Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Scotland set to get its own Chernobyl style sarcophagus

I have to admit I’m always a little surprised to see anyone allowed to implement an innovative solution to a problem.

I’m more used to seeing lots of hand-wringing, debates, committees, and rubbishing of anything that looks like a new approach – while the subject crumbles and dies, or decays the point where there no alternative but to send in the bulldozers and flatten it.

I think the last time I got a pleasant surprise was when talk of tarting up the anti-aircraft gun battery off Blantyreferme Road turned from talk to reality.

I haven’t made it back since an early visit (when it was really lost in the undergrowth), and have to apologise at the moment, since Photobucket’s greed has seen most of our pic links broken, but other reports I’ve been shown from visitors look good.

It’s also some time since I made my way up to Mackintosh’s Hill House (well worth the effort though), and that was so long ago the place appeared to be perfect, and I don’t recall any talk of deterioration, but having followed the development of the problems reported in recent years, there seems little surprise about the growing concerns over its condition.

I’m sure there will be a group of ‘Naysayers’ and miserable traditionalists (aka ‘old dogs’) that can’t live with the idea of a protective cocoon around the house, as proposed by National Trust for Scotland (NTS), but it does seem to be a more rational solution that some sort of temporary cover that would probably get blown away umpteen times, and less offensive to the eye than a solid enclosure that hides the structure from sight.

I’m even more impressed to read that visitors will be able to access galleries and platforms that allow the building to be seen from within the enclosure.

“The temporary enclosure is see-through, which means that the building will still be visible from the outside, despite its respite from the elements after a century of being drenched.”

The enclosure is expected to go up in 2018 and could be in place for a number of years.

NTS will launch one of the biggest fundraising drives in its history early in the new year to raise money for the £4m project.

Born in 1868, Mackintosh trained as an architect and went on to create much admired buildings including the Glasgow School of Art and Scotland Street School in Glasgow.

The building will remain open to the public while conservationists are at work, and visitors will be able to climb stairs and gangways to gain a bird’s eye view of Mackintosh’s masterpiece and watch the restoration work as it progresses.

Via Giant cage to help protect Mackintosh masterpiece

More details, video, and illustrations ‘Giant cage’ plan for Helensburgh’s Mackintosh Hill House

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

Hill House was originally commissioned by, and built for publisher Walter Blackie, between 1902 and 1904.

I’ll admit to a little envy 🙂

But, on the other hand, I don’t have the bills!


December 6, 2017 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Save Hill House (and others) from ‘fake news’

I don’t work in the media, so have no need to come up with a constant stream of stories to convince the editor to give me a cheque, or to keep me on rather than fire me.

Headlines have recently referred to the proliferation of ‘fake news’ and the problems it causes, which is almost a ‘fake news’ story in itself, as the impression given is that it is new. I don’t think it is, and the real problem is that ethics and honesty are being subverted, and these stories are being created by people who have no concept of truth, just how many clicks (or cheques) they can bank on. They’re quite happy to spread plausible made-up lies as truths, so long as they get ‘paid’ and fly just below the line of prosecution or court by remaining anonymous, or avoiding accountability.

A few days ago I noted a planning application that could see the Old College Bar in Glasgow demolished. Part of the reasoning was apparently a claim by the developer that the building had been inspected and declared unsafe, but checks with Glasgow City Council confirmed that the building was safe, and no such declaration had been made.

Then I read that Mackintosh’s Hill House in Helensburgh, designed and built for publisher Walter Blackie, could be sold or leased to help solve problems with running costs and falling visitor number to National Trust for Scotland (NTS) properties. One claim was that it was to be sold for conversion into a hotel.

NTS responded by stating this was all “Untrue”, said that while significant monies were needed for maintenance, plans were underway to both fund and carry out the needed work, and that visitor numbers were NOT falling: “According to figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, 25,340 people visited the Hill House in 2015 – an increase of 8.5 per cent on the previous 12 months. ”

There’s more detail in the original story here: ‘Millions needed’ for Hill House repairs – but it won’t be sold

That’s only two examples. Sadly, a dig around would soon find more.

It’s a shame that both the creators of these pieces of fake news, or to be honest, lies, aren’t held to account for them and the damage they can do, and the same goes for the media that happily publishes such nonsense, clearly without any fact-checking or verification.

