If there was an award for the best view from a convenience store window, chances are that the trophy would reside beside Wendy Glover's till at Drumbeg Stores on the North West coast of Scotland. While most of us make do with a few passing cars and a light drizzle, in quiet moments Wendy can gaze out across Loch Drumbeg and watch the wild deer roam some of the most glorious countryside you could ever hope to see.

There's a price to pay for all that beauty, of course. For much of the year, those rocky crags and white sand beaches don't hold a lot of customers. Drumbeg and the two nearest villages house about 40 people, and it's a 40-minute trip on a single track road to Lochinver, the nearest thing to a town you'll find up here. All of which makes you wonder what possessed Wendy and her partner Steve to give up their cosy lives as a health worker and a surveyor in Reading and relocate a year ago to this most inconvenient of convenience stores.

"We came up here for walking holidays for 10 years and fell in love with the place," Wendy tells C-Store. "Then this store became available and although we had no retail experience we knew we had to grab the opportunity."

The rookie retailers had three good reasons to believe they could make a success of their new business. First, the store was well established under the previous owners and had won a Best Village Shop in Scotland award in 2006. Second, despite the small number of local residents, the area attracts a steady flow of tourists throughout the summer, as the number of campers and caravans negotiating the narrow twisting coast road testifies. Indeed, this is the only shop C-Store has ever visited which lists 'pulling your car out of a ditch' among its services.

The third advantage is the lack of competition this far up in the Highlands. "There's a Spar store at Lochinver that's a 28-mile round trip and a few shops at Ullapool, which is 82 miles there and back," Wendy says. "The nearest big supermarket is at Dingwall 164 miles and for real town centre shopping you'd have to go to Inverness, a 188-mile day out."

In practice what happens is that the locals make a monthly trip to Inverness and rely on Drumbeg Stores for top-ups and fresh produce. Few of the residents carry cash there's only one place to spend it, after all so everything goes on a monthly account.

That makes the store a vital centre for the community and this is something Wendy and Steve have had to embrace. "We make sure our regular customers know we're flexible and happy to help. We tell them we'll stock anything they use regularly, even if no one else ever buys it. Although we can't offer the range of a supermarket, we remind our customers how they are saving time and the cost of travelling, and we make sure we're price competitive we did a survey last year and found that almost 70% of the items we checked were cheaper than the closest, larger store."

A few of the older residents don't like to travel so they are looked after, and home-baking ingredients are much in demand. In the winter the store is only open four days a week, but as Wendy and Steve live on site they'll always respond to an emergency knock on the door.

shop profile
Drumbeg Stores Staff: 1 full time, 1 part time Size: 500sq ft Open: Mon-Sat 9-5 (four days a week in winter) Services: Delicatessen, home delivery, tourist information
Wendy knew from the start that to be viable the store had to be "more than a convenient place to buy the few things which were forgotten in the supermarket". Assuming that both the locals and the holidaymakers do their main ambient shopping elsewhere, the shop is anything but the general provisions store you might expect to find in this remote location. The first thing you see on entering the tiny space is a selection of fresh deli products pizza slices, samosas, olives and stuffed peppers. Then there's local salmon, venison and cheese and home-baked baguettes. For tourists who had expected another lunch of baked beans in the caravan, finding this place is like stumbling into heaven, and Wendy is happy to make up baguettes for them to eat on the seats overlooking the loch outside the store.

"There are very few shops in the far north of Scotland where you can buy fine foods like these," Wendy says. "We are the only West Coast delicatessen north of the Kyle of Lochalsh."

The rest of the counter area is given over to local products, although as Wendy points out, local is a fairly loose term when the population is as widely spread as it is in the North of Scotland. Cheeses come from Connage Highland Dairy, and fish from a smokehouse in Ullapool. Venison, duck, goose and beef are delivered fortnightly and handmade oatcakes and shortbreads also make the perilous journey up the coast. Organic chocolates come from Durness and ice cream from Orkney. Behind the counter are wines, meads and liqueurs from Moniak Castle wineries and an exclusive Drumbeg cask whisky, chosen by Wendy with help from the local ghillie and distilled on the Isle of Arran.

All of these products are delivered by courier, which initially seems rather wasteful, but there's no easy way to organise the logistics of dealing with 35 separate suppliers. "Fortunately, everyone's been very good at giving us good shelf life for their products, so we can go five or six weeks between deliveries," Wendy says.

One lovely quirk of this store is its fresh fruit and veg section, which is, let's be frank, in a shed. Customers can help themselves to a fairly broad range, delivered three times a week, and bring them into the shop to pay. Local residents who grow their own veg can sell their surplus through the store.

Inside, with the tourists in mind, a section is given over to guidebooks, maps, postcards and paintings and jewellery from local artists. There's also a noticeboard giving advice on walks and wildlife. "Providing local knowledge and tips is a big part of what we do, and as we were tourists here for years we've done most of the walks ourselves," Wendy reveals. Regular visitors with holiday homes in the area can phone ahead to the store and Wendy will arrange for their shopping to be at their door when they arrive. Alternatively, they can simply say how much they'd like to spend, and start their holiday with a surprise hamper of Highland cheeses, pâtés, smoked meats and fish, fresh vegetables and just-baked bread and croissants.

"Personalised service is what Drumbeg Stores is all about," Wendy says. "Our aim is to make our store everything an imaginatively stocked wee shop in a remote Highland village should be and a little more."

So a year into their new life, how are the southerners coping with Sutherland? "People says it must feel remote up here, but you know, I felt more detached when we lived in the middle of a town," Wendy says. "As for the retailing, it's been harder work than we imagined, and we know we need to go all out through the tourist seasons to make up for the quiet winters."

Any regrets? "Absolutely none. This is our home now. We know everyone here and have a laugh every day. We love it here."

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