Durness: 58 degrees north, closer to the pole than Gothenburg and Juneau, Alaska. This is the land of single-track roads and passing places; of herds of deer and heather-coated mountains and cliffs that plunge into the icy sea. It is now also home to Croft 103, the only five-star accommodation for 100 miles in the extreme north of Scotland.
Impressive when you consider that by Christmas the sun will only be up for around six hours, if it's visible at all. The past two years, when temperatures hit obscene lows and the UK seemed to endure its own brief ice age, the wee village in Sutherland must have felt like a Siberian prison.
"Oh no, it was magical," says Fiona Mackay. "We're really going to push for winter bookings."
Along with husband Robbie, she is the owner of Croft 103 and Mackay's, a four-star hotel in Durness mainland, Britain's most north-westerly village. "There was one night we were finishing off our new cottages at the edge of the loch. The snow was all around, the sky was clear, the northern lights were great, and a big heard of deer came in off the hills to keep warm. It was just magic." It sounds more Philip Pullman than Dostoevsky.
It's just about possible to make the journey via bus from Inverness, but when the weather is good the drive – especially the stretch between Ullapool and Durness – is one of the most spectacular in the country, if not all of Europe. The lack of traffic is a bonus, not least because of the amount of braking that's required every time another impossibly beautiful landscape pops round a tight bend.
But this far north life tends to the extreme. Just as it's dark for a long time in winter, so the summer nights stretch past 11pm. At the Durness golf course there are tales of playing past midnight, and of watching killer whales hunting seals in the bay next to the 18th green. Nearby, Smoo is the largest limestone cave in the UK; similarly, out at Cape Wrath the Clo Mor cliffs are our highest sheer cliffs, and one of our best sea bird colonies. It's craggy and wild – just as the end the world should be.
In contrast with all that, the Mackays' new property is a picture of serenity. Croft 103 is actually two self-catering cottages: the Hill and Shore Dwellings, located a few miles outside of Durness. Well off the main road, they are set a couple of hundred yards away from one another, offering total peace and quiet. They look east over Eriboll, a vast sea loch where the last German U-boats surrendered at the end of the war, towards Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro.
Robbie led us down to the Shore Dwelling where we found a basket full of local cheeses, smoked salmon and other seasonal Highland treats. It's possible to request him to dive in the loch for fresh scallops to supplement the bounty, but we weren't so cruel.
Before arriving I had imagined self-catering in this part of the world would mean perilously waving a net around off a cliff in hope of catching a puffin. A few years ago, maybe, but today Durness is surprisingly cosmopolitan in its tastes. In the local newsagents we found perfectly ripe avocados, soy sauce infused with sesame and a respectable Argentinian malbec. Failing all of that, we were of course welcome to eat at the restaurant in Mackay's hotel.
But back at the cottage, the kitchen is all brushed aluminium and locally milled Douglas fir. Everything is, of course, brand new – the dishwasher, the oven sunk into the wall. You want to cook in a place like this.
The rest of the cottage has a linear design, so with all the doors open it's possible see from the front door to the bathroom at end of the building. This allowed me a very long track on which to run, then jump on to the gargantuan bed – a bespoke seven foot by seven foot – in the penultimate room. My Olympic effort barely got me half way across the emperor-sized monster.
The dash took me past a cosy rug in front of a woodburner, past a huge swallow-you-whole couch, and past a Bose sound system piped into the walls, next to a 50-inch plasma TV. Just to the right, though, there's a 50ft screen to watch the world in glorious technicolour. Enormous glass runs the length of the building, offering utterly spectacular views across Loch Eriboll from every room in the house. Perhaps the biggest achievement at Croft 103 is that despite all this glass, the near-Arctic location, and the polished concrete floors, it is quite a warm property.
The key is in the design, which the Mackays say is "carbon negative". While the front is all glass, the back of the property is cuddled by a small hill. The rear wall is also insulated with sheep's wool, and tyre bales salvaged from a nearby scrapyard. Many of the stones used in the construction were sourced on-site, and everything else – down to the toilet roll holders – bought from Highland suppliers, or designed and fitted by local tradesmen. On top of all this (literally) there is a wind turbine that generates enough electricity to power both crofts, and still export 10,000kw hours a year back to the grid. The Mackays aren't kidding about this stuff.
We went outside to enjoy the perfect silence. Croft 103 is aimed at couples looking for a romantic getaway – and it would suit that perfectly – but I couldn't help think that it would be a great place to write a book, too. A path to the end of the building led us to a barbecue and, to our surprise, a free-standing outdoor bath. We looked across the loch, to the purple and gold hills, and up to the cloud-free sky exorcising the earth of its last heat. "Hmm," we thought, glancing back at the hot water tap with suspicion, "maybe not today."