How homeworking could help repopulate the Highlands – Bill Jamieson

The rise of working from home during the coronavirus pandemic shows people and businesses could relocate to the majestic scenery of places like the Highlands, writes Bill Jamieson.

An autumnal light bathes the hills overlooking Loch Earn (Picture: Donald MacLeod)
An autumnal light bathes the hills overlooking Loch Earn (Picture: Donald MacLeod)

Has the pandemic really opened our eyes to the charms of rural life in Scotland? Estate agents across the country report surging enquiries for property in the Borders, Highlands and Islands. Bute and Arran are enjoying particular interest.

Analysis by land agent Savills has shown that interest in rural property is up 50 per cent on pre-lockdown levels. A village or countryside location is now more attractive to 40 per cent of those surveyed, increasing to 50 per cent for those with school-aged children. Estate agents Knight Frank and Strutt & Parker have also reported an upsurge in interest.

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Having lived in the village of Lochearnhead and its majestic highland scenery, there are times when I struggle to understand why it has not long enjoyed a resurgence. It is a magnificent setting, with the sheep grazing on the fields by Ben Vorlich, ducks, herons and squirrels wandering in the garden, and the morning sun turning the waters of Loch Earn into a treasure of glittering diamonds.

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Thousands trapped in cities during the months of lockdown would thrill at what the village and the Vale of Strathearn has to offer.

One day I am sure there will be a revival across highland Scotland – but it will take more than desperate city dwellers looking for the good life. Scarcity of jobs has brought depopulation for decades. And in my own area promising sites such as the water sports centre have suffered from ownership wrangles, cash constraints and lack of vision.

Homeworking and digital connectivity could in time change all this. But it needs imagination, too. What better location for a high tech ‘green’ campus or small, specialist, residential university?

How strange that it should take a pandemic to open our eyes to what is possible in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. I do hope we will see some of the dilapidated properties here brought back to life.

But the challenge is to turn a short-term uplift in rural property into a sustainable, long-lasting upturn. The potential is surely too great to ignore.

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