Hot Spot: Inverness

Loch Ness may draw tourists, but more people than ever are choosing to live in this Scottish city, says Robert Liebman
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The Independent Online

Here be monsters. Every year hordes of strange, goggle-eyed camera-wielding, souvenir-buying visitors descend on Loch Ness, just south of Inverness, in search of Nessie, a mythical critter with a real ability to enrich guest-house owners, restaurateurs and purveyors of photographic equipment.

Here be monsters. Every year hordes of strange, goggle-eyed camera-wielding, souvenir-buying visitors descend on Loch Ness, just south of Inverness, in search of Nessie, a mythical critter with a real ability to enrich guest-house owners, restaurateurs and purveyors of photographic equipment.

Enveloped by hills and water, 175 miles directly north of Glasgow, Inverness and its hilly barren surrounds increasingly attract permanent occupiers. "We are running out of properties," laments John Bound of estate agents CKD Galbraith. "There has been a large influx of buyers from the south, not just from England but also from Edinburgh and Glasgow - anywhere south."

Previously vast or unpalatable distances have been shortened considerably by modern technology and cut-price air fares. "It takes only an hour to fly to London, and EasyJet is inexpensive," adds Bound. "Inverness commuters go to London on Tuesday and return on Thursday. Many people work from home. We have good technical facilities and Inverness has broadband. It is still the fastest-growing city in Europe."

According to Bound, the property slowdown in parts of England has not had much of an effect on the Inverness market: "The price disparity between Inverness and the south east of England is still so large that people can get a lower price and still afford to buy here."

Website designer Ray Field was living happily in north Wales until an Irish couple knocked on his door and made a cash offer for his house that he couldn't refuse. The Fields moved into rented premises and cast a wide property-hunting net. "Hill-walking is my favourite pastime, so we made several trips to Scotland, looked around and found ourselves going further and further north."

Field bought a two-acre plot outside Inverness and built his own house at a total cost, in 1989, of £52,000 (£30,000 for the land, £22,000 for the house). He sold a few years ago for £120,000. "I loved the tranquillity, the peace and quiet, the views, the lack of motor cars. On a Sunday, we could drive the 17 miles to Inverness on a dual carriageway and not see a single car coming or going."

Being a website designer, Field also resorted to DIY to sell his house. He created a one-property website and sold his house so quickly and easily that he then created a property site for all of the Highlands. Recently he expanded his empire, creating scottish-properties.com to cover the whole of the country.

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

Four rail lines link Inverness with the rest of Scotland and the south, with a direct sleeper service to London. Dalcross International Airport is eight miles east of the city. Inverness has frequent flights to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Manchester and less often to Gatwick and Luton in London. An Island Hopper service links Inverness with outlying islands.

Shopping

The covered Victorian Market has stalls for specialist jewellers and traditional Highland fashions, as well as fishmongers and butchers. Eastgate Shopping Centre has M&S, Debenhams, and the usual high street multiples. There are also several outlying retail parks.

Museums

Art galleries include the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery (archaeology, art, natural and local history), art.tm (contemporary), and Castle Gallery. James Pringle Weavers and the Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre offer kilt and tartan exhibitions.

Entertainment

The city's multiplex cinema has seven screens, and the Eden Court theatre hosts concerts and plays. The Spectrum Centre Theatre offers traditional Scottish ceilidh.

Sports

Three golf courses are in Inverness, and others are nearby, including Nairn to the north, the venue for the 1999 Walker Cup. The Aquadome and Sports Centre has leisure waters, a competition pool, health suite and sports centre.

Events

Key events include the Highland Festival, Highland Games (19 July), Inverness Tattoo (end of July), Marymas Fair, a piping competition, and a food and drink festival.

Around and about

The dolphins of the Moray Firth, Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle can be visited by boat excursions. Other attractions include Inverness Castle, Culloden Moor battlefield, the late-Neolithic Clava Cairns, Fort George and Cawdor Castle.

Prices

Under the Scottish system, prices are for "offers over" (o/o) the stated amount. Your Move has plots from about £10,000, flats from £20,000, family homes between £50,000 and £150,000, and a large detached house with granny flat seeking o/o £260,000.

Properties

Surplus property, including redundant schools and other public facilities, are listed on the Highland council website ( www.highland.gov.uk). Sporting estates have prices that resemble telephone numbers and plots with total acreage that resembles house prices.

Buyer beware

Scotland's land-reform legislation will give crofters and tenant farmers the right to buy parcels of land they formerly rented. John Bound believes that the change will result in a "two-tier market, with sporting estates - those with no tenants - commanding a premium."

Recommended view

A semi-detached, 3-bed cottage in Ardersier with enclosed garden, timber garage and views over the Inner Moray Firth, o/o £57,500 at Your Move. In Avoch, 12 miles from Inverness, a church and bell tower converted into a 4-bed, 2-reception family home with five offices, o/o £260,000 at CKD Galbraith.

Estate agents

CKD Galbraith, 01463 224343; Your Move; 01463 221166; www.scottish-properties.com.

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