None of them care, just so long as they can push out something that will attract clicks to their material, true or otherwise, the ad-revenue will roll in.

Meanwhile, places such as Hill House (or the NTS as it tries to look after the them) had to shuffle around, cap in hand, begging for donations and funding from grants and other sources.

It’s a shame that the very features that give building such as this their unique appearance are often the same ones that cause them problems decades later, as Scotland’s weather takes it toll on anything but the most traditional of techniques.

Coastal areas, such as Helensburgh, can be even tougher to cater for, thanks to and even damper environment and salt air. I used to get to Bute regularly, and watched some new flats going up towards Craigmore. I’m guessing the builder was not a coastal building specialist as it was not long before the nice white rendering was running with rusty brown weeping ‘sores’, and the finish was bursting and buckling off the façade as the presumably unprotected steel fittings behind rusted and expanded.

In comparison, Hill House probably weathered better:

Hill House Helesnburgh

Hill House Helesnburgh

February 11, 2017 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Scottish island (Great Bernera) on offer to the residents


Quite unintentionally, I seem to have become a spotter of Scottish islands being offered for sale, and more often than not these days, they seem to be small islands that the landlord is offering to the residents, so they can be responsible for their own futures.

In this case, it’s the 230 residents of a small Hebridean island named Great Bernera in Lewis who are being given the chance to buy it and become their own landlords.

It has been reported that, until last summer, the small island was owned by a flamboyant aristocrat – Count Robin de le Lanne-Mirrlees (Born: January 13, 1925; Died: June 23, 2012)- who had made it his home since 1962, and died in a nursing home on the island last June. He left the island to his family.

HE became known as a flamboyant Scots aristocrat, well-known for his charitable work and steadfast refusal to raise his tenants’ rent in 50 years.

The  family has decided to sell the island, and solicitors for his German-based grandson, Cyran le Lanne, have written to tell the islanders he does not wish to keep the island and they have been offered first refusal. They have until April 1, 2013, to make up their minds.

There’s no mention of the price, or any conditions in the new story of the sale.

Via Great Bernera residents given opportunity to become landlords | Highlands & Islands | News | STV

The laird with an interesting past

Although the current price does not appear to be mentioned in the news, it is known that towards the end of 2012, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) turned down an offer by Count Robin de le Lanne-Mirrlees, after he left the Hebridean island to,then estimated to worth more than £1 million, the nation in his will. The conservation charity last week claimed Little Bernera was not ‘significant’ enough to warrant the cost it would take to keep.

It seems this arose from a family feud, which led to the Count disinheriting his only son, Patrick de la Lanne, mayor of Delmenhort in the Lower Saxony region of Germany.

It is also noted in other reports that he Oxford-educated nobleman’s thinly disguised identity was ‘borrowed’ by James Bond in Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Back in 2005, he was in the news after suffering a mild stroke, when he was expected his stay in hospital to last no longer than a few weeks.

Instead he was there for 16 months and ran up a £130,000 NHS bill – due not to the stroke, but to the MRSA superbug.

There were more problems in 2009, when the local council claimed it could no longer afford the £97,000 needed to keep open the tiny residential home. similar only to a small bungalow, where the count, then 84, lived with only one other resident.

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whither the National Trust for Scotland – what happened to ‘change’?

I’m afraid I can’t work up any enthusiasm for NTS2 (National Trust for Scotland) Mark 2, which has risen from the ashes of the old NTS after it ran into a cash crisis, decided it was not using funds wisely, put its Edinburgh premises up for sales to raise funds, and saw its director ride off into the sunset to make way for a new broom director.

While things were looking promising, it looks as if it’s a case of “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.

We used to have membership some years ago, but long before the woes of the first incarnation came into the public domain, we also began to wonder what we giving NTS money for, as it seemed to be stumbling aimlessly, and while some properties were getting along quite nicely, others seemed to be suffering. Extra appeals were not unusual.

Now that it has gathered its skirts after the ‘change’ it seems to business as usual, with more appeals for additional donations, this time accompanied by the threat that if they are not forthcoming, then ‘a place like Culzean is allowed to fall into disrepair and eventually crumbles to a graffiti-ridden hulk, the memories, history and shared culture it represents lost forever.’

It’s rather like the outlawed sales techniques that home burglar alarm and security systems salespeople are not supposed to use, by pointing out to people they are trying to sell to that ‘Crime is rising, and did you know that there were 34 break-in in this area just last month’.

