Ninian Dunnett talks to the computer literate on the Orkney island of

Hoy about the advantages of telecottaging.

The visionaries of the computer revolution talk of the world as an

''electronic village'', where no far-flung corner is more remote than

the nearest telephone-connected computer terminal. And though these are

early days, some of Scotland's isolated areas have been quick to respond

to the idea.

In Thurso, 35 men and women sit at terminals solving computer problems

for 70,000 British Telecom customers in London. There is a man at a

computer in Fort William, translating manuals for Mercedes Benz in

Germany. And in March the London-based Hoskyn Group opens a

multi-million-pound computer ''teleservices'' centre in Forres, where it

hopes ultimately to employ 200.

There are other, more community-based, developments. Set up in 1990 by

Highland and Islands Enterprise, Orkney Islands Council and British

Telecom, the ''telecottage'' in the old schoolhouse on the Island of Hoy

offers computer, fax and copying facilities to the 450 islanders. The

business is now self-financing under a local management committee, and

its biggest users are professional partners Lydia Hardcastle, 37, and

Jude Callister.

Originally from Derbyshire, Hardcastle moved to Hoy eight years ago

after working in computer sales in Manchester for 10 years.

LH: ''We operate an open door here, and it's no way a hi-tech place at

all. I have my little boy here after school, and the dog usually sleeps

under the table.

''But we have to make some money somehow. We do all the church

documents for the minister, and training for local residents, and some

artists use our scanning systems to enhance their work and tweak it

about. We've just done an access guide for Orkney Disability Forum -- a

fairly hefty tome; and Peter Maxwell Davies, the composer, comes here to

fax his manuscripts to London. ''If we need new parts or repairs, we

can't expect anyone to turn up in the next five minutes, but they'll

turn up on the next ferry. Except in November, when the force 8 or 9

gales are blowing. And occasionally we have power cuts which can cause

havoc; so we do have to be a bit more patient than people in mainland


''At the moment we're working on a project for a charity in London

called Farm Africa. They sent disks of text, and we're publishing two

booklets: Camel Production in Kenya, and Improved Camel Marketing. So we

know all sorts of things about camels now. What you can do with a camel

when it dies is incredible -- eat the meat, and use the hide and the

teeth, and even burn the camel dung, you know.''

Liverpool-born Jude Callister, 32, worked as an archaeologist before

moving to Hoy in 1989.

JC: ''My husband and I had done a lot of work in Orkney as

archaeologists, and we came up here with the idea that we'd take any

sort of job to enable us to live here. We did bed and breakfast, and

archaeological tours of the islands, and then Nick started working for a

local builder and I became involved here -- and I think I'm very lucky.

''We don't make very much money, but we have a good time! Lydia and I

work very well together. We have the odd shout and scream, but we're

both fairly flexible folk, and we're terribly diplomatic and polite.

''You've got to have a very good line to send information down the

phone, or you just get a garble at the other end -- and we've still got

the very old exchange, which is a bit temperamental at times, a bit

damp. Occasionally you can't phone one end of the island from the other.

But we're getting a new digital exchange this summer.

''There's a big hurdle to get over with computers, though, even for my

age-group, and certainly a lot of people on the island. There's a fear

of technology which the kids growing up now don't have. I think this is

the way forward; but it's going to take a lot longer to work miracles

than everybody thought.''

A year ago Stewart Somerville, 30, and his wife and son moved from

Edinburgh to the lighthouse at Hoy's southern tip, where they run

self-catering cottages. He is pool supervisor at the island's school and

community centre, and a director of the telecottage.

SS: ''I'm more or less a hunting and fishing type of man, and I had

really nothing to do with computers before I came here. But I'd say that

with the school, the telecottage was one of our main reasons for moving

up.''I can put anything anywhere in the world from here, and we've

designed letterheads and leaflets for the self-catering on the

computers. And we're hoping to go ahead with a sort of island-hopping

package-tours thing for tourists, with Hoy as the sort of hub, because

we've got the machines and what-have-you.

''To me the telecottage can do anything as good as the publishing in

Glasgow or Edinburgh, and it's a hands-on thing. People work part-time a

lot here, there's not that many full-time jobs, and if they can spend a

few hours with the computers and then the rest of the day on the hills

with the sheep -- that's the way they like it.''