The opening episode of the new Grand Designs season was eagerly awaited in this part of the world as it featured a house being built on the cliffs of Portpatrick. Andy and Jeanette, a couple from Yorkshire, fell in love with the area after coming on holiday. They spent £120,000 to buy the old military listening station, so that they could knock it down and build their dream house in its place. The unique design of the house means it appears to be part of the cliff itself, with the reinforced walls and concrete roof covered in grass – deliberately designed to be hidden from passers-by.
The house took longer and cost more than planned, partly due to having to contend with the elements. It turns out it’s not easy to put windows in place with gale force winds threatening to catch hold of them! The finished house cost a cool £420k but is certainly stunning, with magnificent views of the sea, and a glimpse of Ireland away in the distance.
While the rugged beauty of Galloway was certainly on display for all to see, some were disappointed that the surrounding area didn’t really get a mention – apart from the repeated references to its ‘remoteness’! Others pointed out that the focus of the programme is meant to be the house, not the surrounding area, though even a glimpse of the town itself – or a mention of its name – would have been welcome.
It’s not the first time this year a house taking advantage of the local beauty has featured on our screens. In May, ‘The White House’ in Kirkcudbright was unanimously crowned Scotland’s Home of the Year. It too makes the most of a spectacular setting next to the water, and offers magnificent 360 degree views.
Its story has a touch of tragedy about it however. Little more than twelve months after the couple moved in, the husband died of a heart attack following complex surgery. So while it’s hard not to be envious of some of these grand designs, it’s a reminder that even those living in the most beautifully designed houses and enjoying the most idyllic views aren’t exempt from the worries and heartaches of life. A house can be carefully constructed to withstand the elements, but it can’t protect us from the tempestuous seas of life.
None of us are exempt from life’s stresses and strains – physical and mental illness, bereavement, job loss, relationship break-up, family problems, and ultimately death itself. The question isn’t whether we’ll escape these things, but whether we have anything to hold onto when they come.
The old Boys’ Brigade anthem asks the question: ‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?’ If the storms haven’t yet come, they will. So how can we be ready for them?
Some would say that ultimately, trying to resist is futile – in the end we must simply surrender to the waves. Buddhist writer Pema Chödrön, author of When things fall apart, suggests that as we go through life ‘We are like children building a sandcastle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of coloured glass…We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea’.
The New Testament offers a different perspective. While there’s no doubt the tide is coming in, Jesus speaks of building something which will withstand it. He told a parable about two housebuilders (Luke 6:46-49). One dug deep and laid the foundations on a rock. As a result, when the flood came, his house didn’t fall. The other man built on the sand, and when the floods came, his house collapsed. Doubtless the house built on the sand looked better as the builder didn’t need to spend time or money worrying about foundations; it was only when the storm came that its lack of ballast was exposed.
What is the parable meant to illustrate? Jesus explained it as the difference between those who come to him and hear his words and do them – and those who hear his words and don’t do them. Following him won’t exempt us from the storms of life – yet in a world where many are investing their lives in things that won’t ultimately last, he offers us the chance to be part of something that will endure.
Published in the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press, 19th September 2019