Property: On the bonny, bonny banks of... Lewisham

When a man leaves London after 30 years for Loch Lomond, the ending should be `and he lived happily ever after'. But, as Iain Campbell discovered, the Scottish dream isn't always easy. By Penny Jackson
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It is difficult to imagine anyone choosing to swap a home in a picturesque Scottish coastal town for a semi in Lewisham. But hotelier Iain Campbell misses the buzz of south-east London so much that he wants to give up the quiet life among lochs and golf courses for something altogether busier, noisier and dirtier.

His plea for help in returning to "popular, trendy Lewisham" is unlikely to have fallen on deaf ears. The thought of settling in an idyllic spot near Loch Lomond could have more than a few southerners posting their keys to Mr Campbell, a Glaswegian who had lived in London for 30 years.

Scotland has always attracted the English in search of a way of life they feel no longer exists south of the border. Tight-knit communities where values are unsullied and the countryside is unspoilt are magnets for anyone disenchanted with life in the fast lane.

Not that it always works out. The English cannot expect to be universally welcomed - at least, not until they have proved their worthiness. John Brown of DTZ Debenham Thorpe, property advisers, says immediately that there are many who have amalgamated extremely well, and whose presence has helped save schools and services.

But, he adds, there are those who have a knack of raising hackles. "Unless they are part of the sailing community on the periphery of the Highlands - the yellow-boot brigade - they'll not win friends by throwing their money around and offering to buy everyone in the bar a drink. The more isolated the place, the easier it is to give offence."

The Scots, like the Australians, have an equally dim view of the Pommy whinger. "Some newcomers have a summer calendar picture of Scotland and no one is more irritating than the complainer. `It's so wet. It gets dark early. The power goes off. It's cold. The price of petrol is high. There's nothing in the local shops but mince.' And on they go," says John Brown. "They have to be prepared for the reality. Fair-weather sailors soon find they can't cope."

Richard Fairbairns and his wife Judy moved to the island of Mull, from Norfolk, 17 years ago because they wanted to bring up their family with the values of a small community. "Our five children were educated here and it has given them everything we ever hoped for. My wife is a townie and found it hard at the beginning, but then so was farming in Norfolk. We desperately wanted to get away from commercialism to something gentler.

"There are some English who like the idea of a new life, but don't change their attitudes. It is no good coming here and throwing your weight around. You can't demand the plumber turns up the next day or expect to pop to the supermarket whenever you want. Life is planned differently.

"The majority of people on Mull are incomers - Scottish, English and a smattering of other Europeans - and inevitably some of the old ways have been lost," says Richard Fairbairns.

In their place, he and others like him have expanded the horizons of tourism. Well-known for his study of whales, Fairbairns has built up an eco-tourist business offering trips to spot dolphins, sea-birds and whales. This is now for sale, alongside Torrbreac House, which they built eight years ago, plus a guest lodge. Not that the family is abandoning the island: "Our roots are fantastically deep."

Emma Smith is used to being called a Surrey Highlander. Her parents ran a small hotel near Pitlochry and she can recall their difficult first years. "Some didn't want our business because we were English, and the local tourist board was hardly welcoming. It took time and a sense of humour. It doesn't help that local people cannot always afford the larger houses, so that sets you apart. But where else can you find roe-deer in your garden and walk for miles without ever seeing a soul?"

There is certainly no shortage of English buyers. James Denne of Knight Frank's Lauder office, in Berwickshire, rarely needs to put a house on the open market. He has lists of people looking for a country house with a few acres. The borders take them out of the rat race but within commuting distance of Edinburgh.

"That doesn't mean to say they don't have to adapt. The towns are proudly Scottish but on the whole harmonious," says Denne. A three- or four-bedroom house with outbuildings and a bit of land starts at about pounds 200,000 - particularly tactless is buying a place that needs doing up and then importing English builders.

Burgeoning Scottish nationalism has unsettled a few. John Brown detects some scaremongering, not helped by the "rather ridiculous Braveheart process", while Iain Campbell was reported as having noticed a new strident anti- Englishness among a small minority.

But if it is a vibrant urban life that Mr Campbell is hankering after, why does he have to return to London? After all, his home city of Glasgow - this year's City of Architecture and Design - arguably has a great deal more to offer than "popular, trendy" Lewisham.

Torrbreac House, Mull: offers over pounds 295,000 with DTZ Debenham Thorpe (0131-459 2222)

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