How about rescuing a ruin?

by Alastair Hamilton -

It’s that time of year when any of us, wandering around some French hamlet or Tuscan hill town, can very easily fall to wondering about the possibility of that idyllic continental retreat. But a visit to Shetland can provoke exactly the same response and, for many people, moving to the islands has been a good decision.

There’s a steady supply of homes in ‘move-in’ condition for sale, but not everyone wants something mainstream. One option is to find and restore an older property. There’s huge satisfaction to be gained from breathing life back into a place of real character, more than outweighing the challenges; though having done it myself, I’m in no doubt that there are challenges!

Renovating older houses became very popular in Shetland from the late 1970s onwards and, in the Lanes of Lerwick, the entire district was reborn. It’s hard to believe that, in the mid 1970s, much of the area around Reform Lane and Park Lane consisted of roofless shells. Today, the Lanes area is one of the most sought-after places to live in the town, with all the advantages of a central location and the bonus of very sheltered, walled gardens.

There’s huge satisfaction to be gained from breathing life back into a place of real character

In rural Shetland, the same trend was evident. In fact, because so many properties have been rescued over the years, it’s probably harder, now, to track down suitable candidates. But they do exist. In searching, it can be helpful to check out the websites of local solicitors, who occasionally offer houses that would make great projects.

They vary greatly, of course, from those that are pretty sound, and simply need some adaptation or improvement, to those that are no more than four stone walls. In the former category, at the time of writing, one firm was offering a former shop on Lerwick’s historic waterfront which could be converted into a cosy, central pied-a-terre. At the other end of the scale, there’s the Haa at Gloup in Yell. It’s a laird’s house, one of many to be found around Shetland; although habitable, it’s stated to be in need of refurbishment. Either would make an interesting project.

If properties like these aren’t sufficiently challenging, another avenue worth exploring is the Buildings at Risk Register that’s operated by Historic Environment Scotland with the cooperation of local Planning Departments. The condition of these buildings varies greatly. A word of caution is needed: the fact that a building is on the Register doesn’t mean that it for sale. What’s more, a few of these buildings, whilst still regarded as ‘at risk’, are well on the way to being restored.

...many properties have been rescued over the years...

A remarkable range of buildings crops up. Some are moderately large houses, some are cottages; but there might be a barn or a former church. One of the smaller ones is the Lunna Fishing Booth; another is a cottage at Duncansclett on West Burra. There are several more of those Haa houses, for example the stunningly-situated example at Grobsness and the Old Haa at Houss.

We’ve comprehensive guidance about settling in the islands on our website; if you’re of a mind to move here and bring your skills to a very vibrant community, finding or creating that ideal home is very much part of the equation. With advice from an architect experienced in these sorts of restorations, who can navigate the sometimes complicated path through planning permissions, Listed Building Consent and building standards approvals, turning any of these buildings into a great family home could, perhaps, be the project you’ve been waiting for.

A remarkable range of buildings crops up

Posted in: Heritage