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How much does it cost to swap city life for a remote Scottish island?

2ND MAY 2024


four landscape images of Scotland

I’ve always looked at those people who abandon their city jobs and move to a quiet corner of the earth and thought, ‘I wish I could do that.’ 

What’s stopped me? The same things that stop many of us I imagine the stability of our day jobs, the security of the familiar, and commitments like paying rent or a mortgage. But when I was made redundant at the end of 2023 it dawned on me that this was the perfect time.

It didn’t seem like it initially it had been a particularly expensive 18 months of homeownership for me (hello, hole in the roof), and my savings wouldn’t tide me over for long. How on earth was I going to pay my mortgage?

Yet, rather than frantically searching for another job to maintain my lifestyle, I found myself wondering how my lifestyle could change. What if I rented my flat out and left London for a while? I was a copywriter after all, so I could work from anywhere. But where would I go with next-to-no savings?

And then came a kind gesture from my brother, who lives on the Isle of Arran.  

“Why don’t you come here and stay with us? We’d love to have you, and you could take some financial pressure off yourself for a while.”

Over the next few weeks, I made it happen. Here’s what it cost me: 

At a glance

My spending over the 30 days leading up to and during the move to Arran.

Flat inventory£185.00
Landlord’s insurance (annual)£199.64
Gas safety and electrical assessments fees£295.00
Storage and packing costs£90.74
Courier fee£26.00
Train to Glasgow£68.69
Hotel in Glasgow £69.00
Ferry to Arran£4.20
Bus £4.30
Costs to furnish my new room £82.16
Total £1024.73

Digging into the detail

Renting your flat out comes with plenty of costs and admin. Of course, I’m aware of how lucky I am; I'm not only fortunate enough to own my own home, but I also have a family who will take me in (and they just so happen to live on a beautiful island). All of these things significantly eased my decision, but I’d be lying if I said the weeks leading up to my move, with my dwindling bank balance, weren’t stressful. 

To start with, I spoke with my mortgage advisor. He told me if I wanted to rent out my flat, I could request permission from my provider, without moving to a buy-to-let mortgage. It would give me a chance to see if I liked being away from London and if I was cut out for freelance life. It sounded smart. My provider granted me permission to rent my home out for an initial 12-month period, with a small increase in my monthly repayments. Next, I approached estate agents. I wanted to know if renting my flat would cover my outgoings and if I could afford to have it managed on my behalf. I spoke to four agents, all of whom valued the property at a similar price point. Each charged fees between 11% and 20%. If I selected an agent at the lower end of the fee scale, renting it out would cover all my annual outgoings, just. It certainly wasn’t the start of my career as a savvy property mogul, but it was enough. 

Once my Southwark flat was on the market, I needed to make it rental ready. This meant ensuring my flat was safe and compliant and that I had protection in place as a landlord. I organised and paid for gas safety and electrical checks, inventories, and insurance, all of which set me back close to £700. 

I left my flat fully furnished but removed all personal items and appliances, which I stashed in various family members’ garages. To lighten my load, I sold things and gave away as much as I could to friends (thank you to everyone fostering a house plant!). I packed the rest of my belongings into three suitcases and a backpack. One of the suitcases I sent via courier (£26), and the rest I carried with me.

By this point, I had a move-in date for my tenant. There was no turning back now. Luckily, I didn’t have much time to overthink; I needed to plan how to get to the island, which is no small feat. 

Despite Arran being one of Scotland’s more accessible islands, getting there from London involves two trains, a ferry, and a bus. The slightest delay can cause the whole thing to fall apart, which is exactly what happened when my train from Euston was cancelled. There are only a certain number of daily ferry crossings and if you miss the final one, you’re stranded. So I had to fork out for a last-minute hotel in Glasgow (almost £70) and try again the next day.

Eventually, I made it. The chaos of the trip quickly faded away once I was standing on the front deck of the ferry, watching the snow shine brightly on Goatfell, Arran’s highest peak. I felt as far away from London as possible, and I was ready to embrace solitude.

Admittedly, I’m not in total solitude here. I have my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew, three dogs, two cats, three ponies, and 30 chickens to keep me company. But the island itself is remote, and you have to be comfortable feeling a little cut off. My brother lives just minutes from a beach, and I recently followed the coastal path for a solid two hours, not passing a soul the entire way.

Looking back, looking ahead

So, was it worth all the upheaval? Absolutely, yes. 

Arran demands that you live in a different way. I might have to go to the mainland for cinemas, high streets, and trendy bars, but I have mountains, forests, and most importantly, whisky distilleries, on my doorstep. These are all completely free for me to enjoy (but only if I show restraint in the distilleries).

I’m now living as part of a family again after years of living alone. That also benefits my bank balance. We share the load. We shop together and eat together, ensuring very little is wasted, and the little that is goes to the chickens or the compost heap. There’s no popping out for a coffee or a pastry; eating out is a rarity – something that has made a huge difference to my monthly outgoings. 

I've also found that as I spend less, I’ve become even more mindful about buying things. This is especially true for clothes, which I have to admit I spent a lot on while living in London. On Arran, there’s no need to think about my spring wardrobe; as long as I have a waterproof jacket, a few good jumpers, and a pair of wellies, I’m sorted. 

But being here is about more than just saving money; it’s a chance to embrace a slower pace of life, a real luxury for a freelance writer who’s just starting out. I have time to think and let the ideas ebb and flow. 

It doesn’t take long to notice that the locals give off an aura of calm, and I’m learning it’s an infectious side effect of living on this little island that I, too, now get to call home. 

The above is intended as general information and does not constitute advice in any way. You should take independent advice if you have any questions about your specific circumstances.