The Man Who Gave Away His Island

The Man Who Gave Away His Island: A Life of John Lorne Campbell of Canna, by Ray Perman.

Reading this book after two back-breaking years renovating Inverneill House has been an intense, thought provoking and at times exhilarating experience. You wish you could invite John and his wife Margaret to share the hard-won warmth of the house and talk into the night about all of their fascinating life experiences and how best to be a steward of a place steeped in human and natural history.

Nostalgia can be intoxicating, and not always in a good way. Innovation and global trade protected by military power enabled the construction of the nation estates of the lairds and their subject tenants. The constructs that the lairds left behind cannot sustain themselves as living museums or places of pilgrimage without the patronage of the voting tax-payer, whether directly or fronted by charities. The competitive market place in which these places need to survive and prosper is no different from that for mobile phones, streamed movies and electronic games. They need to add value into many lives, and the trade routes that they use need to be respected such that fair value flows back to sustain them.

The individuals that constructed the nation estates were no fools, and they left a heritage rich in culture and natural history. So much of what they left is now embodied in collapsing heaps of slate and stone and in rhododendron ponticum infested woods. But it is waiting for the living to find what remains, to re-purpose it and to recognise new, human value in it. It was electrifying listening to the 2020 Reith Lectures given by former central bank governor Mark Carney. Financial markets get things wrong. There is new, human value to be realised in the heritage of these old nation estates. John Lorne Campbell would have known this. The challenge is to let go of all the myth-making nostalgia for what has past, to innovate and to start to construct anew.