A little while ago I was meandering about the Internet, hoping to find some unique gifts for friends and family. It was one of those days during which the Internet seems to have turned into a brackish puddle of gunk rather than an "information superhighway." After what felt like hours of wading through golden limited edition Star Trek pizza cutters and inflatable Cthulhu beards, I was ready to give up.
And then, out of the clear blue sky, came my salvation: Scottish Lairdship. As you might have surmized, yes, that's the equivalent of a Lordship in England. Someone — some amazing unknown person — was selling off Scottish Laird-and-Ladyships en-masse, and for rock bottom prices. I was flabbergasted. Actually, I was highly suspicious. After all, I'd found this item lumped together with similar-looking Name a Star and IQ Test tins.
From my rudimentary understanding of the English class system, I was fairly certain that a person would have to own land and, you know, have slain epic amounts of Vikings to qualify for Lordship. I assumed the same went for the Scots. Heck, even Sean Connery has only risen to the rank of Knight Bachelor. And he's already Scottish, a landowner and James Bond — actually, I'll have more on Mr. Bond later. As for this Lairdship business, I needed to know more. After all, if this thing was legit, it was way too cool for any of my friends. I wanted it all for myself!
The product description on Gift Republic was straightforward enough:
Scottish landowners are legally entitled to use the title Laird. Female Lairds can choose to be a Lady, the generally-accepted female equivalent. Upon registering this gift you will 'own' a genuine piece of land in the grounds of Dunans Castle in Scotland. You will thus become a Laird or Lady! You will be sent a personalised land ownership certificate and a Proof of Title card making you eligible for all sorts of Laird-based perks including: You and a guest will be entitled to a free tour of Dunans. Visit and locate your plot of land! Bookings must be made in advance. Your gift will help in the restoration of Dunans Castle and grounds. Free, lifetime access to Dunans including Dunans Bridge and the tallest tree in the U.K."
So, not only would I be considered a Laird once the paperwork was finished, but I'd own land on the grounds of a genuine Scottish castle?
Just a few things bugged me: First, what did it mean "the restoration of Dunans Castle." Second, had they mentioned "all sorts of Laird-based perks" and then not given me a full list of what those were? And last: what were those little quotes that were hovering around the word "own," and what could they mean?
I did what any upstanding Laird-to-be would have done: I contacted the guy behind the curtain. It turned out his name was Charles. No, not that Charles. The potential for my correspondence with the royal family would have to wait until after my Lairdship had been processed. For now Charles Dixon-Spain, proprietor of Dunan's Castle, would have to do. And anyway, despite his not being the Prince of Wales, Charles managed to impress me with his honest responses to my burning questions.
Me: "Okay, what are these Laird-based Perks?"
Charles: "...along with ownership and the title, you can exercise your right to fly-fish in the river, you can book a tour with me around the castle and policies."
Me: "And what about those asterisk-like quotes? Can I build a tiny home on my plot?
Charles: "Control of the land ultimately rests with us as we administrate both the square feet, and the maintenance and preservation of the Rapine woodland in which the Lairds and Ladies' plots are located. The idea is that the land is preserved by multiple ownership — with that many owners nothing but stasis and preservation can be achieved."
Me: "On that note: What improvements have the Lairds and Ladies of Dunans Castle funded since the inception of the project?"
Charles: "A path network around the garden and bridge, the signage, various small amenities, preparatory works around the castle, work by Quantity surveyors, architects etc. however, much of the revenue is being saved for next year's big push when we begin the clearance of the main building proper. The scheme also employs Chris who works in the grounds and keeps everything ship shape and Jean, who keeps the office in order and helps me correspond with all of our Lairds and Ladies. We employ locally because supporting the community around us is as important as making Dunans work."
Okay, so, no, I wasn't going to be able to build some kind of diorama on my plot of land. Nor was I truly the sole owner of that plot, but one of many. That was a bit disappointing. But, while that wasn't the best of news for my dreams of sole-proprietorship in the Scottish Highlands, it did pique my interest in another bit of "Scottish" lore. Namely, The Highlander.
I brooched my new line of inquiry delicately:
Me: "How... many Lairds and Ladies have you created through your unique program?"
