Rooms with a view (but not much else): What's the attraction of living on a distant island or windswept glen?
Four far-flung homeowners explain why they've chosen remote residences
Friday 11 June 2010
Philip Weiss, 39
Hoy, Orkney Islands, off the north-east coast of Scotland
Nearest shop: Seventeen mile drive to the corner shop on the island – or a 45-minute boat trip to Orkney then plane or boat to Aberdeen on the Scottish mainland
I'd been a countryside ranger for about 19 years, and when the job came up here last August, it seemed perfect. I'd visited before and it was an amazing place, and I'd heard the community spirit was good. Community involvement is a big part of my job, so that's half the battle won. The scenery is stunning.
Everything here is done on Hoy time – it's in a completely different time zone. The shop is 17 miles down the road, so everything takes a bit of planning. And anything like a washing machine takes a long time to arrive. But it is nice being at a slower pace; you learn to adapt and go with the flow.
If you need help or support, or want to borrow something, you go to your neighbour and they'll help you out. We do old-fashioned bartering: I swapped some peas I'd grown for a tomato plant; when I looked after someone's house they paid me in beef.
There are no police on the island – we police each other. There's a big element of trust: houses are left open, people leave the keys to their car in the ignition.
My family are still down in Hampshire, which is quite difficult. It's actually easier to go around the world than to get to the south of England – and probably cheaper.
I live in the north of the island, where housing is quite patchy. I've got 18 chickens, plus two vegetable patches, and I shoot and fish – I'm trying to be self-sufficient. The more you can do yourself, the less you have to bring in.
Hoy is one of those places – you can be as isolated as you want, but if you want to be busy you can be. As a general rule, most people muck in together.
Jeremy la Trobe-bateman, 55
Sark, the Channel Islands, the smallest of the islands off the south coast of England
Nearest shop: A walk to the island's general store – or an hour by boat to Guernsey
I moved to Sark as a young boy in 1962. It was just wonderful. You could do what you liked, ride your bike, play on the beach. I'm part of a big family – six boys and two girls, so we were like a gang. And that applies today – you can let young children just get on their bikes and ride off into the sunset.
I went to prep school in Hampshire and then to Harrow. Oh God, I remember how heartbreaking it was at the end of the holidays, but then it was so wonderful coming back. You'd come the whole way by sea in those days, on the night boats – it was a tremendous adventure.
One winter in the early Seventies, I went to the Scottish Highlands to work on the railways. But when spring came I came back to Sark, and I've been here ever since.
There are no cars here, although there are about 80 tractors. They do all the work on Sark, but some are basically taxis. The roads here are all dirt tracks; tarmac is unpopular.
It's quite nice being a medium-sized fish in a small pond. But all of my siblings except one have left and that's one of the reasons – everybody knows your business. It is a bit of a "love it or hate it" thing. You can't be indifferent to living on Sark. It's partly the isolation; it's an effort to do what you want to do, but I actually think that's a plus. Life is too easy otherwise – you'd get complacent.
Sark is certainly not perfect. Property is expensive and the cost of living is high, because everything has to be shipped in. Communities can be quite cliquy, and if you don't fit in it can be difficult. People have long memories.
Some parents – including us – choose to send their children to Guernsey or the mainland from 11. They need to get GCSEs, and learn about things such as buses and trains.
Hester jackson, 35
Halkirk, Caithness, Scotland, the northernmost tip of Scotland
Nearest shop: Seven miles to the village store – or two and a half hours to Inverness
We moved here a year and a half ago because my husband Angus's job in Sydney was finishing and we wanted to come back to the UK. He got a job at the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso.
There's a lot of space – you can see for miles. It is a long way from people, but that's nice: you'll never get stuck in a traffic jam up here.
My daughter's only two, so she doesn't remember anything different, but Cameron, who's four, sometimes harks back to Sydney. But they like having the space to run around. In Sydney we'd have to walk to a park – here we can just go outside. We are right in the countryside; looking out now, I can see a pheasant and a rabbit.
If you like shopping, you wouldn't like it here. It's two and a half hours to Inverness, and that's quite far north, although you can fly from there. We have to drive seven miles just for a pint of milk, and there's not a lot of choice for eating out – it's a long way to go for a takeaway.
It's quite flat up here, but we live on the top shoulder of a hill, so that helps. I do miss trees. It's a vast expanse of peat bog, very different from leafy Surrey, where I'm originally from.
We really like it, though. We came with an open mind and now we're planning to stay and buy a bit of land. It's one of the few places where people can easily get permission to build a home. There are lots of things about living in the city but I prefer the country. People are much more friendly and it's great for the children. There's none of that pressure to get your kid into the right school – there is only one school.
Kathy Stedeford, 67
Bryher, Isles of Scilly, the smallest of the islands off Cornwall
Nearest shop: A walk to Bryher's general store – or more than two hours by boat or a helicopter to Penzance
I was a receptionist at a hotel in Falmouth when I was 22, and I'd never even heard of the Isles of Scilly – I came from Bristol. But a hotel on Tresco, another island, was offering a higher wage. I met my husband there, but I didn't just stay because I met him; I absolutely loved it on the islands.
Moving to Bryher a few years later was like going back in time. We were the youngest people on the island, and we used to go over to Tresco in a punt to have a drink. When I first came, it was 75 per cent farming; now it's 90 per cent tourism. I used to pick up shells on the beach to make money. When I first moved, I did feel very isolated – that was probably the hardest year, and I couldn't afford the trip on the helicopter to the mainland. Now Tesco delivers here, but it's still a very remote place to live.
It was the smallness, the uniqueness, the beauty of the place that I fell in love with. You can do some good in lots of little ways. I often wonder if I'd stayed on the mainland whether I would have discovered what I was capable of. I love visiting London but when I come back home, I always think: "There's no other place like this on earth."
Most of us are mainlanders, but a lot have children who have come back after university. My son lives next door, and my daughter has a guest house on St Mary's. It's just the way of life – it gets to them.
Our children were always confident without being cocky. They were used to meeting and talking to visitors, and they had the freedom of the island. You don't send children to the shops for a pint of milk on the mainland, but it's like one big playground here.
I live in an old stone cottage. My husband was born in the house next door, and we're about to move to a house on the other side – so he will have moved twice in his life, but only about 300 yards.
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