The Angry Corrie 47: Oct-Nov 2000

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The main ridge and Wolrige: raising hackles and shekels

As over in the east the funicular threatens to become the Highlands' Dome (see p15 for the latest), the big land controversy on the other side of the country continues to anger Hamish Brown...

I WONDER if John MacLeod of MacLeod has sacked his PR person? Don't these pretentious tartan sycophants realise how foolish they appear to most people? I was only a laddie, but one deeply imbibing Highland history, when one Wolfbane-Garden, sorry, Wolrige-Gordon (I think) suddenly through his mother's mother dying became the MacLeod of MacLeod, clan chief and all that and all that. The sickener was seeing MacLeods flocking in from every exile corner of the globe to kow-tow to the inheritor of those who had made the great betrayal. When clan chiefs walked out on their people, having stolen their inheritances in the eighteenth century, they should have been ostracised, sent to Coventry. Most, of course, headed even further south, to London.

Anciently, clan chiefs were primus inter pares. If the son of a father was less than capable, he was set aside. Hereditary rights depended on responsibility. The chief was chief of a clan, not the owner of any land; just as, to this day, the queen is Queen of Scots and not Queen of Scotland.

In the aftermath of Culloden the chiefs wiggled their way into the brave new southern world, leaving their people to stew. London lights needed money which was not much used under the clan system. The system had to go. On their own initiative the chiefs created - invented - alien title deeds to what was not theirs. And, being the ones with the power and the law, so-called, they got off with this theft. What we have today is stolen property. And when sheep were obviously going to yield a better income, they cleared their people, completing as great a betrayal as has ever been perpetrated on a people anywhere. Ethnic cleansing is the modern term.

All this was carefully swept under the carpet, natur-ally. It is easy to rewrite history books. In the 1960s, I once took two delightful English schoolteachers on a Highland Tour. They were history teachers. They had not heard of the Clearances. Our Scottish history, languages and traditions were marginalised, forbidden, trivialised, for all too long. Now that we are potentially a people again, questions are being asked that go right to the roots of these past misdeeds.

So the theme park of Dunvegan needs some roof repairs. What treasure can be sold off? The Cuillin seemed a brilliant idea: a hunk of land with lean agricultural use, with little return on any investment. But it is also the most celebrated mountain range in Scotland, sung in legends back to centuries before a MacLeod existed, sung by Sorley Maclean in modern times, the inspiration of millions of outdoor-loving souls whether the overheated Sir Walter Scott years ago or the ice-cold climber in Coire Lagan today. I wonder how many days of his life Wolrige-Gordon has spent in the Cuillin. Locals tell he spends precious few at Dunvegan.

Whoever suggested the figure of 10 million has done us all a service, for the figure is so obscene that it becomes laughable. In defence, they immediately tried to compare it to the price of Ben Nevis, 450,000 - which was bad enough in its way. That was stolen property, too. It was immediately cried that the Cuillin had many more Munros, ignoring that the Nevis sale included others, thus falsifying their own arithmetical concepts. Good land valuation would mark the Cuillin very low indeed. A suggested figure of 2 million is still ridiculous.

"They were part of my soul" and "We've bought the Cuillins with our blood" are MacLeod feelings which can be sublimated by a good price. MacLeod loves them "with a devotion that cannot be exceeded by a rambler", we are told. To which we say: Ha! I cannot now recall the source where someone in a similar situation said, of a landowner's hills: "He owns them. I possess them". The word "rambler" is ill-chosen, too. The Cuillin are the preserve of the climber, the mountaineer, the skilled walker. Hardly rambling country, but then where is the first-hand knowledge among the sellers? The Cuillin defy the fatuous wordings of estate agents.

Some demands have been made that Wolrige-Gordon produces his title deeds to the Cuillin (or to Dunvegan if it comes to that). Clan MacLeod originally won and held this part of Scotland by battle-axe and claymore. Only when the clan system was smashed did the chiefs start to wave papers of so-called "rights". Let Wolrige-Gordon wave such papers now. If he can't, it offers an intriguing situation. Who then would "own" the Cuillin?

While in some ways it is a good thing to see the Cuillin into safe hands, this in reality changes little. We have been climbing the Cuillin for long enough. We will go on climbing the Cuillin whatever bits of paper are passed around or monies paid. So why should anyone offer to buy the Cuillin from the synthetic MacLeod? What would they do with the hills more than the present "owner"? 10 million is quite a price for a mere vanity possession. The transformation of MacLeod of MacLeod from romantic chieftain into a land speculator of a singularly grasping type betrays all such ownership. He seeks to sell God's greatest creation in Scotland to patch the roof of his wee bit hoosie.

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