A MODEST house with a large garden came on the market recently, near where I live in the Borders. Set among rolling fields, it looked so desirable, a friend bought a fistful of Euro lottery tickets in the hope of being able to swoop on it. Her splurge came to nothing, but in the meantime the estate agent informed her there had been over 50 viewings in a matter of days, and several notes of interest. Not surprisingly, it was gone in the blink of an eye. Another win for the property market, another disappointment for would-be buyers, desperately seeking a place in the country.

In previous years, this house would have been ideal for someone wanting to live off the beaten track yet within reach of Edinburgh or Glasgow, so long as a three-hour round trip was not an obstacle. These days, it is possible that whoever picks up the keys works in London.

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When lockdown obliged the desk-based workforce to commandeer the kitchen table or garden shed, it seemed the grind of daily commuting would soon become history. Working from home has inspired fashion and make-up trends, not to mention a whole new lingo.

Most importantly, it has encouraged a fresh take on balancing working hours with the rest of our lives. In some form or other, it seems here to stay. Twentieth-century commuting will persist, but by no longer colonising every day of the week, the stress and cost and waste of time will be considerably reduced.

Recent stories of standing-room only on the London tube and the sight of congested motorways are drearily familiar, and this before lockdown is lifted. They seem to suggest that rumours of the death of commuting have been greatly exaggerated. Yet despite these gloomy reports, evidence also indicates that a radically more flexible attitude towards office life and presenteeism is steadily gaining ground. This cultural rethink is transforming people’s notions of where they want to live, and allowing their horizons to widen.

Fuelling this shift is a change in attitude towards the distance those on the top rungs of the professional ladder are prepared to endure. What used to be a short leash is being stretched to a kite-string, enabling workers to soar miles away from base. The enormous journeys people are now prepared to make to work would once have seemed inconceivable without a helipad on the office forecourt.

Property analysts say that figures for the past 12 months show a pronounced rise in house prices in cities “within striking distance” of London. York has seen a 25% boom, while for Edinburgh the figure is 17%, eastern Fife (the golden fringe of the mantle) 14.8 %, and the Borders 13.9%. In addition, according to Andrew Diamond, chair of the ESPC (Edinburgh Solicitors’ Property Centre), a number of Scots living abroad, in places like the Far East or Australia, have decided now is the time to return home. Whether they will become international remote workers, or intend to find a new job, or are already retired is not clear.

Gone, for the time being, is the old dream of a weekend rural bolthole. Picturesque villages used to be the favoured hunting ground for well-heeled city dwellers, determined to decompress after the misery of rush-hour jams, late trains, and sardine conditions on the underground. Now, a place in the country means not a chichi bothy or log cabin, but a wholesale relocation to a substantial house; a shift from the built-up urban environment, to the delights of lush green scenery and septic tanks.

There’s a word for those in the capital who, long before Covid, pioneered what you might call the super commute. A WILLIE is someone who Works In London, Lives In Edinburgh. The term says all you need to know about some folk’s opinion of that modus operandi.

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After selling up in London, these arm’s-length employees can afford prime Edinburgh locations, snapping up city centre houses or large flats with gardens that most people can never hope to afford. Making the journey to London weekly or fortnightly, these high-fliers can take full advantage of the quality of life in northern climes. Whether it’s school fees, gym membership or dining out, they can live much less expensively while maintaining their London salaries and status.

Fair enough, you might say. Who would envy them the pre-dawn starts on a January morning, or the empty hours forever lost in an airport or broken-down train? Yet as the sharp rise in property prices shows, locally employed house buyers in the capital or nearby regions are placed at a distinct disadvantage.

The price inflation that cash from the London market causes is distorting the property scene, with a trickle-down effect that impinges even on first-time buyers. If working far from the chimes of Big Ben grows in popularity, then the gulf between the wealthy and the rest of the home-buying population in Scotland will surely deepen.

How times change. The mark of privilege and money used to be having a second home. I remember a friend, who was struggling to pay his mortgage, barely containing himself when he overheard a posh voice in an Edinburgh pub complaining that people didn’t understand the hassle of owning two properties.

These days, status is increasingly defined not by two sets of council tax bills but by the miles between desk and office. The less you are required to be physically present, the more important – indeed invaluable – you are perceived to be. From a young age we are taught that the poor will always be with us. But now, as rocketing property prices suggest, so too will the rich.

In some ways, the widening opportunities that super commuting offers, and the reinvigorating of areas beyond cities that will follow, is welcome. Best of all is the hope that everyone with a job that can be done digitally or by phone will be able to take advantage of this desk-top revolution. Instead of being confined to a hinterland within easy reach of the boss, perhaps one day more of us could head for the hills without worrying we’ll find our P45 on the doormat when we turn the key.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Herald.