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Mountains are wild places; indisputable elements of nature, for all to enjoy and for no one to own. Right? The 29th McLeod chief thought otherwise. When he found himself strapped for cash and with the clan’s seat, Dunvegan Castle*, eternally in disrepair, he decided to sell the mountains of Skye. Sell the soul of the island to the highest bidder! People laughed at his foolishness, because they knew the Cuillin weren’t his to sell. But John McLeod produced some deed documents from 1611 and decided he wanted to pocket £10 million pounds for them. Decried by islanders, environmentalists and MSPs, McLeod said he didn’t understand the fuss; it wasn’t as if he was going off to a tropical island, sipping cocktails. He would use the money wisely to conserve Dunvegan. He told the newspapers the castle was as leaky as a sieve and that guests needed umbrellas at the dining table.
Rumours of potential buyers started to circulate, but McLeod refused to say who they were. An American tycoon, a Danish billionaire, a Brazilian media magnate? Pure blackmail, many said: the rumours were useful to the laird, they would push the price and force the state, or an environmental organisation, to make the purchase to protect the island and to prevent the building of a humongous hotel and an airstrip in the rugged mountains.
Then suddenly, 3 years after the for-sale-sign went up and McLeod’s pockets were still empty, he made a U-turn. In all his generosity he would now donate the mountains to the Scottish people, in exchange for a charity trust funded by the National Lottery, to pay for the castle repairs. Again, he brought down outrage upon himself. ‘The people’ would be given a gift that was already theirs and on top of that, indirectly through lottery tax, they paid the bill for a leaking roof. A double sell-out. And of course the whole mountain selling debacle was always a moral issue instead of a legal one.
And the mountains? They are unchanged. Unaffected by all the commotion. They are magnificent and stand tall to welcome those who love and respect them.
*Apparently Dunvegan Castle suffers from an old curse. The reason why the castle, until the current chief, had been so badly been kept up? History has it that very soon after the castle is being repaired, the clan chief loses his life.