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A Life More Wild - Series 3 Episode 3

Banjo Beale

Banjo Beale on refurbishing a lighthouse at the end of a narrow cliffside path

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In A Life More Wild we walk and talk in the countryside with fascinating people, transporting you to the great outdoors and helping you connect with nature through their unique perspectives. In this episode, we join Banjo Beale as he chats to us about refurbishing a lighthouse at the end of a narrow cliffside path on the Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland. 

Most of us probably feel pretty proud of ourselves if we manage to put up a shelf that's reasonably straight. So imagine how great it would feel to refurbish a lighthouse at the end of a narrow cliffside path on the Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland. Interior designer Banjo Beale, whom you may remember from the show Interior Design Masters, or his own programme Designing the Hebrides, knows exactly how great that felt. At least once all the heavy lifting was done. 

My mate bought this lighthouse cottage, and the lighthouse was just a wreck. So doing it up for her has been a labour of love. I foolishly found a Hungarian apothecary cabinet at an antique fair down south, and I insisted that it go inside her lighthouse. So that was a precarious journey. 

I'm Chris from Canopy & Stars and this is A Life More Wild. You're about to walk the lighthouse path on Mull with Banjo now, winding along past stunning views of the sea and distant misty hills. Enjoy the scenery. And remember to be thankful when the wind gets up that you're not carrying an antique apothecary cabinet. 

We're at the bottom end of Tobermory, and we're at the start of the lighthouse path. And this for me is a bit of a pilgrimage. Not least because my best pal lives at the other end. It's like a 45 minute walk but when my partner and I first moved here, it was kind of the first little walk we made. And when you come around the headland, it's the most perfect sunset. And it's probably my favourite spot in the world. So it's a pretty special place for me. 

And to my right, you have Tobermory, or you know, it's Balamory really, isn't it? That's the most colourful town maybe in the entire UK. Picture book shops all painted brightly coloured and you've got your chandlery, your fishmonger, your bakery, it really kind of harks back to a different time. I mean, I'm from Australia, so any chance that there's a little ray of sunshine, I'm instantly comfortable. And today is extra special because I've been away for a while. So I've come home and this is truly home for me. And I've never actually felt at home anywhere ever. And every time I get back to Mull into Tobermory and drive over the hill, I just take a big breath and breathe a sigh of relief because it is the most special place. 

Well I think a lot of people come here because it's so romantic and alluring and it's the wild west coast. And you have notions of coming here to find yourself or fix something. But we weren't coming here to do any of that we were just on an adventure. But in the process, I think we found a community and an environment that kind of worked for us, even though it's painfully cold, and so dark in winter. And it's a hard life living here. But it's really rewarding in so many other ways. 

So we're just walking up the hill to the start of the lighthouse path, past the waterfall, which there are quite a few running through this path because this goes right up to the kind of oldest hotel on the island, Western Isles. And then above that, a big golf course. And I mean, we get a tonne of rain here. Although a few weeks ago, it didn't rain for two weeks and they declared a drought and the distillery closed. I'm from Australia, they don't know what a drought is. 

So I was on Interior Design Masters, which is, well, it's kind of a ridiculous programme where you have two days and 1500 quid to do up a place. And then you're thrown to the wolves where you're judged and then unceremoniously dumped until one last person is remaining. And then they're given a contract. So you win work, which I always found was hilarious. So I won the opportunity to do up a hotel in Cornwall. And it was an most amazing experience. But immediately I realised, oh God, this is my favourite bit. Like when you're just walking up to here suddenly opens up, you can see out Ardnamurchan, you've got the gorse, the coconut is just blowing in the breeze. If I close my eyes, I'm in tropical north Queensland, during a cyclone, probably with this wind. But it's spectacular because suddenly, you've been just crawling along this path. And all of a sudden, it opens up and you feel really tiny, because there's a giant mountain across the water. There's a big stretch of ocean, going out to the Atlantic and out to you know, Rhum and Muck and Coll and Tiree and Barra and, you know, all these other little islands that have, you know, all these other weird little people and magical landscapes. It's, oh, God, that is yummy that gorse. It's pretty special spot. And I always, whenever I come out on this walk, this is about the time you know, maybe you're slightly puffed and there's a perfectly placed bench to just take in the view. It feels like such a reward, to walk along here and get to this spot and just soak it in. 

When I was on the programme, we had pretty crazy briefs that were ridiculous for, you know, people that we hadn't met. So I kind of got quickly kind of bored of the process. So I started making up imaginary clients. So, you know, when I was doing up a hotel, I imagined that my client was a drunk botanist, who'd just returned from Polynesia, who was documenting specimens and he was an alcoholic holed up in this hotel room, just drinking whiskey and, you know, dreaming of all the lovers that he'd kind of lost along the way. So it informed all the decisions I made. So naturally, a drunk botanist would have a bottle green room, there'd be botanical prints on the wall, empty bottles of little booze on his writing desk, a stuffed pheasant and you know, sumptuous velvet curtains. And then I designed a lake house in the Cotswolds and my brief was adventure. So I kind of did the Griswolds do the Cotswolds. I think growing up in Australia, like our houses, are really open plan. The outside is just an extension of the inside, you know our kitchen table was outside, our kitchen was almost outside, and then you move here. And suddenly, a lot of your time is spent inside. So for me, I instantly craved bringing nature inside. And it changed how I design. And I'm forever inspired by the landscape here. And it might be too much but I really only use, like I do use green and blue and yellow. And that's just like it's this perfect time of year. This is my palette. I think the materials as well. Like I use a lot of wood and I use a lot of wood that's either felled from the island or, you know, lots of flotsam and jetsam that's just washed up on the beach. I also love mudlarking when I go to London. So things like that, foraging, bringing lots of natural materials into my spaces. And I know it's so cliche saying bringing the outside in, but I think when you're here and what I noticed is that your home here has to work so much harder. Wallpaper was something I never enjoyed. But I totally get living here because we want to kind of warm up our houses and big roaring fire is just the dream. I don't think I could go back living in an open plan house. 

