This is a self-portrait in a derelict croft house somewhere in Uist.
Whilst I step tentatively into the room, bundled up against the cold, my shadow dances lightly ahead of me, across the wall – in the pink.
In fact this picture is a composite of three photos, with the camera on a tripod and using the wireless remote control. The two photos were taken some minutes apart, changing pose (and clothing) between shots.
The pink refers to the colour of the tongue-and-groove boards lining the walls: that’s how it actually was in real life!
Dad says that it might be primer paint, the crofter never having got round to applying undercoat and gloss. Typical Dad!
Deserted. Many visitors to Uist remark on the extraordinary number of deserted and derelict houses. The causes of such abandonment are numerous and well-documented. Not so the solutions.
It’s known as Rural Depopulation – but in truth it’s more a question of the younger generation leaving in search of education, opportunity, and life-partners. They don’t come back ; except the few with the desire and means to retire to their homelands. Even then, newer better-built homes closer to amenities are preferred. The remotest homes – the least accessible or connected, are left empty. Those of more primitive construction, already in need of expensive repairs, and prone to storm damage and decay, deteriorate rapidly. Here, in Uist, the road to ruin is short and summary: a house, previously in good order, might well within five years become uneconomic to refurbish, unfit for human habitation within ten years, and before twenty have passed, may already have been broken open by winter storms and will soon thereafter be beyond any hope of repair and renewal.
Even in the United Kingdom, this problem is by no means unique to Uist! Except in what might be referred to as ‘Metropolitan Stornoway’ – desertion and dereliction are perhaps characteristic of the human landscape of the Outer Hebrides. The same is true of the remoter and most mountainous districts of the Scottish Highlands – especially in the north-west. It’s true, also, of the northern Pennines and Northumberland. And certainly of the hill-farms of mid Wales.
Our daughter Becky has, since she left home (nearly twenty years ago!) to study at the university there, lived in and around Aberystwyth, on the west coast of Wales. Exploring Ceredigion – and beyond – on foot, bike or (more recently) by car, Becky has accumulated an extensive and intimate knowledge of the landscape – the upland landscape in particular, with its numerous deserted hill-farms and derelict farm houses.
Here’s some of Becky’s images from her explorings over recent years in the Outer Hebrides and Wales . Think on this: these places where ordinary families, ordinary people – just like you or me, lived and worked. One day they went out … and never came back. There are many houses like this, in varying degrees. Ask yourself: what would it take for that to happen to your house? And if it did happen, how might your house be brought back to life – and by whom?
Jonathan: In the UK, the annual Countryfile Calendar has become something of an institution, encouraging amateur and budding professional photographers, raising millions of pounds for charities, and delighting everyone.