/ Ben Nevis ownership

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DaveHK 11 Jan 2020

A friend of mine told me he'd heard a story that in the past the ownership of Ben Nevis changed when no snow was visible on the top i.e. it belonged to someone when snow was visible and someone else when it wasn't.

I've never heard of this and it sounds like nonsense but wondered if anyone could shed some light on it? For example, might the story have some semi-factual origin?

Post edited at 08:42
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Lankyman 11 Jan 2020
In reply to DaveHK:

This sounds like the situation at Beinn Macdhui (I think) where the tenant of the land had to provide the laird with a snowball on midsummer day as part of the rent?

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DaveHK 11 Jan 2020
In reply to Lankyman:

That's a potential origin as my friend mentioned something about the Crown estate but I didn't think there were any Royal possessions near the Ben. It's entirely possible he just got the wrong hill.

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Forester3 11 Jan 2020
In reply to DaveHK:

I’m fairly certain Glen Nevis is part of The Crown Estate...

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lpretro1 11 Jan 2020
In reply to DaveHK:

Doesn't it not belong to the John Muir Trust?

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DaveHK 11 Jan 2020
In reply to lpretro1:

> Doesn't it not belong to the John Muir Trust?

Currently yes, my friend's story was set some unspecified time in the past.

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Iain Thow 11 Jan 2020
In reply to Lankyman:

The same story is told about Wyvis, Macdui and Nevis (and maybe others?). Always set in the distant past, and in each story comes to a bad end when the tenant agrees to change to a money rent, fails to pay one year and gets evicted. I reckon it's a myth.

Edit: There was a similar (probably) genuine case though at Langsett on the edge of the Peak, where the landlord asked for a rose at Christmas and a snowball at midsummer as a way of getting rid of the tenant.

Post edited at 13:41
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skog 11 Jan 2020
In reply to lpretro1:

> Doesn't it not belong to the John Muir Trust?

Only part of it (including the summit area and a lot of the slopes to Glen Nevis to the south).

A chunk of the northern part used to be owned by Alcan, I think, associated with the smelter; it may be Liberty Aluminium that own that now.

And I think other parts may have other owners.

Post edited at 15:29
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pasbury 11 Jan 2020
In reply to DaveHK:

It would be quite handy if we had a proper land registry in our own country. 

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BusyLizzie 11 Jan 2020
In reply to pasbury:

I'm thinking tenants could file the snowballs, or the red roses, at HM Land Registry (or maybe just a picture of them) to prove they'd paid the rent.

I used to work with a solicitor who claimed to have drafted leases where the rent was "one red rose, if demanded". Nicer than a peppercorn.

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Snowdave 11 Jan 2020
In reply to pasbury:

We do & you have to pay for aces to the small chunks of land, but for the bigger chunks of land there is this free to use website where I have zoomed over Ben Nevis

http://www.whoownsscotland.org.uk/geo/index.htm#zoom=12&lat=56.77364&lon=-5.00055&layers=B0TT

The main section on Ben Nevis is owned by the John Muir Trust,

http://www.whoownsscotland.org.uk/property.php?p=2080

The whole East side of Glen Nevis that surrounds the above land is owned by British Alcan Aluminium Ltd...with Bidwells in Fort William as the agents..

http://www.whoownsscotland.org.uk/property.php?p=1413

According to Companies House, Rio Tinto own British Alcan....

Post edited at 21:03
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yehti 11 Jan 2020
In reply to DaveHK:

The legend I had heard about Ben Nevis was that it could only be bought or sold if there was no snow on it.

When the JMT bought it in 2000 there was still snow on the summit, despite the handover being in June. Someone was tasked with clearing a small patch of snow from the very top of the summit on the day, so that they could at least say there was no snow on the top when the mountain was bought.

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pec 11 Jan 2020
In reply to Snowdave:

> The main section on Ben Nevis is owned by the John Muir Trust,

> The whole East side of Glen Nevis that surrounds the above land is owned by British Alcan Aluminium Ltd...with Bidwells in Fort William as the agents..

From those maps it seems that John Muir only owns the plateau and all the crags are actually owned by Alcan which is a surprise, to me anyway.

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Flinticus 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Snowdave:

That's a large estate!

Looks to include the Grey Corries & The Mamores as well.

What the hell does an aluminium producing co want this for? Should be subject community / state / charity buy out options. 

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Cam Forrest 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Flinticus:

To protect and control the integrity of its hydro-electricity asset, which is the only reason the smelter was built there in the first place?

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Harry Jarvis 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Cam Forrest:

> To protect and control the integrity of its hydro-electricity asset, which is the only reason the smelter was built there in the first place?

Indeed. Aluminium smelting needs a lot of electricity, and at the time of building, hydro was an easy and relatively cheap source of electricity. This is why Scotland hosted two other aluminium smelters, at Kinlochleven (now home to the Ice Factor) and at Foyers, closed in 1967. 

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daWalt 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Cam Forrest:

> To protect and control the integrity of its hydro-electricity asset,

possibly, but only in part.

you don't need to own the land to have rights to hydro, and a lot of this land deesn't contribute to the hydro (e.g. glen nevis?). The main reservoirs (Blackwater and Laggan) and their upstream catchments arn't within the estate, the dams themselves may be.

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Flinticus 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Cam Forrest:

So how much of the watershed from the Grey Corries or the Mamores contributes to its hydro?

