When the Black Cuillin mountains went on the market for £10m

Details from photograph of Black Cuillin on Skye. The mountains were put up for  sale for �10m in 2000 but never sold. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr.
Details from photograph of Black Cuillin on Skye. The mountains were put up for sale for �10m in 2000 but never sold. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr.
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It is hard to imagine putting a price on a mountain - particularly a range as spectacular as the Black Cuillin on Skye.

But back in 2000, the 29th chief of Clan MacLeod, John MacLeod of MacLeod, caused and outcry when he put the mountains on the market for £10m in order to fund repairs to the roof at Dunvegan Castle.

It was claimed the state of the family seat, held for some 800 years, was so bad that guests had to put up umbrellas in their bedrooms.

But MacLeod found little sympathy for his plight and was roundly condemned by islanders, environmentalists and MPs for the attempt to cash in on the natural landmark.

One MP accused him of trying to “exploit what God has given the people of Skye’ while others claimed he was holding the island to ransom with the price tag.

MacLeod, who died in 2007, had been deeply affected by the controversy.

He said the sale of the mountains had caused him “intense inner grief” and that he sympathised with those upset by the potential sale.

He also claimed: “[People] are whingeing and whining as if I’m going to pocket 10 million quid and run off to Bermuda to drink Martinis.”

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A forensic examination of private papers and deeds relating to the Skye estate followed with doubts raised over whether MacLeod had any title to the mountains.

The original title to the land was granted by the Crown to the MacLeod’s in 1611 and remained in the family estates ever since.

However, no direct mention of the mountains was included with opponents arguing the charter referred to the MacLeod’s Tables which stand across the loch from Dunvegan Castle.

When the Crown Estate said a legal challenge would have “little prospect of success” the way for the sale appeared to be cleared.

Rumours of £6m offer from an American tycoon circulated.

In 2003, it appeared MacLeod was willing to hand the mountains over to a public trust in return for repairs to the castle but a £25m funding bid to the National Lottery to support the project was rejected.

Today, the mountains remain in the MacLeod estate after the chief’s son and heir, Hugh, took over the running of the estate following his father’s death and came up with a viable plan for the restoration of Dunvegan.

The price tag placed on the Black Cuillin was called into question when a swathe of Ben Nevis was sold to the John Muir Trust for just under £450,000 in 2000.

John Muir Trust said, using the same yard stick, the Skye mountains should have been offered for around £2.4m.

The south side and peak of Ben Nevis was sold by Warwickshire-based accountant Duncan Fairfax-Lucy, whose family had bought the estate as an investment some 150 years earlier.

Most of Scotland’s mountains remain privately owned but several key ranges have been bought by heritage and environmental organisations.

They include Glencoe, which was bought by the then newly formed National Trust for Scotland in 1935 following the death of owner Lord Strathcona, a key figure in the Hudson Bay Company.

Shortly after, the Mountainous Country Fund was set up by the Scottish Mountaineering Club and the NTS to buy more land.

Following donations from climbers, the fund was able to purchase a total of 60,000 acres from Arran to Torridon which helped to secure some access rights.

Another big mountainous area owned by NTS is the Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms which covers 15 Munros including Ben Macdui, Derry Cairngorm and Devil’s Point.

Meanwhile, one of Scotland’s most recognisable mountains is in community ownership.

Since 2005, Suilven in Sutherland has been owned by the Assynt Foundation with the mountains of Canisp, Cul Mor and Cul Beag also falling within its estate.