to the island, and found traces of a life lived – and of life left behind.

Photographer Tommy McPhelim found the door open to the croft. When he stepped inside, he found "poignant" traces of a life left behind. PIC: Tommy McPhelim.
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Mr McPhelim said: “We were up in Lewis for a long weekend and came across this house up in Ness in the north. The door was open and I went in. I wasn’t sure what i was going to find. It was really quite poignant what was there.

“The calendar said 2006 and the clock on the mantlepiece had stopped. You started to think about who might have lived there and their story.”

A child’s desk and a couple of small coats were found in a smaller room off the living room.

Inside the "time capsule" house at Ness, Isle of Lewis, that is slowly slipping away as the elements take hold. PIC: Tommy McPhelim.

"It seemed like it had been a family home but that’s the thing, that’s the mystery of these places. You are never sure what the story is.

"For now at least, it is like a little time capsule.”

Mr McPhelim, of Wishaw, made contact with the family of the man who last lived in the home. He raised his family there and built a new house further up the croft in 1980.

But, the owner still loved to return to his old house, which he latterly used as a loomshed to weave Harris Tweed until he became too old and unwell to continue.

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The family expect the property will be knocked down in a couple of years, given its deteriorating state.

Mr McPhelim added: “Nature is claiming the house back. The door is open, the wind is howling through, there is water coming in. I don’t think it will last much longer. But as a piece of social history, it is a fascinating place.”

Empty homes are scattered across the Outer Hebrides, with the islands having the highest rates of vacant properties in Scotland, according to most recent available figures.

Bringing the empty homes back into use is a major priority for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar as it tackles the short supply of affordable accommodation for islands.

A council-led programme brought 163 empty properties back into use in 39 months.

In 2019, research found that 522 properties across the Western Isles council area had been lying empty for six months or more.

Many of the empty homes are typically the old family home left vacant when a new modern house - often built through the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme - was built on the same croft.

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In many cases, those who inherit the properties are not able to return home, sometimes due to lack of employment opportunities, with the houses usually falling into disrepair fairly quickly due to the climate.

Around 60 per cent of those who own empty homes live in the Outer Hebrides with most others living on the Scottish mainland. A small number live overseas.

The majority of those doing up empty island homes intend to rent them out through Airbnb and the short-term lets market, research found.

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