The House Beneath The Cliffs by SJV
Anna moves to Crovie, a tiny fishing village on the Moray Firth, for a fresh start. But when she arrives, she realises her new home is really no more than a shed, and the village itself sits beneath a cliff right on the edge of the sea, in constant danger of storms and landslides. Has she made a terrible mistake?
Yet as she begins to learn about the Scottish coast and its people, something she thought she’d lost reawakens in her. She rediscovers her love of cooking, and turns her kitchen into a pop-up lunch club. But not all the locals are delighted about her arrival, and some are keen to see her plans fail.
Will Anna really be able to put down roots in this remote and wild village? Or will her fragile new beginning start to crumble with the cliffs . . . ?
Beautiful, moving and utterly absorbing, The House Beneath the Cliffs is a novel of friendship and food, storms and secrets, and the beauty of second chances.
Here’s Sharon to introduce you to Crovie…
My book, The House Beneath the Cliffs, is set in the village of Crovie (pronounced ‘Crivvie’), a real place on the part of the Aberdeenshire coast that undulates from Fraserburgh along into the Moray Firth towards Inverness. The actual cottage that inspired the story in the first place is in a different village on the same coast (I call it a cottage, but in fact it was quite literally a tiny converted shed, which once housed the village’s mill pony) but to preserve the owner’s privacy I won’t say where exactly. It was when I went back to the area for my second visit as I wrote the first draft of the book that I ‘discovered’ Crovie, and realised that, with its history and with beautiful Gardenstown visible across Gamrie Bay, it was the perfect setting for Anna’s story.
Crovie is a remarkable place, and besides being a real delight to visit is a testament to human tenacity and ingenuity. It is made up of a single line of houses raked between the cliffs and a sea wall that is only wide enough for a footpath to run from one end of the village to the sheer rock that cuts off the other. A road does lead down to the foreshore at the west end of Crovie, but the only way to the houses themselves is to walk along the sea wall. The houses each have handcarts painted with their respective numbers stored at the bottom of the road, so that shopping and other goods can be wheeled along more easily. High tide combined with high winds is likely to result in a soaking for anyone on the path – which is exactly what happened to me on my first visit! I completely fell in love with Crovie that day and it has since become one of my very favourite places.
My main character, Anna, buys her tiny house there without even seeing it because she can just about afford it and because the idea of the village sounded so romantic. It definitely is, although it can also be a very difficult place to live. In fact, most of the homes in this once thriving fishing village are now holiday lets, because Crovie is a forbidding place in which to make a permanent home. The House Beneath the Cliffs explores some of these difficulties, including the storms that can batter this part of the coast. The Great Storm of 1953 finished off the once mighty but already dwindling fishing industry, as so many of the Scottish fleet’s boats were torn from the shore and rolled amid the storm tides. Whole houses were washed away, too. Sixty-four years later in September 2017, just a few months after my first visit, the only road into the village was shut for fear that a landslide was imminent. It took a year to underpin and shore up, during which the only way in was on foot or by boat into the tiny pier. Most of the larger houses are built with their gable ends to the sea, because on this coast, protection against the wind and sea is more important than a view.
Still, life thrives in the village. People who own houses here are passionate about keeping it alive, both for its current beauty and for the history it encapsulates, a vibrant past that is no longer in existence but is still important to remember. Though the history of inhabitation stretches back further, it was during the Clearances that the village first became established as it now exists. Farmers who lost their homes and livelihoods when they were moved from more fertile land had to live any where they could find space – including on this tiny lip of rock jutting against the North Sea. Fishing became a major industry for these tiny villages. In later centuries, with the demand for herring came a major role for Scottish women from fishing families. That was the heyday of ‘Scotch cure’ herring, which was landed, gutted, salted, packed in barrels and shipped to the continent. Every year ‘Herring lassies’ in their thousands travelled from places like Crovie and Gardenstown to numerous ports as far north as Lerwick and over to Ireland to as far south as Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, following the herring fleets. There were so many of these women travelling during season and they were such a significant aspect of the country’s economy that the railways laid on special services to accommodate them. These were young women, usually in their teens and early twenties, not yet married, who were skilled workers earning their own wages. Their stories fascinated me as I researched the area, especially the photographs of ‘herring lassies’ from tiny Crovie and neighbouring Gardenstown. This is what inspired the name of Anna’s house beneath the cliff, The Fishergirl’s Luck, and the story of its first owner, Bren.
I last visited Crovie in July 2020, between the lockdowns, so that I could work on editing the manuscript in the place the book is set. The days that I was there were full of brilliant sunshine and the sound of children playing as the tide went out on the stony beach. I would happily live there if I could. I hope The House Beneath the Cliffs inspires others to visit this beautiful part of the Scottish coast, too. You won’t regret it… but do be prepared to dodge those waves!
‘A remote and romantic great escape, brimming with foodie passion, friendship and heart’ LAURA KEMP, author of Under a Starry Sky
‘An absolutely wonderful read’ HEIDI SWAIN, author of The Winter Garden
‘A wonderfully wise and beautifully written story about finding the courage to start over – I loved it!’ ISABELLE BROOM, author of The Getaway
‘I absolutely devoured this book and became completely entranced with the wonderful array of characters and beautiful surroundings’ ***** Melisa B
‘A really uplifting read about taking chances and battling it out against the odds’ **** Kirsty C
‘This was such a captivating tale from beginning to end’ ***** Jeanie M
‘I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a book so much. The vivid descriptions of a tiny village nestled in the cliffs along the Moray Firth, many likable and relatable characters, and such a warm and inviting story’ ***** Marianne N
‘A wonderful heart warming story’ ***** Anne K
‘I couldn’t put it down!’ Karen
‘Where to start… I absolutely loved this book! It had the perfect set up for me, gorgeous and so well written’ ***** Aileen
‘This is a lovely book to read, a reminder of why friendship and community are important, especially in times of trouble or illness.’ ***** Karen
‘The characters are fun, relatable and interesting, and the story is engaging and entertaining’ **** Lucy
‘A gorgeous, romantic book, that will whisk you away to sunnier happier times’ **** Karen
‘Beautifully written’ ***** Tiffany
‘Great story!’ ***** Lynn
‘I loved it, loved it, loved it’ ***** Sheellagh
‘A lovely piece of escapism’ **** Kate
‘A lovely, deeply immersive, read, both heartwarming and uplifting’ ***** Ann
‘Absolutely delightful’ ***** Yvonne
‘A gentle and engaging read which I very much enjoyed’ ***** Netgalley Reviewer
‘Atmospheric and beautiful’ ***** Felicity
‘I very much enjoyed this story of making a new start and working against the odds’ **** Alyson
‘An engaging, nicely-written story’ ***** Christina
‘The more I got into the book, the more it captivated me’ ***** Elizabeth Ann
‘This is an easy to read, absorbing book, full of community spirit. A delight!’ **** Valerie
‘Lovely setting and cast of characters which was absorbing and well written’ ***** Netgalley Reviewer
‘A lovely read for a holiday time or just because you want to be away on holiday!’ ***** Susan