At exactly 6 p.m. on July 30, 2015, in Kingussie, Scotland, George Pirie, the agent acting on behalf of Eric Heerema, a Dutch entrepreneur, took possession of Balavil Estate from Allan Macpherson-Fletcher, its former owner. The sale, worth about five million pounds ($6.3 million U.S.), meant that the 7,000-acre property—with its gray stone 18th-century manor designed by Robert Adam, rolling moors, three-mile beat of the River Spey, and Sarah the resident ghost—would no longer be part of a family legacy spanning 225 years.
“It was a great way of life, but it was time,” Macpherson-Fletcher said later, sipping a whisky in the sunroom of a renovated crofter’s cottage in a corner of the estate he’d held back for himself and his wife, Marjorie. Macpherson-Fletcher, a warm, genial, white-haired man with round tortoiseshell glasses, dressed in madder-hued trousers and a dark blue cardigan, sounded relieved.
He was 65, ready to retire. His children, “wisely,” Macpherson-Fletcher said, had no interest in taking over. The expense of upkeep was depleting of heart and wallet. “The fastest way to lose money is to own a Highland estate,” he quipped. Finally, the Scottish Parliament was about to push through a land reform bill that threatened 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.