The trust has to spend £600,000 to complete work to comply with legislation each year, together with £400,000 for consumables (tools, plants, pest control) on top of restoration costs. And it looks after more than 100 properties of very assorted types, from houses to archipelagos such as St Kilda. And many that work for it ar volunteers.

But it’s not really poor either, reporting it has:

The general income fund – the free reserves of the trust and which it considers its true measure of its financial health – increased to £13.4m from £8.5m.

NTS also reported that its membership rose from 306,000 to 308,000 in the past year.

These are good things to have, especially the reserve, which means contingencies can be made for unexpected disasters and emergencies. And a look in some past posts in this very blog will show that the increase in that ‘general income fund’ is largely down to some large bequests, and they came from across the pond in some cases, so local support is not quite as sound and secure as the numbers might suggest (I think).

But as one who could once afford to throw a pound or two in their coffers, and then also wondered where that pound or two went, I only hope that the it really is’ embracing change’, as its chairman said at the recent AGM in Dundee.

If it really is as strapped for cash is it suggests, then it might have to go back to Plan A (assuming it is now running on Plan B, after all the cries of pain that suggestions of closure and property sales brought last year), and rather than trying to acquire and save every property that comes up, it becomes selective, and cuts its cloth to suit its available funds.

I’m still worried about places in its care, and not reassured yet, so hope that their current year might end with a better picture of their direction and management. I’d hate to think that their dire predictions of ‘crumbling graffiti-ridden hunks in their charge, are genuine warnings of things they are fending off, rather than preparations for saying “We told you so” in a few years, when they have failed to manage their cash wisely. This isn’t my idea, but was taught to me by one of our company’s directors, who always planned for his proposals in this way, predicting disaster which was ‘out of his hands’ if not accepted, and always ready to point back at his dire warnings, even years later, if his changes were baulked.

BBC News – National Trust for Scotland chief sets out ‘nightmare’

November 13, 2011 Posted by | Civilian | , | Leave a comment

National Trust for Scotland receives Scottish millions

It doesn’t seem to be that long ago since I wrote about the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) having the good fortune to receive at least £2.5 million from a distant American benefactor, and now it is in line for something in the order of another £3.5 million from the bequest of an Aberdeen family.

National Trust for Scotland receives American millions

The bequest is described as one of the largest in the history of the NTS, and was made in memory of George Anderson, who died in 1952, and represents the residue of his family’s estate following the death of his daughter, Clovella Mutch, of Elgin, in December 2010.

BBC News – Family bequeath £3.5m to National Trust for Scotland

May 24, 2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

National Trust for Scotland receives American millions

Dollar moneybagI hope the recent reorganisations and reforms at the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) have the desired effect that its members seek.

Although it is some years since I was a member, I would have to admit that I was left with a feeling of unease, and uncertainty about where my money was really going, or what it was achieving. I couldn’t put my finger on anything specific, but just couldn’t close the loop in my mind, and convince myself that it was a sound investment. This shouldn’t be misinterpreted as suggesting anything untoward, rather that I seemed to have a gut feeling that it was wasting money, despite the good works it seemed to be achieving.

I gave up after a few years, and had run out of spare cash anyway, and economising meant it was cheaper to pay the straight admission to a few properties, than for the various subscriptions I used to maintain.

Maybe what I was feeling unconsciously was reflected in part of the reform, where it was suggested that the Trust had accumulated “all sorts of bits and pieces over the years”, and that these were nothing to do with heritage, and should be ditched. If this was the case, then it would be good to get on with the clear out, and perhaps see it return to the preservation of some of the treasures that it may have divested itself of in recent years.

Looking through some past issues of The Scots Magazine (and realising I haven’t seen new issue for years, such is my collection – thank goodness they are small! ), I was reminded that there seemed to be frequent clashes between the Trust and those who had made bequests of properties and/or gardens, with significant acrimony between Trust and executors in some cases,   and exchanges being made in public through the pages of the magazine, which would probably have been better kept in private. Hopefully this sort of foolishness is also something that the above mentioned reforms will consign to the past. (Oops, all of a sudden I’m beginning to remember why I departed.)

