A House By The Shore

 A House By the Shore by Alison Johnson

Alison and Andrew Johnson escaped the rat race by moving to the Hebridean Island of Harris, taking jobs as teachers in order to have free time for excursions and to take advantage of the house provided with those positions.

The weather took some getting used to, but the islanders were friendly and more than generous with the newcomers. Island life meant learning new skills like cutting peat, making lobster pots, and tanning sheepskins, and it would mean becoming acquainted with the local wildlife. Their sometimes surreal encounters with seals, seabirds, etc. are the subject of one particularly beautiful chapter. 

In their ramblings around the island they come across a rundown, uninhabited manse with renovation potential and they start saving money and gathering furniture for a future hotel/guest house.  A chapter on dealing with loans, grants and government regulations makes it clear how frustrating the whole process was. Extensive renovations were needed, most of which they did themselves and which are documented in a (somewhat tedious) chapter given to contruction details. After that chapter come more interesting stories: about their sometimes quirky guests, their workers, adventures in their under-equipped kitchen, and their dog, Monster. The dog stories were great, but I wondered why she didn't mention being pregnant or giving birth to a daughter. The dog got a whole chapter! To give credit where it's due, the daughter does get mentioned after she's been around for a few years. 

Their eclectic assortment of guests included the Prince of Wales; a trio of old soldiers they called Majors Baboon, Chimp, and Gentleman; a bagpiper; and a pair of less than honest "mediamen" - all stories with some comical moments. But what I will remember most about this book are the beautiful island of Harris itself and the author's stellar writing. Even in the sections I didn't particularly enjoy, there were sentences I'd stop to re-read just to absorb their perfect wording again. 

I'm a fan of the "we-left-our-old-lives-to-travel-to-a-new-country-and-make-a-home-there" genre, especially when it's this interesting, entertaining, and well written.


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