Sunday, October 2, 2011

Glencripesdale Estate - Part 2

Before continuing the story, I discovered after I finished writing Part 1, a rental (rent roll) of the MacLean of Duart estates in 1674 shortly before they were taken over by the Earl of Argyll. You can see that here and it includes £200 plus 6 quarts of butter and 6 stones of cheese payable for "Glencribastill". And on the Roy Map of 1747-55 (see that here), it's "Glen Cribsdale" so these two references probably give a big hint as to how "Glencripesdale" is pronounced.

"Glen Cribsdale" on the Roy Map
Also, the tenant in the 1674 rental is given simply as "Lochzeill" which I take to be a reference to Cameron of Lochiel, the chief of Clan Cameron. If so, it's an interesting reflection that, as long ago as the 17th century, one clan chief could be another's tenant, co-existing in an atmosphere of delivering up finished dairy products as opposed to the more traditional norm of thieving each other's cattle at the point of a claymore!    

Anyway, carrying on, we'd reached the 1960s when the Forestry Commission (FC) had converted the Newton brothers' Victorian and Edwardian mixed sporting and farming estate into a mono-culture forestry plantation of exotic conifers. It was a fate suffered by many Highland estates in the post-War era when the economics of maintaining rich people's playgrounds had ceased to be viable.

When Mrs Thatcher's Conservative government came to power in 1979 (an era of fiscal austerity much like today), it promptly resolved to stop funding the FC's endless deficits and decreed that, henceforth, it would have to make up its losses by selling off parts of its vast landholding.

Hence, the 18th century Glencripesdale Farmhouse was sold off in 1983. I'm not sure if he bought it directly from the FC or from a previous purchaser but, for the last 10 years or so, the farmhouse has been owned by one Adam Besterman. As well as farms in Gloucestershire and Wales, he owns Auch Estate near Tyndrum - a remarkable coincidence that that was where the Stewarts who bought Glencripesdale from the Duke of Argyll in 1821 farmed. (Auch is the farm below Beinn Dorain in the horse-shoe loop of the railway to the east of the A82 between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy.)

Auch from the A82 - Beinn Dorain on the left
At some stage - I would guess in the 1980s - the north east portion of Glencripesdale Estate along the south shore of Loch Sunart was transferred from the Forestry Commission to Scotland's conservation quango, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). This was due to the internationally important  native oak woods along the shore of the loch left unaffected while the FC had planted of exotic conifers elsewhere on the estate. This land was eventually declared a National Nature Reserve - brochure about this here (pdf download: it's shortly to be "de-declared" as an NNR for reasons you can see here. That doesn't mean the oak trees will lose their statutory protections as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), it just means there won't be a re-print of that brochure.)

In 1993, the remainder of Glencripesdale (the bit with the Sitka Spruces on it) came to the top of the Forestry Commission's disposal list and was sold to a Danish trio called Niels Tandrup and Viggo & Helle Sorensen.

Their first priority was to fell the commercial plantations established by the FC 35-40 years earlier and now reaching maturity. But how to export the timber? Rather than having heavy lorries laden with logs thundering down the private track along the shore of Loch Sunart through the fragile habitat of the National Nature Reserve, the Danes hit upon the innovative solution of exporting the timber by sea. To facilitate this, a steel barge was beached on the shore to act as a makeshift pier to load logs from. Though crude, it was an early and far sighted instance of extraction of timber by sea which has now become best practice, even for the Forestry Commission itself.

The "barge pier" at Glencripesdale - Picture credit Keith Cunneen
In 2002, the Tandrup/Sorensens sold the property to Hugh Whittle, the owner of Glenfeochan Estate just south of Oban. He developed a dream for Glencripesdale which was to progressively fell the remaining FC plantations of exotic commercial species as they matured and, in a very long term (30+ years) plan, gradually restore the estate to the mixed environment of farming Highland Cattle amongst native woodlands much as it had existed under the Newtons a century before.

This is all very much in tune with the latest officially endorsed fads in conservation and, as part of an integrated plan, Whittle also planned a new lodge on the site of the Newtons' demolished mansion and an estate worker's house. The remaining commercial timber would be exported via a consolidated version of the "barge pier". With the prospect of grant assistance from an enthusiastic Forestry Commission (who are far keener nowadays on restoring native woodlands than establishing commercial timber plantations) and SNH also keen to see restoration of a part of the native woodland for which Loch Sunart is famous, he lodged the necessary planning applications for the houses and pier upgrade with Highland Council.

What followed was an exhausting seven years of bureaucracy and red-tape which I'll pick up in Part 3.

Native oak trees in Glencripesdale National Nature Reserve - photo credit Gordon Brown


1 comment:

  1. I've been enjoying this series so far. Looking forward to part 3.