The Highlands. Life in a remote place.

Friends to the south often ask us what it's like - that little place we've no idea where it actually is called Aultbea? And what's life like, living there?

Well, it isn't Utopia. It rains a lot and big winds brew up in the Atlantic, hurtle in at us over the Islands, so if you're particularly weather sensitive ... And in the summer, when there isn't any wind, everywhere with heather or grass underfoot is patrolled by whole airforces of semi-invisible midges that make outdoors life difficult to impossible. You definitely won't like those little devils. Next to nothing's open on a Sunday except the many houses of God (and the little Bridge Cafe and Gallery in Poolewe where we gather for our coffee, scones and newspapers). What else? Oh yes, it's eighty miles to the nearest hospital and fifty to the nearest mini Tesco and on the way there are very few signs of human habitation and some big hills to cross ... so if it's been snowing ...

So why are we here - why, in fact, do we love being here? Have a look at a couple of my pastel paintings...


But it's not just a matter of looking out from your windows at the world as it was made. Not just the space and the right ambience for my painting and writing (www.picturesandpoems.co.uk and www.bryanislipauthor.com respectively). Or even the nice people from all over the world we meet when they stay with us for Dee's increasingly famous B&B. (www.aultbeabedandbreakfast.co.uk )

For us there's a five minute stroll to the general store or the health centre or the post office or the excellent local garage and a three minute stroll to either of two small hotels. The once a day bus to Inverness stops right outside our (Kirkhill) house. Leaves 8.30 am, gets us back 7.30 pm. We are served by two mobile banks, a mobile library, a mobile butcher and a mobile fishmonger. Folk in passing cars (we know most and most know us) generally favour you with a wave and a smile and if on foot there's all the semi-obligatory chat - the craic as it's called up here.

Of course if you're fit, more or less, you can walk for miles and miles and miles and you won't see another soul. You'll see only the lochs and the little lochans, the heather and the hill. You'll see eagles and other birds, some very rare, and red deer in the distance and you'll watch your boots for smaller, furrier things and shiny amphibians. You'll smell the bog myrtle and the sea, always the sea. And high, high overhead you'll see the vapour trails and think of those less lucky folk on their way from where to where and why? You'll ask yourself those questions. And you'll hear only the sounds that you make yourself.

There's no crime to speak of, here, by the way. No lights to block out the sky at night. No continuous background bellow of traffic, sirens, Saturday night shouts and screams.

Where we live our lives there are those who for generations have been born and bred to this Aultbea and those incomers like us who have been absorbed but it, adopted by it; willingly enwrapped in it.

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