Victoria Summerley: Town life

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The Independent Online

We're standing in the rain outside the offices of MacArthur Stewart, estate agent, in Oban, "the Gateway to the Isles". Our eyes have been caught by a property called Roadman's Cottage, on the Hebridean island of Tiree, which, according to the estate agent's details, is often described as "the Hawaii of the North". (No, seriously, it's true. Stop laughing.)

The cottage looks derelict to the casual eye, but the details reveal that it has been refurbished to provide a modern kitchen and bathroom and one bedroom. It also has a red telephone box right outside, à la Local Hero; the beach is 100 metres away and the agent is asking for offers over £140,000.

The agent's blurb continues: "Tiree is probably the flattest of all the Hebrides, most of the island lying no more than 15m above sea level. The flatness of the island gives a virtually unhindered view of the sky from horizon to horizon, which is one reason why Tiree is famous for its high number of sunshine hours. Sitting in the Gulf Stream, the sea never gets particularly cold and the climate is relatively temperate."

It sounds lovely, doesn't it? So are we thinking of moving there? No. Are we thinking of investing in a holiday let? No. We are merely indulging in my husband's version of house-swapping. We don't swap houses - we just swap estate agents. Instead of looking in all the estate agents' windows, and fantasising about what we might buy, we look in the estate agents' windows of wherever we happen to be.

So far we've played estate-agent swap in most of south-west France, most of southern England, half of America, Spain, Italy and Dubai. We've fantasised about buying a clapboard cottage in Maine, living on Golden Pond (aka Squam Lake, New Hampshire), or swimming in our own pool in St Petersburg, Florida. We've considered a villa in Puerto Banus, an ancient farmhouse in Gascony and a flat in the Canongate, in Edinburgh. And now here we are, spending a half-term holiday on the shores of Loch Awe, and investigating the property possibilities of Argyll and Bute.

My husband isn't exactly one of life's backpackers, but put him in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest, and he'd come loping back to report on the state of the local property market within seconds of his arrival. Leave him in a foreign city for five minutes and he'll suss out the best neighbourhoods, pick out a house or apartment and mentally move in.

After years of observing this phenomenon, I've come to the conclusion it's a primitive response to being transplanted. It's a bit like a dog turning round three times before it flops down in its basket - he needs to feel that if the worst came to the worst and he had to stay in a particular place for longer than expected, he could make himself comfortable.

It's a strange trait because, at home, my husband greets any suggestion that we might really move with theatrical groans and muttered imprecations involving Gordon Brown and stamp duty. Nor has he ever felt the least hankering for a second home or holiday cottage. He doesn't even much like leaving home to go on holiday, and wanders round like an abandoned puppy the day before we go, looking lost and bewildered.

I know the moment we're back from western Scotland, having looked at details of properties from Tighnabruaich to Tobermory, he'll get in the house, make a cup of tea and say: "Thank God that's over. Why on earth do we ever go away?"

Then he'll settle down for a nap, with his nose on his paws. Metaphorically speaking, of course.