Charles: "We have now created somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 lairds and ladies which is fabulous. It means we have folk all over the world who are egging us on, maybe visiting, and sometimes contributing ideas and enthusiasm to the project. We really feel we are creating a worldwide community of people who love Scotland and its heritage, and want to be involved in a 'Grand Design.'"
Holy crap. A community of people all around the world, already 25,000 strong, who were part of a "Grand Design" and who could identify one-another through their affinity with this single thing? The signs were there. I threw caution to the wind.
Me: "Since you will eventually end up with one castle and thousands of Lairds and Ladies — 25,000 or so to date — do you anticipate a sort of Highlander-esque series of duels to determine the eventual ownership of the entire estate? Is conquering another Laird's square foot a feasible way of taking control of the land?
Charles: "...if Lairds and Ladies wish to dress in the Plaid, bring ceremonial claymores and enact duels in the Highland tradition, well that's entirely up to them. We'll hold the coats, provide a dram or two after the set-to and ring an ambulance if it's needed. It'll not decide the ownership of the ground in any way, but it'll be a spectacle. In fact, at Dunans in October we often have flare-lit theatre in the grounds, usually Macbeth or Midsummer Nights Dream. We walk the paths and see scenes from these plays as night falls around the castle which when lit is doubly spectacular."
So I can't actually conquer the other Lairds of Dunans Castle, but I can duel them? And at least once a year there were costumed figures wandering the grounds that looked like Sean Connery's Highlander character Ramirez? This place was sounding cooler by the minute. I had to know more. What was the history of this place? I did a bit of digging.
It turns out that Dunans Castle isn't just some old, long-abandoned hulk of a castle. In fact, the castle's history is pretty awesome.
In the first millenia a group named the Glendaruels fought off a host of Viking raiders in the glen upon the grounds. The river is said to have flowed red with Viking blood, and thus the area was dubbed "the glen of the red river." So you do have to kill Vikings to become a Scottish Laird!
After that, the owners were the members of Clan Fletcher. Right up until 1997. One particular Fletcher caught my eye in reading their family history: Colonel Archibald "Archie" Fletcher. Why was he awesome? Colonel "Archie" Fletcher just happens to be one of the men Ian Fleming based his character James Bond after. It was after Colonel Fletcher's death, in fact, that Dunans Castle fell into disrepair.
Maybe that's because Silva flew a helicopter into it! Holy crap. They're selling the James Bond Castle for $30 a square foot, and it still has (possibly, not really) chopper damage!
But wait, it gets better! In an odd Bond-meets-Downton Abbey twist, Charles has actually met a few of the servants who worked for our Mr. Bond's father. Here's how he tells it:
"When we moved here into our temporary accommodation in '03 we were surprised to find that the building attracted visitors. Often just curious, often with a connection to building. Some returned over the years. One such party came in that first year. Four ladies in a little car whizzed up the drive and piled out. They had what I can only describe as a proprietorial air. As is my wont I introduced myself and asked if I could help them. I was then given the third degree, who was I? what was I doing with the building? Where was my family from? Did I stay here permanently? I evidently answered in the right way because they then revealed that they used to work at Dunans immediately after the Second World War until the mid-60s. Sadie and I invited them in for tea, and now, every other year or so they come and inspect the works, and take me to task if they feel I am slacking, and offer praise and encouragement when its due. It's a lovely friendship that has built up around the building, and it is this which eventually inspired the Lairds and Ladies project."
Guess we know how Downton Abbey ends, now. So Charles moved to Dunans Castle in 2003. Bond left it in 1997. Wouldn't it be cool if, in that small gap of time, there was yet another strange chapter of the history of Dunans Castle to tell? Cue the raging inferno!
In January of 2001, a suspected arsonist torched the place. The owners and their 12 guests — the owners were running the place like a hotel — were evacuated in time, but the Castle has never recovered. At least not yet. According to Charles:
"Next year will see the clearance of the castle begin in earnest. This year's preparatory works in July and August have ensured we can begin the delicate work of removing the rubble and detritus in the castle proper. The castle divides into six compartments, and as each compartment is cleared we will make safe and ready for public access. We imagine this work will take between 18 and 36 months."
After a story like that, you might imagine that I was ready to buy. I'll tell you, money has not often flown from my fingertips as fast as it did that day. If you like the idea of owning and helping restore the real life James Bond's Highlander-Abbey (with Vikings), there are acres of land left and Charles is ready and waiting to give you a tour once you arrive.