There’s no doubt the NTS has, and has demonstrated a fine ability to look after some wonderful properties, and recruit many skilled craftspersons to carry out work which requires almost lost and forgotten techniques, and this has won it friends around the world, such as William R Lindsay, an American millionaire from Las Vegas, who died recently and is thought to have left a substantial sum of money to the charity.

Although he wished to remain anonymous, it seems The Scotsman newspaper reported his identity.

Within the preceding 18 months, it was revealed that he had donated some £2.5 million to the NTS, although the final donation from his estate was still to be determined as lawyers were dealing with his estate. His past contributions had helped with projects at Culzean Castle and the Burns centre in Alloway.


January 12, 2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

National Trust seek new chair

Barry Mill Carnoustie © Gwen and James Anderson

Barry Mill Carnoustie © Gwen and James Anderson

I have to admit I can never make up my mind about the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) – is, or is it not, a good thing?

I see this morning that is is on the lookout for a new chairman (chairperson?) according to the BBC, as the current holder of that post has announced her intention to step down. It seems there has been vociferous opposition to a number of drastic cost-cutting measures, and members tabled a motion of no-confidence in Ms MacPherson.

The NTS looks after more than 100 properties relating to Scotland’s heritage, but the past year saw announcements of redundancies and closure of properties. This brought protests from both members and the public, with campaigns being mounted against the plans, and places such as Barry Mill succeeding in winning further funding for at least another three years, rather than closure.

However, it is possible to search, and find that there are also many who are unhappy with the treatment they have received from NTS, and I recall reading of some particularly bitter disputes between NTS and former owners or custodians of properties donated to the Trust, in the letters pages of the Scots Magazine in years gone by. The gist of these is usually that the Trust has failed to comply with conditions or requests made when the properties were handed over, and has done things which the former owners disapprove of.

However, despite these apparent problems, membership numbers were reported to be at their highest level ever this week- 315,000. That’s around £10 million if we knock off a few free memberships and round down to the current £33.75 direct debit membership for over-25s, or over £13 million at full rate if we forget the 25% first year discount. You can juggle one-off life memberships as you wish, but there will be other donations and bequests.

I’m not quoting those numbers to be critical, rather just to observe that if the Trust has over 100 properties in its charge, then that works at at roughly £130,000 per property per year.


In earlier announcement about redundancies and closure, it was noted that the Trust has around 500 full time staff (and 800 seasonal employees), and that works out at roughly £27,000 per full time staff member.

Assuming they pay their staff around the national average, and have a few high-flyers to compensate – that doesn’t leave a lot for the properties, and the Trust is either seriously underfunded, or is fortunate to receive enough large donations to keep it going.

Or is my my arithmetic just way too simple?

Back in May, we noted an announcement of around 91 full-time jobs, but it has been reported that this has fallen to 65, following talks with staff and unions, while other cost-cutting measures are also being pursued, involving seasonal and other posts, the closure of properties, and sale of its own headquarters in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, a category A listed building.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Barry Mill wins 3 years of funding

Barry Mill Carnoustie © Gwen and James Anderson

Barry Mill Carnoustie © Gwen and James Anderson

Following up on one of our earlier posts, Barry Mill to fight NTS closure announcement, where we noted the announcement of the planned closure of various NTS (National Trust for Scotland) properties, and staff cuts intended to reduce operating costs, we’ve received a note regarding Barry Mill, with news of a successful campaign to fight the proposed closure:

Good news from Barry Mill. The campaign to keep it open has been successful. With funding secured and agreement from NTS for at least 3 more years of operation. It just goes to prove that people can make a difference.

Friends of Barry Mill have organised a host of events and supported the Mill in every way possible. This of course has been only the first step and the real work to ensure a permanent future is on. The Mill and its grounds are an incredible resource that are too valuable to lose.

Now Friends of Barry Mill will look to build on the success of events such as the Easter Duck Races, National Mills Open Day in May and Music at the Mill in July, we will be announcing a full year long programme of events soon. Still to come this year will be the Vintage Steam Rally on August the 30th and a Spooky Halloween event. The event we are looking forward to the most though is a celebratory party that will build on the success of the Mill as a music venue. This will be on Sunday the 9th of August and it will be free to the public and everyone is welcome to bring a picnic and enjoy the music. (contact:

This could become Scotland’s best secret music venue.

Thanks to bothygalloch for the update and details.

