The family came to Coldhome five-plus years ago – that is, Charlie A, his partner Annie, eldest daughter Rachel and her partner Charlie R and four children, Maddy and Ellie (Charlie A and Annie’s) and Goody and Gwyn (Charlie R and Rachel’s) and Charlie A and Annie’s grown-up son Robin – that’s a mouthful, and there was a contingent of smallish animals too.
Coldhome then was a four-and-a-half-acre section of a larger field with some rather tumbledown sheds in it, one of them an old crofthouse. The buildings were largely of timber-and-tin construction, but the crofthouse and byre were stone, some of the walls being of “clay-and-boule” type and in remarkably good condition.
Their arrival in Aberdeenshire from Fife was marked by wet summers, windy winters and cold like they’d forgotten about even though previously all of them had come from the north. A small plot of land had been a goal for a considerable time but storing years of accumulated stuff that “might come in handy later” proved a bit of a problem in the draughty and only partially watertight buildings.
The decision to live “off-grid” was made not on principle (though it did become a principle) but because of exorbitant estimates for installing services. Water is now from collected rain, electricity via a couple of very small wind-turbines and three or four solar panels, heating and much of cooking by wood, toilets of dry earth-type and greywater goes to a reedy pond and willow-grove (almost as pretty as it is poetic). Occasional or emergency electrical power comes from portable generators, though the diesel genny isn’t everyone’s idea of portable.
Home education of the kids had gradually established itself as a principle back in Fife after Robin’s primary-school quota of learning-support had been reduced to five minutes per week, along with Rachel and Charlie R’s own memories of rather inadequate education, together with involvement in the large home-educating community in Fife, and links were established with the far-flung Highland home-educating group after the move north. However, the main reasoning behind the home education wasn’t so much criticism of the, crazily overburdened, education system as a belief that cooping children up in school for the best part of the day was no match for the freedom and learning opportunities of living in the country with lots of space and – well, a Coldhome project going on around them.
The work at Coldhome involves gradual repair and reformation of the existing buildings, although Robin and, at the start, Charlie R’s son Luke added a “gang-hut” to the complex, a structure built up planlessly with cobb (clay and straw) walls and a turfed roof. There has also been a lot of tree-planting (the trees mostly raised from seed in Fife), and it’s hoped that one day in the not unforeseeable future all cooking and heating will be from home-grown coppiced wood. In addition a tiny, “commercial”, tree nursery has been started, and there are grandiose plans for subsisting on a mainly home-grown diet, though this still occasions fierce debate amongst the denizens of Coldhome who are largely, but not exclusively, vegetarian. A recently-purchased toy tractor has now reduced the uphill grind of wheelbarrow-pushing, as well as some of the dependence on ever-helpful farmer neighbours.
Now and again “work-weeks” are organised and a contingent of young Ashtons from Glasgow (Ben, Abby and Robin) come north with a contingent of unsuspecting friends: this is frequently when the most extensive progress is made on the Project, as all members also have careers, of a sort, to follow. There are also plans to attract Woofers too, but these are contingent on slightly better accommodation than a leaky caravan, which has now metamorphosed into Charlie A’s study anyway, so is a no-go area for strangers. It’s still known as “Dru’s caravan”, Dru Graham being the “adoptive son” of Coldhome who lived and worked there in its (and his) formative years.
As to said careers: Charlie A continues to write – there’s a page about that at the top of the screen. Annie, the only one of the four adults not engaged in the agony and ecstasy of creative endeavour, now commutes once a week to St Andrews university where she tutors in Art History. Rachel and Charlie R both continue as artists, marketing most of their work in the north, though Charlie R’s paintings of St Andrews golf courses are currently circulating somewhere in the Far East (of the world, that is, not of Scotland – very much further east than Coldhome and you’d be in the sea). Links to their websites are provided, as also to Ben’s print workshop in Glasgow.
Rachel, who does a lot of song-writing, and Annie are quite involved in the local “folk” scene – ie not folk in everyone’s definition – and Charlie A often tags along, either to sing or to play the flute (Charlie R doesn’t approve of folk music, so is in demand as babysitter).
Last but not least there is Anna, Charlie A’s second daughter, who is the driving force behind his faltering attempts to drag himself into the digital age. Anna, currently in London, is slowly being drawn back by the irresistible gravity of the North, and there are plans for imprisoning her in a rabbit-hole at Coldhome from where she can direct operations for the entire Family.