There is no British wilderness. Having sixty or so million people on a small island has meant that everywhere has been populated at some stage. Nonetheless the Highlands are pretty empty. The area offers a taste of a very different life for all us townies and city dwellers, largely as a result of brutal clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Living up on Zennor Moor would feel metropolitan compared to Scotland’s extremities.
You can be more remote on the mainland than on the Western Isles here. A drive of fifteen miles might be necessary to get somewhere just a mile over the hill.
Even so, nowhere I have found yet is more than twenty miles from some sort of shop. Jolly places they tend to be with a crazy selection of goods from wellington boots, through cook-in sauces to fertiliser, and ten year old videos. Occasionally great sea food. And chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.
We couldn’t get much further from West Cornwall this Christmas. I suspect there’ll be no organized Christmas Day swim anywhere near here tomorrow, despite the sea loch being just below the garden.
When it’s clear we can see Eigg across the water, but that’s not often. Rain and stinging hail lash us frequently. There’s so much wind coming in through the windows that candles won’t stay lit in places. Yet this is as close to paradise as I can imagine.
There’s internet, but no phone signal. There’s a decent cooker, a big woodburner, and stacks of logs. The next car to pass the house might be tomorrow, but then again it might not be that busy!
This British hint of wilderness is changing though, and it’s changing fast. Like the other outstandingly beautiful wild oases of this island, tourism is too important to dissuade, yet more people coming can only serve to spoil its joy.
Last year’s de-crofting law has meant that land tied to a property as a croft no longer has to be preserved for solely agricultural use. The result is that plots are appearing for sale in some of the most stunning places Britain has to offer. The buildings that have gone up tend to be simple, beautiful structures that do well in reflecting the vernacular. Squat, tough, often timber clad, yet with big windows to take in those views.
The saving grace, for now at least, is that it takes so long to get here. Three and a half hours from Glasgow, and roads that will leave every passenger nauseous despite the beauty they cut through.
The other detracting factor is the midges. The most evil beasts to plague this island make a misery of the outdoor life in summer. Oh, and the rain. The rain has moved between light, heavy and torrential for most of our stay – but at least that means that it’s wonderfully green.