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Appeal | , , , , | Leave a comment

Barry Mill to fight NTS closure announcement

Barry Mill Carnoustie © Gwen and James Anderson

Barry Mill, Carnoustie © Gwen and James Anderson

We recently noted the announcement of the planned closure of NTS (National Trust for Scotland) properties and staff cuts intended to reduce operating costs.

At least one of the properties marked for closure has demonstrated that it will not go quietly. Barry Mill is one of only a few working mills left in Scotland

A public meeting was held in Carnoustie this week (March 25)  with over 70 people in attendance. Peter Elis, property manager and miller, spoke to the meeting about the importance of the mill to Scotland’s heritage.

As a result of the meeting, the Friends of Barry Mill has been created to take immediate action towards finding a financial solution to safeguard Barry Mill’s future.

Three local councillors – Ralph Palmer, Helen Oswald and Peter Murphy – have pledged their support for the mill and undertaken to make an immediate call on NTS for a stay of execution. This call has subsequently been backed unanimously by Angus Councillors.

Thanks to bothygollach.

March 28, 2009 Posted by | Appeal | , , , , | 1 Comment

NTS announces cuts and cost savings

David Livingston centre Blantyre © Thomas Nugent

David Livingston centre Blantyre © Thomas Nugent

Having announced (on Thursday) that almost one fifth of its full time staff were to be lost in order to cut costs, and that seasonal staff would not be taken on in the usual way, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has given details of cost saving changes at 11 properties it manages. Changes will see buildings close at some properties while the surrounding gardens remain open.

Hill of Tarvit Mansion House, Fife, will close.

The David Livingstone Centre, Blantyre, will be returned to trustees if new funding cannot be found.

Leith Hall House, Aberdeenshire, will close however the gardens will remain open.

Barry Mill in Angus and Hugh Miller’s Cottage in Cromarty will seek external sponsorship.

Kellie Castle, Fife, will be operated by volunteers but will close to visitors if its current deficit cannot be resolved, however the grounds will remain open.

Garden properties at Arduaine in Argyll, Inveresk in Midlothian, and the Mountain Visitor Centre at Ben Lawers, Perthshire, will be closed.

(Arduaine might be interesting, as I remember reading of much disagreement between NTS and the former caretaker in the letters pages of the Scots Magazine some years ago. Like most disputes that take place in public through letters pages, there was no conclusion – for the time I was reading anyway, just two sides, each politely claiming the other was wrong and each pointing out politely that the other was misguided in their beliefs. Closing the gardens to public access could re-ignite things, if they were ever defused that is, as the NTS was supposed to have breached the terms by which they were given the gardens. Presumably continued public access would have been one of those terms, but I’m just guessing, so don’t quote me.)

Haddo House, Aberdeenshire, will operate only for functions, although the shop, tearooms and gardens will remain open.

Hutchesons’ Hall, Glasgow, will be let to a long-term tenant.

The NTS formerly employed almost 500 full-time staff and 800 seasonal employees.

March 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 4 Comments

St Kilda lighthouse debate

A few weeks ago, we noted the demise of a trawler, the Spinningdale, on one of the islands in the St Kilda archipelago, and that the decision had been made by the NTS to leave the wreck there until at least 2009 – having cleared it of potential contaminants – to avoid causing further damage in a recovery attempt.

The decicion to leave the wreck, rather then clear it immediately, attracted possible adverse comment, but made sense as it reflected the fact that wrecks are natural hazards and happen over the course of time. Like it or not.

There’s another potential source of controversy on the horizon now, as North Uist councillor Archie Campbell has called for the construction of a lighthouse on the archipelago. Mr Campbell said that with the recent reinstatement of lights on the Monach Islands, west of North Uist, the next step was for one on St Kilda. However, he also noted that the Northern Lighthouse Board had considered the idea, but that there were objections from conservationists.

We can’t find any references to a light being established anywhere on St Kilda in the past, so there’s no precedent for installing one, and with today’s navigation systems, it seems a bit late to think about installing one there now. While we do have the current grounding to consider, under circumstances we’ve not been made aware of, St Kilda does not appear to have a trail of wrecks around its shores, so is not really a location one would immediately think of as justifying the cost and environmental disruption that would be added by its installation.

I’m afraid this smacks of something that looks more of an attempt to make some opportunistic political milage, rather than deal with an actual hazard.

August 28, 2008 Posted by | Maritime | , , , | Leave a comment

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