My mom's the only person in the world left who calls me Brandon. Whenever she does, that doesn't sound right. So I've been Banjo for so many years. And my husband nicknamed me it kind of the first week we met because funnily enough, all my friends call me Bob, back in Australia. That's because my number plate was BDB. And then my friend's dad called me Bu-dub. And then that was too much. So then my friends started calling me Bob. And then that caught on. And when I met Ro, everyone knew me as Bob. And it sounds like I'm just having all these aliases everywhere I go. But then Ro's like, you're more like a banjo. And I said, Why? Because you're just highly strung. And now he's probably right. Because I probably am a bit tightly wound, especially when I met him. Am I still tightly wound? Yes, but I probably that comes out in, you know, design process, kind of in my head. And I'm not satisfied until something is just right. Even if I'm shooting for something to be imperfect, but it has to be perfectly imperfect. And I mean, I never have a plan. But my plan is always in my head. And it's exacting. I mean, I'm a nightmare, really. I think if I wasn't on an island I'd be even more highly strung and there'd be no kind of relaxing time. I think the island equalises it and probably makes me at least bearable and I'm highly strung in beautiful scenery. And although I kind of long for a longest summer and or even a summer sometimes, but you can always escape. I mean, everyone here says you got to get off the rock. We call it the rock. This is our Alcatraz but it's not, you get to go to the mainland, just for kind of touch of civilization. And then you realise that it's far too busy and no one waves at you. See if you were walking along a footpath in the city, those people wouldn't say hello, but tourists they know the score. You got to say hi. 

Yeah, so we've arrived at the lighthouse. This is a Stevenson lighthouse, which I feel like it's really romantic and cool. I know it's not Robert Louis Stevenson but I know it's his brother's or uncle's, sorry I should have brushed up on my history for it. 

This, this is my happy spot because when the sun is shining, I'm usually walking along this path to have a barbecue at the lighthouse with my mates. So when I get here, I know it's funny because I only ever really see it on a beautiful day. And I never get out here when it is wild. Unless I'm renovating which is not recommended in wild weather, but on a beautiful day that's when we get the SOS from Alexa because she wants a barbecue and she's hungry, and she's ran out of sausages, and she wants someone to do a grocery run for her, but she calls it and we have a barbecue and we walk out here. And when I get to this spot, and I see the lighthouse and her cottage, it does feel like coming home. It's a really special place. And I feel really lucky to have a friend who lives there. I'm lucky to have it in like my little town that I live, it feels. I don't know, there's something lovely about a lighthouse, isn't it? 

Because I think we were, you know, we were broke backpackers we'd been we'd left Australia with a one way ticket. We didn't know where we'd end up. And we'd been kind of through it a little bit because we'd been in Nepal during an earthquake. And we have a lovely little connection there and a family that we kind of sponsor, and they lost one of their sons. And so we'd just been in the earthquake at the time in Nepal, and we needed somewhere to kind of heal and decompress. And just get back to ourselves. And we landed here, and it was very restorative. And we came to a cheese farm where you know, the matriarch of the farm, Chris, she's at she's my best friend now, but she'd just lost her husband as well. And so we were kind of a bit of a tonic for her. So we all kind of came back to life together. 

It's crazy, because I actually in the days of Tumblr, had posted a picture of Tobermory, and I had no idea where it was or that and I had no designs to ever be here. And one day, my partner and I decided we wanted to be cheese makers and Googled cheese makers in Scotland and found this cheese farm. And we arrived here not even googling the town and we came over the hill, and I saw Tobermory, and I instantly remembered that I'd clocked this picture 10 years ago, and I felt instantly at home and funnily enough, my husband read a book when he was a child about some teddy bear that went on an adventure through the islands and wound up somewhere on a beach in Tobermory and we walked past the bookshop in town, and that book was in the window. So I think it was written that we were meant to be here. 

For those of you playing the lift-along version of the podcast you can put the cabinet down now. Banjo's unwitting search for home led him to the Hebrides. Next time, join Liv Little, author and founder of the magazine gal-dem on the Kent coast to explore her own search for belonging and that of the heroine in her debut novel, Rosewater. If you haven't already, give us a follow on your podcast app, tell a friend about the podcast and check out @canopyandstars on Instagram to see footage and photos from our days out recording. 

A Life More Wild is an 18Sixty production, brought to you by Canopy & Stars. The producers for this episode were Gareth Evans and Eliza Lomas. Our theme music is by Billie Marten.