Imagine living and working all year round on a lonely granite outcrop in the middle of the ocean, where for hours on end the only sounds that you hear are the crashing of waves, the cry of sea birds and the sigh of your own breath. Nigel Dalby doesn't need to imagine it. He lives it. He is the manager of the Lundy Shop - the only grocery store on Lundy Island, a three-and-a-half mile outcrop of rocky land off the west coast of Britain, with a turbulent history of piracy and smuggling.
The island, a popular tourist destination, is financed, administered and maintained by the Landmark Trust, which has restored more than 20 of the island's buildings, making them available all year round as holiday lets. Visitors can choose to stay in an extraordinary range of buildings, from a 13th century castle to a lighthouse and a fisherman's chalet.
The store, a converted cattle byre, serves the scores of visitors who land on Lundy's rocky shores to explore, birdwatch, or simply get away from the hubbub of modern life each year.
It sells a wide range of dry groceries and fresh products which are delivered to the island by boat four days a week in the height of summer, and then twice a week in the autumn, and once a week in the winter.
Given that the store is located 11 miles off the mainland, the logistics of ordering and receiving deliveries of food are a challenge.
"I have to be very careful with what I order and when," explains Nigel. "One of the hardest things about working in this store is juggling all the best-before dates - especially in the winter when the boat comes once every seven days," he adds. For this reason, all the meat that Nigel sells is frozen.
The small store is tight on space so there's hardly any room for backroom storage. "Almost everything that we have is out on the shelves. I tell the customers if we haven't got it then you can't have it!" And he's not joking - the mainland is a two-hour boat trip away.
Nigel doesn't spend all his days in the store, pouring over orders, serving customers and stacking shelves. He is also part-time coastguard and spends a large amount of his time patrolling the sea shore. "No two days are ever the same on Lundy. It really is the best job in the world and I wouldn't change a thing."
HM Naval Base Clyde, some 25 miles north west of Glasgow, is the largest military establishment in Scotland, and is home to a number of nuclear-powered attack submarines and mine countermeasure vessels. It's also home to Madge Poklekloiwska, who owns a large Spar store and post office on the base, which also supports dozens of other visiting vessels and their crews each year.
"This store is unlike any other that I have worked in," says Madge. "For a start, there are no civilians here; we serve only military personnel. There are no kids either; seeing a child on the base is a real novelty for us.
We certainly don't have to worry about any test purchasing stings here!" she says.
The store, which is manned by 10 full-time staff, also has particularly unusual peak trading times and is closed all afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays. "Unlike most normal c-stores, weekends are our quietest times as most people who work on the base go home to see their friends and family. We are busiest on weekday mornings and when a vessel arrives at the base unannounced - that's when things can get really hectic."
The store stocks a wide range of groceries and top-up shopping items, but it's not fruit and vegetables that the sailors want for their voyages, it's sweets - and lots of them. "I think the ships must sail on sugar we sell so much of it," she laughs.
Bathroom essentials such as soap, razors and shaving foam are also a popular purchase for many of the sailors passing through the base - oh, and top-shelf lads' mags also sell like hot cakes.
If the hairs on the back of your neck rise as you peruse the fresh produce aisle in Prestbury's Burgage Stores in Gloucestershire, chances are it's not the air conditioning. It's more likely to be the ghost of the headless horseman stalking you among the salads and sprouts. The store is on the most haunted street in the most haunted village in England, and is home to a gaggle of grim-faced ghouls including the aforementioned headless horseman, the White Lady and the Black Abbot, a hooded creature who glides through the churchyard at night before disappearing through a wall in the high street.
News of the village's chilling history has spread far and wide, so much so that the small town of Prestbury has become a must-visit destination for phantom fanatics the world over - great news for local retailer Richard Beasant, who owns Burgage Stores in The Burgage, the starting point for most of the town's ghost tours.
Richard, who has lived in Prestbury for 24 years, revels in the town's spooky history as most of the visitors end up buying refreshments in his store at the end of their spine-tingling tours. "If it pulls in the punters, I'm all for it," he laughs. He has recently introduced a new deli counter inside the store, where tourists and regular customers can purchase freshly made sandwiches and local delicacies.
Although he has yet to see a ghost himself, Richard admits he avoids certain parts of the village, such as the church yard, after dark, and he isn't too keen on staying in the store on his own late at night.
"You hear all kinds of bumps and noises, but it's an old building so I just try to convince myself that it's the pipes rattling and get on with the job. If I didn't do that I'd never get anything done!"
Nestled within the wild heather moorlands and sweeping limestone dales of the Peak District National Park lies Winster Village Stores - a community-owned c-store run by husband-and-wife team Steve and Anne Fitter.
The store's location is not just unusual because it's in a designated conservation area, though. Winster Village is also the epicentre for a number of odd traditions which have been kept alive across the centuries.
Visitors who expect a quiet walk around this picturesque village on the morning of Shrove Tuesday are in for a shock. For this is the day of the famous Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races.
This bizarre tradition involves hundreds of people - young and old alike - charging down the high street, frying pan in hand, tossing pancakes. It has been in existence for more than 100 years and attracts tourists in their droves each year.
The store itself is famous for its cooked hams which are sourced from a local supplier and attract shoppers from as far as Nottinghamshire. It's also the only grocery outlet for a number of miles and serves five neighbouring villages.
"We have become renowned for our locally produced food and drink products - the tourists and locals love it and it sets us apart from the supermarkets," says Steve, who is currently overseeing a revamp of the 18th century store's interior.
And Winster has a number of other claims to fame aside from pancakes and hams. Its fascinating history, which is recorded in the Domesday Survey, also includes murder and a double 'lovers leap' suicide, resulting in a number of supposedly haunted buildings.
no ill feelings
Sales at the Co-operative Group's Port Isaac store are soaring - and its all down to a rather grumpy GP. The hit TV show Doc Martin, starring Men Behaving Badly's Martin Clunes, has been filmed in the North Cornwall town of Port Isaac for the past two years, transforming it from a sleepy 18th century fishing village to a busy tourist destination.
Climbing visitor numbers have been great news for Adrian Mitchell, manager designate of the Co-op store, the only grocery outlet in the town.
"The store has always traded well because it is the only place for local people to get their everyday essentials, but since Doc Martin was first aired, sales have gone through the roof thanks to a dramatic increase in tourist numbers," he says.
The Doc Martin film crew lived and worked in the village for the first three months of 2007 while making series three, which has just been aired on ITV, and they regularly popped in to stock up on supplies.
"The filming of Doc Martin created a real buzz," says Adrian. "Martin Clunes came in a couple of times to buy a pint of milk, which caused a real stir in the staff room," he laughs.
And with its picturesque harbour, whitewashed cottages and narrow alleyways (one is so narrow that it's affectionately called Squeezeebelly Alley) the town also proves an attractive holiday destination for other TV celebs. "The actress who played Mavis Riley in Corrie popped in over the summer while she was staying in the area," adds Adrian.
With plans afoot for a fourth series of Doc Martin, it looks like the team at the Port Isaac Co-op are set for an equally starry 2008.