The concept of a woodland croft provides a modern framework for two traditional ways of life. In this first part of a 2 part guest post, author Ros Nash explains why she swapped her lively city life to live and work in a remote forest.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that woodland crofting completely changed my life. Not so long ago I had what I thought of as a totally normal city life. I fell in love with Glasgow as a 17-year-old student. But eventually I realised the chaos and stress of Glasgow weren’t doing me any good.
My new normal genuinely makes me happy. Every day, I wake up in the middle of a forest. I live a mile from our nearest neighbours and a robin follows me around as I work.
Just a few years ago, I’d never heard of woodland crofts. I’d barely given the idea of crofting a second thought, let alone woodland crofting. But my husband read about woodland crofts by chance, having stumbled across this website, and we’ve never looked back. It was our light bulb moment.
For years we’d talked about jumping off the hamster wheel, escaping our office jobs and doing Something Else. That something else was always disconcertingly vague. Part of the problem was I felt I should have been grateful for everything I had in my old life; a stable relationship, good job, nice flat… I wondered why all those positives weren’t enough to make me happy. That lifestyle is right for many people, of course, but it wasn’t right for me. Specifically my stressful job, which was so wrong for me that I became ill. I fell off the hamster wheel in a spectacularly horrendous fashion. See ‘What’s Up With Ros?‘ for more details.
We gave up our jobs and flat and travelled around Europe for a while. Looking back it’s clear that until we had our light bulb moment, we were drifting. Looking for something that made sense and would help to keep us both healthy. We’d talked about running a tourism business, buying a piece of land, being our own bosses. But when we discovered woodland crofting as a way to live, our dreams became actual plans. The stumbling block with our vague escape plans had been financial. Buying a piece of land wasn’t affordable for us. The chance to live as well as work on your land was a key advantage of woodland crofting. The idea that we could find a small piece of woodland, live there and use the forest as a resource… well, it sounded ideal. Idyllic even.
It took a long time to find the right piece of woodland for us, and even longer to secure approval from the Crofting Commission, to get the officials to recognise our croft. But the wait was definitely worth it. I can’t overstate how amazing it is to live in a forest. If I feel myself getting agitated or grumpy, I just wander around the woods with my three-year-old daughter, and feel the stresses and strains fade away. Or at least fade into the background.
I’m sure there are people I know who think we’ve made a weird or daft choice by getting into woodland crofting. But as a friend once said to me, the ones who don’t get it, they aren’t ‘my people’ anyway. Mostly I get two reactions from friends. The first is ‘Wow, you’re living the dream, I wish I could do something like that!’. Positive but also slightly annoying because I always say, well, you could be woodland crofters too if you really wanted. The second reaction is ‘Oh, you’re brave, I don’t know how you manage’. An interesting take on it, because I don’t see what we’ve done as brave. It’s much braver making big changes when your hand hasn’t been forced; in our case something major had to change.
I’ve had city-based friends tell me they envy our ‘laidback lifestyle’. Which makes me laugh because they must imagine I spend my days skipping around the woods, collecting wild raspberries and hugging trees. I’ve never actually hugged a tree but I do love the peace and quiet of the woods, the smell of pine resin and the masses of outdoor space and fresh air. It feels brilliantly healthy living in a forest. And I enjoy sharing the forest with the birds, the deer, the butterflies, the insects, the frogs… Do I sound like a tree hugger now? To be completely honest, my life might look idyllic from the outside but it’s physically demanding and sometimes hard work in other ways too. But then I quite like hard work.
I remember telling a friend who grew up in a crofting community that we were all set to become woodland crofters. He informed me that working the land was ‘hard work’. Well, I thought, of course it is, but I’ve never been afraid of that. In the past, I’ve always worked hard to line other people’s pockets. Now I’m working hard for me, my other half and my child. And it feels more satisfying than anything I’ve done before.
In the second part of this post (to follow), Ros offers advice to other would-be woodland crofters based on her own experiences at Cogle Wood. You can follow Ros on Twitter @RosNashAuthor