Two legs better than four for business

Outnumbered: the sole little red hen at Sunnyside
Outnumbered: the sole little red hen at Sunnyside
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CROFTING is a hard life. Schlepping peat cut from the bog for your fire, milking your sole coo then spending hours beating, churning and slapping the milk into butter or cheese, digging stony plots over by hand to plant a potato crop that fails, breaking the winter ice on your pail in the morning before you take a wash.

Aye, it’s grim up North.

But not if you’re one of the new breed of cyber-crofter, hooked up to 24-hour Wi-Fi with access to the mighty Facebook, t’internet and all the riches this brings.

And you won’t catch this new breed of crofter faddling about with unpredictable animals and crops, stuff that’s likely to curl up and die for no reason or forget to come out of the ground. They might have a couple of hens wandering about and a thatched byre with an old plough resting at a jaunty angle beside it for that authentic Highland croft look.

But they will have looked at the statistics and crunched the numbers – tourism is the golden goose that contributes more than £4billion to the Scottish economy each year.

Yes, the modern crofter isn’t farming stock and crops, they are farming tourists.

We have just spent two (very unexpectedly) gloriously sunny weeks on the west coast, on a campsite with a two-minute walk to Local Hero-style beaches, all white sand, punctuated with interesting rocks just offshore, azure seas (think Maldives) and distant purple views of the Small Isles and Skye. Bliss.

Tired dogs and exhausted children. Double bliss.

And where was this slice of west coast heaven? Sunnyside Croft. Yes, Croft.

(Lucky) owners Julie and Ian bought Sunnyside and intended that Julie and kids would live there and work the croft while Ian continued to work in Glasgow. The idea was that Ian would find work in the area (Ian is a builder) and eventually perhaps have a team up north and one in Glasgow. The property boom was in full swing and the future looked rosy.

Then the crash. And workers being paid off. And a dream gone almost overnight.

But looking around at the campsites at the edges of their bay, Julie and Ian wondered about decrofting part of Sunnyside and running a campsite too. Maybe that would keep the wolf from the door (even though the last one had been killed in 1743).

And as the slump slumped even further, Julie and Ian invested heavily (or as heavily as you can when you have no money) and Sunnyside Croft Touring and Camping Site was born.

As modern-day crofters, they put in the traditional graft keeping everything in A1 order (and still manage to be cheerful and helpful hosts).

And like their predecessors, their hours are traditionally long with a natural rhythm – up with the sun; to bed when the sun goes down.

There are still four-legged animals at Sunnyside (sheep and hairy coos), but the two-legged variety (apart from the resident solitary hen) bring in the dosh.

Is it a model that could translate to, say, a Borders hill farm? Clartycleugh Camping just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?