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From a distance it was idyllic…

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…but just like so much of this beautiful land, the underlying decay and centuries of wasted opportunity becomes clear when you look a little closer. Just 432  families own half of Scotland, few are Scots and many are absentee aristocrats, bankers or oligarchs who visit their Highland playgrounds for just a week or two a year. Or, in some cases, never.

Our history of land ownership has been so wrong for so long we’d almost given up hope of change. But this week the Scottish Government finally announced plans for radical land reform. Legislation is on the cards to improve the transparency and accountability of land ownership. And there will be new Government powers to intervene where a landowner acts as a barrier to development.

There are plans to establish a Scottish Land Reform Commission. New taxes will require to be paid by shooting estates and used to pay for an  increase in the fund that supports community land ownership.

It won’t be enough to change everything that’s wrong with land ownership in Scotland overnight. It won’t break up the vast estates that are in the hands of foreign investors or give young farmers access to land and the opportunities they need.  But for future generations there is now a chink of hope that Scotland’s land will eventually be returned to its people. And that is something to celebrate.

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First frost

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Reminiscing about the Ridge on a dreich Scottish day

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I never tire of looking up to sharp mountain ridges but I’m nervous of exposure so New Zealand’s Kepler Track is well outwith my comfort zone. But with a bit of brutal encouragement from my son, I did it. The memories – which we shared last night via Skype – will last a lifetime. And they brighten the bleakest of Scotland’s November days.

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A house of shells : the Camino strikes again

P1050227I was having a bit of a wobble; a bleak, dark November crisis of confidence and positivity. So I went for a walk around the seaside town I’ve made my home for the winter  (probably: the jury’s still out). And that’s when I stumbled across the Scallop Shell House.

It sits on an unprepossessing corner of a busy road, but it’s a work of art. And it brought an immediate rush of powerful Camino memories from the happy weeks I spent walking across Spain, following the scallop signs. At that time I had no doubts; it was enough to just follow the shells on the roads, the pavements and on the backs of my fellow pilgrims.

Earlier this year I discovered a rough track in the north of Scotland that was spread with thousands of scallop shells and took some comfort then that I was, just maybe, following the right road. I’ll do the same again tonight, and place my trust in the crazy little house of shells just along the street.

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