From London to Flotta: A Reader’s Experience

Orkney News reader Carl Mullins has kindly allowed us to publish his account of moving to Orkney and I am sure many readers will be able to identify with his story.

“Our offer’s been accepted!” Claire told me. “We’ve got a house in Orkney!”

I can’t express how happy I felt about those words. The sun comes out when she smiles. Claire had been pretty despondent before that; we’d made a previous offer a couple of months before on a place in Dounby which had been accepted, only for the owner to change their mind for some reason. That had left her in tears and the worry of getting turned down again was making her fretful. Now, Claire was so overjoyed I couldn’t wait to actually go up and visit it. We both love the Islands of Orkney, it’s been our holiday destination for the last five years.

Because of the cost of traveling up to Orkney from London, we’d been taking it in turns to go up and look over places in which we’d had an interest, so as it was her turn, Claire had made an offer on the house before I’d even seen it in the flesh. Having seen the photos she took on the viewing, I’d been impressed with how good the place had been looked after by the previous owner. There was very little going to be needed in the way of work to bring it up to scratch.

“Guess where we’re going on holiday this year; Again!” I told her. Finally we could start looking forward to transferring our lives away from the ‘Rat Race’ down South to where we both really wanted to be. Another couple of years working and we would be set.

Fate has a habit of throwing in a few curves though. Late November last year, The Boss decided to sell the company I had been working for and made the entire Service team redundant. He paid off his mortgage, then was taking himself and his partner off to Tenerife for a few weeks. Meantime, we would be looking for another place to rent within a couple of months. This would be my eighth move in fifteen years, so to say I was slightly peeved would be an understatement. A great deal of effort had gone into building up the Service team from virtually nothing to the point where the company had been retaining nearly all it’s customers as their maintenance contracts had come up for renewal. Not surprising to myself; good customer service always makes a difference in my eyes. Unfortunately, some people prefer short term profit to long term gain.

Claire reminded me that sometimes things happen for a reason, so why not make the move to Orkney now? That way I could look for work up here while she covered the costs with her current role. We wouldn’t actually be any worse off and we would be one step closer to where we wanted to be. She had already had an offer of renting a room from a friend for a while and with it being quite close to her workplace getting there on foot wasn’t a problem. It meant being apart for a while, but as we had already lived apart when we first met it would just mean staying in touch by phone, like we used to. Not the easiest decision to make, I’d kind of gotten in the habit of having Claire around on a daily basis so living apart yet again wasn’t something I was overly keen on, but thinking it through, it did make sense.

With the decision made, the non-fun part of packing everything up began. Having slimmed down our possessions once when we first combined our homes, it was still surprising just how much stuff we had. Furniture, beds, clothes, kitchen ware, electrical items, topped off with Claire’s wool for crocheting, my own model railway layout, rolling stock and tools from the garage meant we would be looking at about £4,000 for a home removals firm to shift us. That would wipe out our savings.

In the end, as I wasn’t working, We hired a Luton van for the first trip, made a couple of trips with one of our cars and a box trailer, then finished off the house move by renting a van with a tow bar to take up the 10’x6’ life-stock trailer I had been ‘waterproofing’ before things went tits-up. From late December to early February, I managed four trips of about fourteen hours between Thurso and London, with a couple of ferry trips thrown in to and from Flotta, covering about 6000 miles back and forth in total.

I did take a couple of days rest between trips, but that was mainly spent emptying the vehicles and unpacking boxes on arrival, before heading back South to fill up the boxes once more before doing it all over again. And again. And again. Fair enough to say, I was fairly chin-strapped at the end of it. Claire did her part; whilst I was moving everything, she had been completely blitzing the house we’d rented when she wasn’t working to ensure we got our deposit back. We’d need the money!