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Myr 13 Jan 2020
In reply to DaveHK:

From Adam Watson and Iain Cameron's book, Cool Britannia (2010). There's a pdf on Snow Patches in Scotland Facebook page if anyone's interested:

"1 -- Tradition about landowners having to produce snow in summer
MacCulloch (1824) wrote about this old tradition. It is said that Cameron of Glen Nevis holds his lands by the tenure of an unfailing snow-ball when demanded. Crocket (1986) also recounted this. An old legend, shared with some other Scottish mountains, has it that should all the snow vanish from Ben Nevis then the land shall be forfeit. To prevent this, Cameron of Locheil, in a summer when it looked as if the last of the snow might melt away, is said to have sent locals up the mountain with straw, to protect the remaining snow patches.

It has long been a Lochaber tradition that should snow vanish at any time from Ben Nevis, the landownership would change hands (Gordon 1925) and revert to the Crown (Gordon 1935). Seton Gordon (1971) wrote of a local saying in Lochaber that Lochiel will hold his lands as long as there is snow on the Ben, meaning Ben Nevis. Champion (1952) recounted such a local legend for owner Cameron of Glen Nevis, who might be called on by the Crown to give a snow sample. Gordon (1951) wrote of this, Certain Highland families traditionally hold their land on the condition that they are able to supply the King with a bucket of snow whenever he should pass that way. The Camerons of Glen Nevis, the Grants of Rothiemurchus, and the Munros of Foulis are all supposed to hold their lands on this condition. The Grants had the north side of Braeriach, where snow in Coire an Lochain has survived in a few years since 1970. The Munros owned the east side of Ben Wyvis, and Gordon (1971) stated that for centuries they held their land on condition that they supplied a bucket of snow at the Palace of Holyroodhouse on Misdsummer Day to cool the King’s wine. Also he wrote that the Macintyres of Glen Noe paid their rent, on Midsummer’s Day, of a white-fatted calf, and a bucket of snow taken from a high corrie of Ben Cruachan.

The evidence about snow in Lochaber goes back much further. MacCulloch (1971) wrote, The first Comyn, or Cumming, of the Lochaber family was given the Lordships of Lochaber and Badenoch about 1229 and his ‘Right’ to the Lochaber lands was as long as there was ‘Snow on Ben Nevis, heather on Druim Fada, and ebb and flow of Loch Eil’ (in Gaelic).

This legend persists to modern times. Perthshire farmer Alex Murray, who was raised at Kilmorack by Beauly and became a crofter there as well as sheep-grazing tenant of Glen Cannich in 1950–61, told AW that he and many others of his acquaintance in the Highlands knew the legends about Ben Nevis and Ben Wyvis. He added that the Ben Nevis one involved a Cameron, who was Glen Nevis farmer in the 1800s. During 1963, landowner Cameron of Lochiel told David Laird (DL later told to AW) of the tradition that the Lochiel family would lose its lands if the longest-lying snow on the north-east corrie of Ben Nevis vanished, and he knew that the snow had disappeared in a number of years since the 1930s. The existence of such a tradition, however, points to snow being permanent in the memory of local folk at the time when the tradition became established.

It should be realised that the Ben Nevis tradition was not enshrined in Scottish Crown registers subsequently abstracted by Thomson (1811–16) and Thomson (1882–1914). The former register denotes charters for lands held by Cameron of Inverlochy, chief of Clan Cameron, as far back as 1563, the latter as far back as 1495 and 1531. Glen Nevis and other lands including Torlundy are mentioned, but not Ben Nevis or snow."

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Cam Forrest 13 Jan 2020
In reply to daWalt:

> possibly, but only in part.

> you don't need to own the land to have rights to hydro, and a lot of this land deesn't contribute to the hydro (e.g. glen nevis?). The main reservoirs (Blackwater and Laggan) and their upstream catchments arn't within the estate, the dams themselves may be.

I didn't actually say anything about the rights to hydro.

I think, also, you would have to go back around a hundred years and more to really understand the subject, the reasons for the purchase of the individual estates, and also to understand where all the works are. It could turn out that it's a bit like saying I'd like to buy your house, but I don't want the kitchen (for example).

And Laggan is not really one of the "main reservoirs", by the way.

And I think you'd need to look more closely at the catchments and various works.

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Cam Forrest 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Flinticus:

> So how much of the watershed from the Grey Corries or the Mamores contributes to its hydro?

From the Grey Corries? A huge amount. And there is also a 15 mile tunnel constructed on the estate, with numerous intakes on major streams.

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daWalt 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Cam Forrest:

thanks, I'll be sure to get round to all of that.

Post edited at 19:03
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Billhook 13 Jan 2020
In reply to Myr:

Excellent and well researched bit of writing.  

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skog 14 Jan 2020
In reply to daWalt:

Your sarcasm is quite amusing, but perhaps not in the way you intended - you're directing it at someone who knows rather a lot, professionally, about the Lochaber smelters...

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daWalt 14 Jan 2020
In reply to skog:

No doubt.

If you know something, feel free to share

Post edited at 09:31
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skog 14 Jan 2020
In reply to daWalt:

I thought I just did?

If you need more detail for some reason, Dad was a manager or director at a number of Alcan's sites (including Fort William and Kinlochleven) for a large chunk of his career, and certainly knows a fair bit about the history and running of the plants.

When he suggested some things those interested could look further into, it will have been because they're relevant; it is, of course, no problem if you yourself are not interested.

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daWalt 14 Jan 2020
In reply to skog:

There are plenty of examples accross the country; hydropower, water supply, etc. where the land that the installation is on or under is not owned by the operator. Major schemes often cross several estates. That includes addits, aquaducts, tunnels and all the rest.

Legal arrangements can be made, including buying a house but not the kitchen. But that's another story.

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