There has to be a better way... Given the chance to follow a dream, what would you do? - Take one Yorkshireman with a dream of self sufficiency, some hard work and some strange characters; add a little very un-expected romance. Place all in a remote corner of Scotland, stir well... Discover the 'delights' and 'challenges' of living on a shoe-string, the 'Cultural differences' between Yorkshire and Scotland, the problems of living in a remote area, and what the locals do for entertainment... What could possibly go wrong? Find out before you make the same mistakes!
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After a conventional middle class start in England, -education, job, marriage, setting up house… the narrator reaches a personal crossroads. Disillusioned with the rat race, and feeling that there is something he has missed, he re-assesses his life. Having this opportunity to try a different approach, - he begins basing his decisions on whether things felt like a good idea rather than calculating if it was the ‘right’ thing to do.
Hopeful that this ‘ought to be a better way’, and yearning for wider horizons and clearer skies, he heads North until he reaches the edge of the world on the coast of Caithness, and rents a cottage in the shadow of Dounreay, where he hopes to become self sufficient and to make beautiful things in wood to earn his living.
Here, he discovers himself in a very ‘different’ place, with very different values and traditions, which he readily absorbs, and is soon accepted as part of a small friendly community; meeting people, who, like him, have managed somehow to place themselves on the fringes of conventional society… each trying, as he is, to scratch some sort of living by making, mending, catching, and/or growing things, -mainly living on their wits, hard work, and sheer determination.
These local residents are no better off than he is, as there is very little work, as well as a shortage of housing, but all are prepared to help out in times of difficulty and to share any surpluses or windfalls.
Although there is no demand for his craftwork, - as there is little money locally for such luxuries, - he finds his skills are in demand in other ways, and settles happily to plant his garden and tend his chickens while being of what help he can to the rest of the community.
From initial wide-eyed innocence to eventual hardened realism, the narrator discovers the joys and pains of self-reliance, finding, - perhaps ruefully that he has swapped the nine-to-five of the rat race for the 24/7 of self-sufficiency. He also discovers the huge problems associated with remoteness, the interdependency it takes to keep a small remote community viable, and the different influences that can damage one when a series of unexpected events places him at another crossroads.
As his life falls apart again, and he is forced to drive away with his diminished possessions toward another unknown new beginning, he comes to appreciate that one man’s cosy cottage is another man’s dank hovel, that the determined little community he has had to leave would be considered a mere blob of human flotsam, - no-hopers at the end of the road by others; that some people think of bright dandelions as merely weeds, -and that Dounreay casts a terrible and dreadful long shadow.
He finally knows that history, successive distant governments and plain greed have made it almost impossible for anyone to truly live simply, but that it’s still the single most rewarding thing to try; -and he will never be able to forget… the mountains, space and the endless skies still beckon.