Having already visited Flotta at various times beforehand over the summer and autumn last year to stay in our new place (as well as keep on top of cutting the grass), we had already made some good friends on the island. When compared to London particularly, the mindset up here means people are much more resourceful and willing to help each other out with regards to getting things done, what I consider a vital aspect of island life. This was much closer to the mindset I had gotten used to as a soldier during my eleven years in the Army, where you could actually rely on those around you. Having watched London change over the last forty years, the one thing I can honestly say is it isn’t the place I grew up in. Somewhere along the way it lost it’s soul, to the detriment of all who live and work there. You could quite easily spend two years living in a place, but due to work commitments there was never really any time to get to know your neighbors. I’m sure there are those that would disagree, but you’ve only got to stand on a street corner in the City of London to see just how many people are actually tuned out to what’s going on around them. Too busy looking at their mobile devices or listening to the music on the iPhones when not making phone calls to engage with those around them.

Communications technology is a wonderful thing, I’ve been fortunate to see and work with it as it’s developed over the last thirty years, but it can take over your life to the point where nothing else can seem to matter. Sometimes it’s useful just to remember that it’s there as a means to an end, not to the exclusion everything else.

With the house move and hand over of our old place finally out of the way by mid February, I set about sorting out our possessions and trying to make room for everything, whilst Claire continued to work in Chiswick. The weather was pretty bleak on the isles at this time, although funnily enough I didn’t really mind. For the first time in years I was comfortable in my environment; being a former soldier I much prefer inclement weather and being out and about in the great outdoors. The next issue to face was getting work on a regular basis so Claire could then think about coming up to join me.

Easier said than done!

moving houseNext week we find out how Carl has settled in to life in Flotta

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6 replies »

  1. This must ring many bells with many folk who have moved to Orkney.

    When we wanted to move here, out first hurdle was the ‘offers over’ thing, combined with the seller, and buyer, in theory, not being allowed to change their minds. I’ll explain. When we went to put our house in Suffolk up for sale, the estate agent asked were we thinking to buy as well. I explained, and he explained to me, that, under the Scottish system, we would be better renting at first, on Orkney, as, if we put in an offer on a house in Orkney, and our deal fell through, we would still be legally committed to buying. Also, once the seller had committed to selling to us, they would also be committed to the next step in their chain of buying and selling, so that would leave them in a pickle, too.
    So, we set about finding somewhere to rent in Orkney, to start with.
    We were very, very fortunate in renting from Lilias and Alfie Mathers, in Stenness,
    I won’t go on and on, as this is Carl and Claire’s story – I would like to comment, though, on the difference in attitude which Carl mentions.
    When looking to rent, Mike and I put an ad. in the ‘Orcadian’. Lilias rang me, we talked for about an hour and a half ( anyone who knows us, will readily believe that!). We agreed that Mike and I would rent the house. We didn’t have a contract, no deposit was asked for. There was trust on both sides. We each knew that the other was someone who, if they agreed something, would do what they said they’d do, to the best of their ability.
    The process of our move went along. We arrived off the ferry one evening. Lilias had a macaroni cheese waiting for us, “in case we hadn’t eaten”, and had shown the removal men, who had arrived before us, where to put things.
    We then started to look for a house to buy – the ‘offers over ‘ thing, stumped us, time and time again – we didn’t have much money! But that’s another story.
    That was the beginning of our life on Orkney. That how folk are here. That’s part of why we wanted to live here. It’s not fairy-land – some folk move here thinking it is – it isn’t – it’s real, with real people – that’s what’s good about it.
    We’ve now been here going on for 11 years, and love Orkney and it’s ways more and more as we go along.
    All the best to Carl and Claire. I hope they will be as happy here as we have been and are. It’s a great place to live – who needs 30 degrees of heat in June – not us!

    • Thank you for your kind wishes Bernie… it has been my dream to move to Orkney for over 20 years, although my first visit was only 2008. How lucky I was to meet and marry my Carl, who loves the idea of island life. I’m still in West London with the appalling heat, traffic, noise, hurly burly… but we’re nearly there. When I’m back home in Orkney I still look out of the window and say “we have a house in Orkney!!!!!” on a regular basis! (Or just cry at the beauty and quiet). I love Orkney more than ever. I can’t WAIT till I’m there for good 🙂

      • Hi, I was wondering how you are doing? Has Claire managed to get to Flotta? How is Carl getting on? Is it difficult managing on Flotta rather than the mainland. Best of luck whatever

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