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‘It’s like Disney built a village’: With plans for more houses, shops, a school and a pub for Tornagrain, what’s it like living in the north’s youngest town?

The population of the community often compared to the King's Poundbury project is on course to reach 2,000 by 2032.

John and Hannah Mackay with  daughter Mathilda, 2,  and new son Hugo. Imager Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
John and Hannah Mackay with daughter Mathilda, 2, and new son Hugo. Imager Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Little Hugo Mackay is the new kid in the newest town in the Highlands.

His arrival in December was a new addition to the family for parents John and Hannah and two-year-old sister Mathilda.

He is also the latest member of the Tornagrain population which has grown steadily since its first residents moved in nearly seven years ago.

More than a decade in the planning, there are now 750 people living in just over 300 homes in the community between Inverness and Nairn.

That is set to increase with the next phase of development underway, with more housing, businesses and its first primary school coming.

When will the new buildings be ready?

Places for People is building two blocks of houses due for completion towards the end of 2025, by which time more building will have started.

Four new commercial units, one of which is earmarked for a GP surgery, are set to open in spring 2025.

Discussions are also taking place with Highland Council over construction of a new primary school.

It is due to be ready in late 2028, in time for Hugo to be among its first pupils.

It represents steady development for Tornagrain where the population is on course to reach 2,000 by 2032.

The Mackay family moved to Tornagrain from the Gairloch area. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Facilities already in the town include a grocery shop, pharmacy, café, tennis courts, allotments, a community hall, outdoor nursery and two community orchards.

A site for a pub has been identified and there are plans for activities for older children and a hub for small artisan businesses.

The greater vision is for a town of 12,500 people, 5,000 homes, three primary schools and a secondary school and take 50 years to complete.

The idea is for a town centre focussed on a High Street with squares at either end and surrounding neighbourhoods, each with a centre within five-minutes’ walk.

And all residents will be within a 10-minute walk of the town centre to encourage walking and cycling but also social interaction.

So who is coming to live in Tornagrain?

According to Moray Estates, which is developing the town, of the last five blocks of 79 houses 71% of buyers came from the Highlands and Islands, including 37% from Inverness.

Another 14% came from other parts of Scotland, 9% from England and 6% from overseas.

The Mackays, originally from the Gairloch area, moved to the expanding new town in December 2022.

John, 33, who works in the shipping industry, said: “We were a little apprehensive initially coming to a new-build place.

“But we have been pleasantly surprised how easily we’ve settled in.

The next stage of construction at Tornagrain is underway

“Because it’s new, no one is a ‘local’, everyone is the same. It’s an inclusive community and a very welcoming place.

“Part of the reason for coming to live here is that we didn’t want the kids growing up in a big city.

“It’s been great to find so many other young families here.

“It’s exciting that the school will be built in time for Hugo, and it will be a 2-3 minute walk away.”

At the moment, local children – including Mathilda – go to one of the existing local primaries when they reach school age.

John has started a five-a-side football group and is looking forward to other facilities, including a pub and chip shop, as the town develops.

‘We bought into the idea’

Ann Darlington and her husband moved from Inverness to Tornagrain in 2018 to be closer to his work in Elgin.

Both now retired, they have seen the town grown up from the building site of 20-30 houses and untarmaced roads when they arrived.

Ann, who chairs the Tornagrain Community Association, said: “We bought into the idea and knew it was going to grow.

“For those of us who live here we know what’s coming next.

“(Development) can seem a bit slow going through planning. It would be great if we had a school now.

“But we know it’s finally coming. There are plenty places across the Highlands that haven’t been able to get the schools they want.”

Play area and tennis courts at Tornagrain.

Mrs Darlington said Tornagrain is an “interesting and quite exciting place” to live, as it grows around current residents.

“One of the reasons we moved here is that we felt it would be interesting to be part of something like this.

“In Inverness we lived in a street and not a community. It suited us heading towards retirement to be in a new place getting to know new people.

“We’ve enjoyed that and sharing that sense that everyone is starting off in a new community.”

She said Tornagrain is a good place for young children to stay and visit and welcomes moves to have more activities for older children.

The community association has also proposed creating space for people to make and sell crafts as well as ‘hot desk’ facilities.

‘It’s like Disney built a village’

Suzi Wilson arrived in Tornagrain from Speyside a year ago with her dog Suki.

“The first time I drove through I thought it was pretty and cute, like Disney had built a village.

“It’s so clean and beautiful and peaceful.”

The fixed price contract was an attraction, as was her energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly home.

Suzi Wilson and Suki

The retired property manager has been struck by the friendliness of the community.

“I felt very welcome. No one needs to feel lonely or left out here. Everyone you meet is happy to be here.”

She also enjoys the rules for residents, from keeping their driveways clean to a colour range for their front doors.

“I like there are rules to help keep the place a certain way. The ethos of how the place should be run really sold it for me.

“I think it’s a great idea to build a place like this from scratch with everything to make it a good place to live and where you can walk and not use the car.”

Nicole Petrie, Tornagrain development manager at Moray Estates, is looking  forward to welcoming new residents as construction continues.

“Our plans were always to build a sustainable, thriving community at Tornagrain where people would be able to access all the services they needed for an enjoyable life.”

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