"Retired and loving it" is what the bumper sticker said on an RV I saw at a rest stop last week. Inside were two older ladies - whether they live in it full time or not, I don't know, but in my version they do, and I bet they really are loving it too.
Or there's my friend, and his adventurous early retirement. He's the guy currently rowing solo from New York to the United Kingdom, a trip which, if he's successful, will take between three and four months. He's passed half way now, and I have my fingers firmly crossed that all goes well for the second half of his trip.
And now there's Keith and Jules who are building their own house.
I'm inspired by each of these stories. While I can be fairly sure that I'll never be an older lady, nor will I attempt to row across an ocean, they still encourage me to think beyond my current horizons, and maybe to then do something to turn those thoughts into reality. Maybe one day, building a house (in my mind, a tiny house) isn't completely out of the question...if you are now hearing a strange noise, that's Sally groaning in despair as she reads this!
Last week, we drove north for 725kms (450 miles), followed by a three hour ferry trip to the Isle of Coll, a little island off the West Coast of Scotland. Our campervan parked on the ferry's lower deck, hopefully catching some rays on the solar panel to charge the battery. We were headed to see Jules and Keith, firstly because they're friends and all-round nice guys, but also because we want to see where they're building their dream house by the sea, and to see how the build is progressing.
First, a quick rewind. Who are Jules and Keith? How do we know them? And what's their story?
We met a few years back in a bar in Morzine, during a French conversation evening. Based on my limited French skills, it must have been a strange introduction, although perhaps we cheated after a while and switched to English. That description is unfair on Jules though, as she speaks good French, something I'm most envious of. We found that we share a number of common interests and quickly became good friends during numerous walks, cycles, skis and evenings out and in.
They've had successful careers, so they're certainly not at the skinny end of FIRE but, in their own words, they are frugal. But I know that they're generous too. To digress for a moment, I find frugal is a misunderstood word, often confused with being mean, which is a different thing. I like to view frugality in terms of not being wasteful which, to me, sounds like a sensible and good thing.
Why are they building a house and why on Coll? It turns out that Jules has always dreamed of living by the sea and, by the way Keith talks about the boat he plans to get, he's clearly up for the idea too. That dream probably isn't unusual, but why on a small and fairly remote Scottish island? The answer appears to be a combination of Keith being Scottish, that they hadn't found the right property in more "normal" settings, and that some years ago a good friend moved to Coll which lead Keith and Jules to become regular visitors. Some years later, an opportunity to buy some land with existing planning permission arose and you can see from the pictures why they jumped at the chance.
We spent three days on Coll and loved it. The island has a population of circa 200 people and many more sheep and cows. There's one small grocery shop, one café, one hotel/pub and three single track roads. We had fabulous weather, which is either very un-Scottish like, or is it that the Scots have been fibbing about their weather just to dissuade the English from visiting?🤔 The landscape feels rugged, a mixture of rock, low lying, hardy vegetation and grassy dunes that contrast with spectacular white sand beaches. In the sunshine, it's as gorgeous as any land or beachscape you can imagine. A wild Atlantic storm would give a completely different look, but I bet just as breathtaking. I'll be back for one of them some day.
Self-build wasn't Keith and Jules' first plan, but building on an island considerably reduces options and increases costs, which eventually led to the idea of building the house themselves. Without previous experience, this is a huge adventure and a big deal in normal places, even before adding the logistical complexities of building on an island. Plus the house is going to be completely off-grid: solar and wind for power, and rain collection for water, just for some added cool factor.
There's something caveman'esque about building your own house. Similar to mans natural desire to make fire, I think there's a similar inbuilt instinct to provide shelter. For the novice builder, it's a minefield of stuff you don't know, where making a mistake can be disastrous and very costly, so it's a monumental task to take on and comes with a whole heap of stress and angst. Keith gets kudos for taking on this stress, and Jules deserves a sainthood for dealing with Keith on the occasions when the stress boils over!😂
To the challenge of building your own house on a semi-remote island, add moving from a comfortable house to life in a caravan. In fairness, it's a relatively spacious and comfortable caravan, but without some of the things that we ordinarily take for granted. Making coffee is preceded by a trip outside to fire up the generator, a number one toilet break is thankfully in a normal toilet, but with one flush a day into a bucket. A number two toilet, as well as showers, are best taken at the village hall, 8kms away. There is another option for number two toilets at the build site, but I'm glad to say that I didn't experience this, and you'll be glad to discover that I'm not going to try to explain the process!
The final piece of our Coll experience was the people. I love that everyone says hello to each other and waves as they negotiate passing on the single track roads. Just like Keith and Jules, their friends are amazingly welcoming. We were on Coll for three days and we were entertained by their friends three times! We had sundowners at the home of a couple about to set off to sail around the world, watched the rugby (the Lions vs South Africa) at the home of a former Lions rugby player and captain of Scotland and, most bizarrely, found ourselves chatting to someone who once auditioned for a role in an adult film - he didn't get the part, and I didn't dare ask why🤣
What I haven't done is describe the house and the build process because I wouldn't get it right and I wouldn't do it justice. If you want to know more, Keith and Jules are keeping a blog as a journal of their build, mostly for their own memories and to keep family and friends up to date with progress, but you're most welcome to follow along too.
I like to say that I retired from the corporate world, but I didn't retire from life. The opposite in fact, I retired so that I was in control of my time and have the chance and the time to live life how I want because I no longer spend my time rushing around working for someone else. I don't regret the work part of my life, it was obviously necessary (that money thing is kind of important) and overall it was a good life, but I'm glad that I have moved into a different phase of my life now.
I know that for many, there's a worry that once retired, we'll be bored, that we won't know what to do with the time that we used to spend at work. Getting towards five years down the road, that's not been a problem. When I look around and see what others are doing, I see so many things that inspire me. I don't have to copy, and I probably won't do many of them, but I love seeing the amazing things that people do, and I know that if I can be inspired by even a tiny fraction of them, what a life it will be.