Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I do occasionally wonder if we should retire and move to the real country. Sometimes it seems there are more famous people and billionaires here in the Cotswolds than there are in Monte Carlo. It's suffocating, darling. It's too, too much. The entire area sits high on a plateau of human achievement wrought by go-getting, hard-nosed pastoral dream builders, its manicured perfection the endless toil of high density ancient dynasties and arriviste nobility.

I've started yearning for the quiet life again after spending the weekend at a top-level secret cheese conference in Wester Ross in Scotland. It's a properly boundless eternal wilderness: miles and miles of beautiful nothing; enough room to easily get completely lost and never seen again.

Just a few days before we arrived, a mountain rescue team with dogs had recovered a climber's body nearby after a week-long search. There was only one road and no shops. The newspapers came at teatime. Water was making a hostile takeover bid, manifest and profuse in all manner of forms; sideways rain feeding roaring rivers, and then mists rolling quietly over hidden static tarns.

The gamekeeper from the estate next to the hotel gave me a tour of his land. There is nothing more interesting to a farmer than someone else's farm. As we bumped along in the Land Rover, I kept trying to ask him how big the estate was but he kept interrupting to point things out – a sea eagle here, a stag there, or a pile of turnips he was pleased with – and we'd get carried away.

I think he was preparing me before revealing that the domain ran to more than 22,000 and included mountains, lochs and ancient forests. I know land here is cheap because it can't be farmed in the traditional sense. I've no idea how much it costs per acre, but however much it is, it's a bargain

It seems ridiculous that something this endless and wonderful could even have an owner. It would be like owning the sea or the stars. Of course, you don't have to own it to enjoy it, probably best not to, in fact. The owners had spent a million on the house and it hadn't even got them any chickens.

We drove up the mountainside to a climber's hut next to a waterfall. It was raining heavily. The hut was ramshackle and leaking, but somehow better than Claridge's. I've found the Highlands and islands enchanting since I was a child – and the older I get, the more magical everything seems, generally.

This part of the world has long been hymned in fiction and song: "Mull of Kintyre", Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, John Buchan's The Thirty Nine Steps and, more recently, Hogwart's School of Magic all live on forever nearby. The film Stardust was shot on this very estate. There was a farmhouse for rent and I booked it on the spot for our summer holiday. There goes the neighbourhood.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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