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Caithness News Bulletins July 2003

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Scotland's most renowned and spectacular mountain range, the Cuillin of Skye could soon be gifted to the Scottish people by their owner, John MacLeod of MacLeod.

The possibility of such a gift being made in the near future is central to a set of prospective property transactions being explored jointly by the MacLeod Estate, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and The Highland Council, in association with the John Muir Trust.

If these transfers go ahead - and all parties in the present negotiations are excited by the possibility of making them happen - Mr MacLeod, chief of Clan MacLeod, may also transfer his ownership of Dunvegan Castle, Scotland's oldest continually inhabited home and the residence of the MacLeod chiefs for eight hundred years, into a charitable trust.  This trust would be responsible for raising the funds needed to repair and refurbish the castle with a view to reinforcing and enhancing its role as one of Skye's and Scotland's premier visitor attractions.

Once Mr MacLeod is satisfied that Dunvegan Castle would have a secure and viable future by this means, he may transfer ownership of the castle into an appropriately-constituted trust and give the Cuillin to the people of Scotland.

HIE, in collaboration with the MacLeod Estate, is taking steps to establish the cost of a castle refurbishment programme. These costs will be substantial - possibly in excess of 10 million - and funding contributions are likely to be sought from a range of heritage bodies.  It is hoped that these bodies, recognising that they may be helping to obtain national ownership of the Cuillin as well as helping to restore a key component of Scotland's built heritage, will respond positively and generously.

As is common when historic houses are transferred into charitable ownership, in recognition of the uniqueness of Dunvegan Castle as the home of the chiefs of MacLeod since recorded history began - and its continuing focus for Clan MacLeod today - John MacLeod of MacLeod and his family would retain rights of residence in one part of the building.

Parts of the Cuillin already belong to the John Muir Trust, a conservation charity, and other neighbouring land belongs to the Scottish Executive's agricultural department and to Forest Enterprise, another public body.  Significantly, this means that Mr MacLeod's willingness to gift the central part of the mountain range to the nation would open up the prospect of managing the entire Cuillin range in the public interest, and in accordance with agreed environmental guidelines, by organisations committed to community involvement, and pledged to provide the widest possible public access.

Management structures for a nationally-owned Cuillin, involving community, natural heritage and national interests, will take shape only after wide consultation in Skye and beyond. Already, however, it is clear that nothing like this has been achieved in Britain before.

Should John MacLeod's gift of the mountains go ahead, the Cuillin will have less in common with British-style national parks - which, despite their designation, remain in a variety of private ownerships - than with parks of the sort common in countries like the United States and Canada, which, together with the mountains, lakes and other features they contain, belong to their respective nations.

John MacLeod of MacLeod said: "If the Cuillin and the castle can be transformed into national assets in this way, I shall be delighted. I should be giving up properties which have been associated with my family for many centuries, and that is not at all easy. But the possibilities I am now discussing with HIE and with Highland Council seem to me to hold out an excellent prospect of securing the long-term future of the Cuillin, and of Dunvegan Castle, in a manner that could bring real and enduring benefits both to Skye and to Scotland."

HIE chairman, Dr James Hunter, said: 'We have some way to go before we'll be certain what it will cost to refurbish Dunvegan Castle, and we have still further to go before we'll be clear as to the sources of the necessary finance. But we are committed to taking this initiative forward. Dunvegan Castle is of importance historically and, as a visitor attraction, it's of huge importance economically to the Dunvegan community, indeed to Skye as a whole. Of even greater importance, however, are the Cuillin. We've been given the opportunity to obtain the Cuillin for the Scottish people, and that's an opportunity neither we nor Scotland can afford to miss.'

The Highland Council Convener Alison Magee said: "I am confident the people of Skye will warmly support these proposals to secure the future of two of the island's key assets, which provide so much enjoyment for people from throughout the world. We will be working closely with our partners to ensure these exciting plans come to fruition."

Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise chairman Muriel Jones, said: "Both the Cuillin and Dunvegan Castle are important parts of the island's heritage. The new proposals would form an exciting and, I believe, achievable means of protecting these valuable assets and preserving them for the people of Skye and Scotland, both now and in the future."

John Muir Trust director Nigel Hawkins said: "The John Muir Trust welcomes the prospect of a public interest solution which will safeguard the future of the main ridge of the Cuillin whilst ensuring the future of Dunvegan Castle as a major tourist attraction for Skye.

"The Trust has already made a major commitment to Skye through its ownership of three estates, Strathaird, Torrin and Sconser all in the area of the Cuillin and containing some of its finest mountains. The Trust involves local people in the management of all its properties and is committed to open public access.

"We look forward to working with other parties to ensure that the interests of the people of Skye are fully taken into account and that wider national interests in the Cuillin as Britain's finest mountain range are also recognised."

Councillor Drew Millar, Ceannaire of The Highland Council's Skye and Lochalsh Area Committee, said: "To many people, the Cuillin represent the heart of Skye and the mountains have been an inspiration to climbers, poets, songwriters and authors for centuries.  It is entirely fitting that the Cuillin, which gives the island so much of its character, should be brought into public ownership."