It’s unusual to know you’re having the time of your life while you’re having it. But for the ten years I lived in a house called Fintloch on a hillside in Galloway, I knew.
Painting of Fintloch we commissioned once we found out we were leaving
And I wasn’t alone. When friends came to stay for the weekend, they went away blinking after lunch on Sunday saying, “Did we really just get here on Friday night? I feel like I’ve had a week off work.”
Fintloch magic. Whether we were gathered round a log fire with the curtains closed while gales hurled sleet against the windows or were sitting in the garden on those long summer nights, when the sun was still up at ten o’clock and the bats were wheeling, there was something about the place that worked like a spa massage. Or a huge whisky.
It was far from palatial. A unscrupulous real estate agent would say “. . . five-bedroom stone farmhouse, bursting with Victorian character, breath-taking views, gracious rooms . . . ” and then be forced to admit that what it had most of was potential, still unrealized after more than a hundred years.
In more typical weather, to be honest
With a gun to the head, that realtor might add that it had one downstairs bathroom a long way from the bedrooms, drafty windows, a pathetic, alleged heating system, a leaky roof, and was attached to a working farmyard with cows in the barns all winter and orphan lambs crying under their heat lamp in the spring.
The occasional lamb scampering into the kitchen didn’t bother me. Neither did the tadpoles coming out of the cold water taps. (The water ran down the hill, through the house, and carried on down to the valley floor.)
In California, I live in a sensible house: only forty years old, more bathrooms, good heat and cooling, new roof, no tadpoles involved in the plumbing. And I’m happy here. But when I wanted to put the heroine of The Child Garden in a house she chose for a very specific reason, there was no need for research.
The Child Garden is my love letter to Fintloch. From the moment Gloria Harkness answers a pounding on the door one wild, wet night and lets a world of trouble into her home, every sight, sound, smell, and draft—especially draft—is one I’m familiar with: from the gurgles in the hot-water tank, hanging like a wasp’s nest above the cast-iron cooking stove; to the catch in the throat from burning sycamore when the wind’s in the south; to the feel of that stone floor under tired feet at the end of a long day.
The door Gloria perhaps should never have opened
I’ll be interested to see if people think Gloria is crazy to live there or if someone tracks down the owner to ask if it’s for sale.
It’s not, or I’d own it. It’s the old shepherd’s house on a country estate. Yes, just like Downton, except we called the laird and his lady “Richard” and “Cathy” rather than “Your Grace.”
The real-life Glenlee estate is in better hands and much better shape than the fictional Milharay estate in the book, where the big house (i.e., Downton Abbey) has been turned into a care home and a fairytale forest has grown up all around. But even without the forest, the isolation of Gloria’s house—no visible neighbors, empty roads snaking for miles, and that lack of cell phone reception that’s a crimewriter’s dream come true—is completely accurate.
Is there a standing stone in the garden, where legend has it a demon-spirit is safely bound? Thankfully, no. You can forgive me dreaming it up, though, because on one of the pleasant country walks through the valley, there’s this.
It’s art, but I noticed it the first time when I was leaning against it to retie my walking boot and it made a sharper initial impression than most public art, I can tell you.