Twist of fate sees English couple move to Scot island to become modern crofters

An English couple have moved to a remote Scottish island to become modern crofters on an 18th century farm they ‘may have never bought’ had it not been for a purely random encounter

Couple Grant and Sharon Jones have moved to the Isle of Lewis to become modern crofters

An English couple who moved to Scotland to start their own croft have said it “may have never happened” had it not been for a chance encounter that got them their dream land.

Grant and Sharon Jones, both 50, have moved to the Isle of Lewis, where they plan to run a smallholding.

They described how a year and a half ago they were ready to make an offer on a croft down the road when a twist of fate made them bump into Tommy McLean.

He was the nephew of the former owner of the plot they have bought – a “fantastic”, 18th century farm they plan to become modern crofters on.

Talking to the Daily Record, Grant said: “We were looking at crofts and we were about to put an offer on one down the road when we saw this guy coming up the road on his old 1956 tractor and that was Tommy McLean, the nephew of the former owner.

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The home was bought by chance after the couple met its owner’s nephew just as they readied to bid for another croft


Grant Jones / SWNS)

“We were speaking to him and we said, we’re looking to buy a croft and he said ‘well I have one that I’ll sell to you’.

“If it wasn’t for bumping into him on his tractor, this might never have happened.”

Looking to integrate themselves into the local community and avoid contributing to the island’s housing shortage, they’re going to build their own home.

The couple got married at an ancient stone circle, Calanais, on the island in 2014 while living in Glasgow, then moved to Nairn, Highlands, before selling their house and moving to a more remote spot, the Daily Record reports.

They are now living out of a caravan while they “reuse and recycle” the ruins of a derelict croft into a new road and a new eco-home.

They also plan to fertilise the land with kelp to grow vegetables as well as rearing Hebridean sheep.

Grant and Sharon, who is from Edinburgh, were keen not to have a detrimental impact on the quality of life of islanders – as a boom in second home ownership has made it harder for young people to afford properties.

The couple will ‘reuse and recycle’ the ruins of the derelict croft to build a new home


Grant Jones / SWNS)

Grant said: “Part of the reason we’re building a house is that we didn’t want to buy an existing home because there are lot of people coming to the islands and doing that and a lot of holiday lets.

“There is still a drain on the island in that respect and things are getting more expensive here, as they are everywhere.”

Chairman of the Scottish Crofting Federation Donald MacKinnon, warned earlier this month that the market for crofts was “completely out of control”.

The runaway price resulting as a result is in turn putting the plots of land well out of the reach of young people.

Part of Grant and Sharon’s long-term plans include aspirations to eventually open their land up as a mentoring space for others to learn the ways of crofting – and they have just welcomed their first chickens.

They are living in a caravan while contractors work on the croft, which dates back to 1765 when it was first used as a smallholding.

They hope to feed themselves in part with fruit and vegetables, including kale, potatoes, cabbage, leeks and onions, as well as eggs from their hens, grown on-site, in the manner of traditional crofters.

Grant and Sharon are living in a caravan while they do up their new home


Grant Jones / SWNS)

Grant worked on a dairy farm in his younger days in England and has experience growing grapes and passionfruit as well as sheep shearing from living in the Australian Outback.

He was drawn to the “history and mystery” of the standing stones near their new home.

Grant said: “It was fantastic, these stones dating back 4000 years and no one really knowing why they are there or what they were there for.

“Everyone has their theory but no one really knows.

“The timeless landscape of Lewis always draws you back and the many moods on the island, the beautiful light.

“You can stand up at the stones there and look out southwest and the landscape pretty much hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.

The plot of land has 4,000-year-old stones near it


Grant Jones / SWNS)

“We always wanted to move and we spent a lot of time here but we never imagined that we would actually pluck up the courage to.”

The ruined house is being dismantled to make way for their new home, and relics from it are being recycled and reused – including an old tub where sheep were once gutted by former owner Donald McLean, whose family owned the croft from 1812 until now.

Stones from the old house have been used to build a road and beams from the roof will be made into planters for growing produce.

A new, well-insulated, 90 square-metre, two-bedroom structure will house the couple and will be warmed by a source heat pump, an eco-friendly heating system.

Grant said: “We’d been thinking of doing this for years”, before adding they hope to get everything finished by spring time “if we’re lucky”.

“It’ll be done when it’s done. As regards the croft, that is going to take a long time.”

Vegetables are being grown in a polytunnel but without modern pesticides and the couple hope to be rearing native black Hebridean sheep by next year.

Sharon, who now works at the Callanish visitors’ centre, said: “I’d like to bring people here who can hugely benefit from being around animals in this kind of environment, as well as teenagers who are maybe up to mischief in schools.

“By next year we should have our own vegetables, the sheep and maybe lambs as well.

“We’re debating getting pigs as well but they’re supposed to be very good escape artists.”

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