(80)  Selling mountains

On 22 March 2000 the twenty-ninth chief of the Clan MacLeod, John MacLeod of MacLeod, announced that he was putting up for sale at a price of £10 million the Black Cuillin mountain range in the Isle of Skye.  The money was needed to fund major roof repairs at the ancestral home, Dunvegan Castle.  Considerable public controversy ensued, fuelling further debates on issues such as rights of access and the right to roam, since the range is one of, if not the best-known hill-walking and climbing areas in Scotland. Questions were also raised as to the chief’s title to the property, which appears to rest on a 1611 royal charter under the Great Seal making no specific reference to the Black Cuillin, but granting “the lands and castle of Dunvegan together with  … their montibus … in the isle of Skye” (see the printed Register of the Great Seal, vol 7, no 458). But on 18 July 2000 the Crown Estate Commissioners, having taken counsel’s opinion, announced that it would not pursue any question of the MacLeod title to the Black Cuillin: there was a recorded title capable of including the mountains and evidence to support unchallenged possession for the prescriptive period. Meanwhile, on 21 June 2000 the sale of Scotland’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, to the John Muir Trust, a conservation body, was completed for a price of £450,000. The Ben had been in the ownership of the Faifax-Lucys, a family of landowners from the West Midlands of England, since 1834, when they acquired it from the previous owners for under £1,000. Legislation on rights of access to land for informal recreation and passage is expected in the 2000-2001 session of the Scottish Parliament (see further (1999) 3 Edinburgh Law Review 127, at 128).