HOPE is on the horizon for a south east Sutherland community, currently deprived of shops or eateries.
Ardgay has seen the shutters go down in recent years on its filling station, restaurant-cum-bar, post office and two general stores.
It has also been affected by the closure of nearby Carbisdale Castle Youth Hostel, which had a cafe open to the public.
The village lost its last retail outlet earlier this year when the upmarket Alladale Country Stores and cafe shut its doors.
Residents have to travel a mile or more to the nearest store at Bonar Bridge for the smallest necessity such as a pint of milk or loaf of bread.
But now a local business couple are making a substantial investment to give the community a neighbourhood shop.
Paul and Victoria Whittock, who run Ardgay Garage, are applying for planning consent to build two retail units.
One will operate as an independent convenience store and small cafe, while the other will serve as a bicycle shop.
The units are set to be built on the 0.13 hectare site of the redundant filling station which closed some six years ago
The Whittocks moved to Ardgay from Nottingham eight years ago and have since had two children, Harvey (3) and 19-month-old Logan. Vicky’s mother, Sue Wardrop, already lived in the village.
They have thrown themselves into community life, holding various charitable events such as car boot sales to raise funds for local groups. Mr Whittock has recently taken over the maintenance of the village’s Christmas Street lights.
"The lack of shops or a cafe locally was really brought home to us by our customers," he said.
"They would drop their vehicles off at the garage but then there would be nowhere for them to go unless they were prepared to walk to Bonar Bridge."
If the new units get the go-ahead, Mrs Whittock’s brother, Adam Wardrop, who has extensive retail experience, will be moving from Nottingham to Ardgay to run the convenience store.
His partner, Holly Salter, will take control of the cafe – although it will not get off the ground until later.
And Chris Bowden, who works for the Whittocks at Ardgay Garage, will be running the cycle shop, to be called Heaven Bikes. A keen cyclist, he is the founder member of the Kyle of Sutherland Cycling Club.
It is hoped that the new units could be open for business next year.
Meanwhile, Mr Whittock is also immersed in another project involving his long-time hobby of racing radio controlled (R/C) cars.
He has just established the Sutherland Radio Control Club (SRCC) and is building a track to the rear of the filling station site on which to run one tenth electric buggies.
Contact details for the new club have been posted on the website of the British Radio Car Association (BRCA), the UK’s governing body for radio controlled model car racing. "I used to race electric cars years ago and have just taken it up again," he said. "The track should be ready by next summer."
Ardgay and District Community Council chairman David Hannah has welcomed the new developments.
"Paul came to a council meeting to tell us about his plans," said Mr Hannah. "It is excellent news and will be a bit of life coming back into Ardgay. Paul and Vicky are doing very well by the community. We are all behind them and will support them in any way we can."
He added: "In Ardgay’s hey-day we had a Post Office, a restaurant and bar and two general stores. But the Dornoch Bridge took all the traffic away which killed Ardgay."