This clifftop house in Galloway, Scotland, looks like something out of a spy thriller.
Full-height glass sliding doors open onto the terrace which overlooks the Irish sea. Image: Douglas Gibb
Built on the site of a former Cold War listening station in Portpatrick, Dumfries and Galloway, this is no ordinary cliff-top home. It’s perched on the very edge of the UK mainland with a vertiginous 100ft drop to the rocks below, and outstanding views.
When Andy Stokes and Jeanette Hardy bought the one-acre plot in 2016, for a very reasonable £120,000, the original buildings, including a radar mast, were still intact. Its isolated aspect came with a major plus point – a very sturdy access road constructed by the MOD, invaluable during a build riven by high winds and bad weather.
The couple had spotted this one-off self-build opportunity on a holiday in the area and fell in love with the idea of relocating and building their own home. A major influence was that this wild, unspoilt coast was a place where their two Newfoundland dogs, Jess and the late Nemo, could swim freely in the sea.
The new build is partially covered in earth, both to guard against the fierce elements that batter the site and to reduce the visual impact of the house in order to meet planning demands. In contrast, the exposed, sea-facing facade is wrapped around with huge glass windows and sliding doors to maximise the views over the Irish Sea crashing below. Named North Witch Point after the rocks it stands proudly above, the property was designed by Andy himself, with input in the initial stages from local artist Eleanor Campbell and architect Gordon E Jameson at Dumfries firm Robert Potter & Partners.
The house is partly earth sheltered to minimise its impact on the surrounding coastline. Image: Douglas Gibb Image: Douglas Gibb
An achievable build
Although Andy estimates the build budget went over the original estimate by around 20 per cent to £420,000, this outlay has resulted in a highly-individual home with two bedrooms, an open-plan living space/kitchen, a study, utility area and garage.
'My advice would be, don’t be afraid to do it. Lots of people walk past our house and say "wow!", but in reality it was not a particularly expensive build and within the budget of a lot of people,' said Jeanette.
Savings were made by Andy taking on the design and project management himself – he estimates more than £17,000 on architect’s fees – once the original concept was established and outline planning drawings done. His confidence was underpinned by being a qualified civil engineer with management experience, who had already converted a barn in Esholt, West Yorkshire – the couple's former home.
A bump in the road
Nevertheless, there was a major hiccup with Building Control. In Scotland a Building Warrant can take several weeks to be assessed and processed. 'I made a mistake by assuming that the process in Scotland was the same as in England,' Andy explained. 'This cost us a three-month delay in theory, but on the plus side it did result in the construction starting in March after the worst of the winter weather was behind us.’
During the build, Andy split his time between Yorkshire and a rented cottage near Portpatrick, running both the project and the canal boat hire company he and Jeanette own. As Jeanette, a senior business manager, had just taken a new job that required her to spend a lot of time overseas, Andy oversaw the build and kept the workflow going – no mean feat with around a third of the tradespeople also commuting from West Yorkshire every week, largely people Andy had used before when constructing his canal boat hire fleet.
'I enjoyed every aspect of the whole project. Even the proximity to the cliff didn’t really feel daunting, but I did realise just how close we were to it when I saw the drone footage taken during the TV camera’s last visit.'
Boulders surrounding the entrance were sourced by Andy from a local quarry. Image: Douglas Gibb
With a background in textiles, Jeanette focussed instead on the interior design, basing it around neutral shades and natural woods such as walnut. 'I knew that I would need to keep the interiors relatively simple as it is impossible to compete with the view,' she explained. 'Grey was always going to feature as it’s a colour that I really like – it has so many variations and can be highlighted with many complementary colours.'
Although he spent much of the 18-month build period soldiering on without Jeanette’s on-site presence, Andy insisted he was never daunted by the task. He simply hunkered down and got on with it, with his trusty right-hand man, Dave Briggs, who has worked in his canal boat business for more than 15 years, helping to co-ordinate workmen and subcontractors.
The sleek, streamlined kitchen has access to the cliff-top terrace. Image: Douglas Gibb
A life-changing experience
'Our lives have changed since the start of the build, but not necessarily because of it,' he said. 'Jeanette has spent a huge amount of time out of the country and we have sadly had to say goodbye to Nemo, but I think we are both looking forward to the house changing our lives for the better in the coming months and years.'
The home they have built is effectively a three-sided glass-walled waterproof concrete box on a thick reinforced concrete foundation slab, which slots into the side of the cliff. With no mains gas, an air source heat pump was installed for the heating as the most economical.
Some external walls are also of poured concrete, others of blockwork. A galvanised steel frame supports the roof. The whole shell was covered in a waterproof membrane and clad in Caithness stone, a finish Andy and Jeanette first noticed at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. It all adds up to a dramatic house that entirely reflects its breath-taking setting.
'We are still at the stage where we say ‘wow’ a lot,' said Jeanette. 'The view never disappoints. And there is so much light; our barn was really dark so the bright light always amazes me.'
Would they ever self-build again? 'Hopefully we won’t ever have to as this house is everything we have ever wanted,' Andy told us, as he gazed out towards the distant horizon.
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