National Geographic : 2017 May
94 national geographic • may 2017 to make ownership of such estates more costly and difficult—a plan shaped in part by long-held tensions over class and debates about the future of the moors, Scotland’s signature landscape. For Macpherson-Fletcher, it was time to ring down the curtain. In preparation for the new owners, the house had been stripped down to its hardwood floors and wainscoted walls. Down came ancestral por- traits; closets were emptied of coats, breeks, caps, and waistcoats in the blue, tan, and brown estate tweed. Into storage went the glass-eyed trophy heads that hung on walls (stags, gazelles, two Cape buffalo, game birds), the mahogany dining table, silver meat domes and branched candela- bras, Oriental carpets, the sterling service for 30 engraved with the Macpherson crest and motto, “ Touch not the cat bot a glove” (translation: Don’t mess with me). Instead of a sporting estate—a quintessentially British institution where clients pay dearly to roam the moors to stalk red deer, shoot grouse, and fish for salmon—Balavil would become a family residence. The manor, said the buyer’s wife, Hannah Heerema, would be a place “for the children to spend time.” (Last May the owners filed an application, pending as of this writing, to turn the farm buildings into a visitors cen- ter with a café, events facilities, and a parking lot with about 140 spaces for cars and buses. Communities nearby, unpleasantly surprised about the turn toward the commercial and con- cerned about the detrimental impact on their villages, objected.) After the closing, as if to underscore the end of a chapter, agent Pirie, who had been dogged- ly trailing Macpherson-Fletcher to ensure the deadline was met, drilled the garage door shut to secure the premises. What a shame that there were swallows nesting inside the garage, trapped as an unintended consequence of the sale. “Poor birds,” thought Allan Macpherson- Fletcher, the former Laird of Balavil. BalaVil sits in the Scottish Highlands, bracket- ed between the Spey and the Monadhliath Moun- tains. Six thousand of the estate’s 7,000 acres are moorland—a unique landscape whipped by the same gale-force gusts of economic, social, and political change that helped sweep the estate into the arms of a foreign buyer. (With the drop in the value of the pound after the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, acquisition of Scottish estates by foreign money is likely to ac- celerate. International buyers snapped up half of the 16 estates sold in 2015 and 2016.) A moor is a close-shaven landscape of shrubs and grasses clawed at by wind, minimalist in feel. Think abstract art: blocklike swaths of color in a muted palette of ocher, sienna, and charcoal, with accents—depending on season and terrain—of sulfuric yellow (bog asphodel), maroon (lichen), and in late summer, a royal cloak of purple heath- er. The term incorporates the drier heath of the Highlands, as well as the wetter landscapes of blanket bogs in the more poorly drained regions of the country. Seventy-five percent of the world’s heather moorland is in the United Kingdom, most of it in Scotland. A moor is also the bleak backdrop of gothic literature and Hollywood epics: Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Above all, it is the iconic headliner of Visit Scot- land tourist brochures. In a government sur- vey, respondents identified a heather-carpeted moor, a loch, and an artfully placed red deer Scotland has lost more than 25 percent of its heathland since World War II—but whether that loss is cause for concern depends on your point of view.