CHRISTA and John Hale visibly fill with pride as they describe how they have transformed their beloved Highland home from a dilapidated wreck into a rural idyll.
Rented 13 years ago to fulfil the Hale’s dream of retiring in their favourite glen in Edzell, Angus, the couple have spent more than 50,000 on the farmhouse in which they expected to spend the rest of their days.
But now they, and about 20 other families, are to lose their homes as they become the victims of the latest ruthless Highland clearance by one of Britain’s richest families.
And to add insult to injury the Hales and their neighbours have been offered 10 by the Cayzer family to show prospective buyers around their own homes.
The nightmare - reminiscent of the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries - began for the tenants of the 16,585-acre Gannochy estate last week when surveyors turned up to measure up their homes. Now the cottages and farmhouses belonging to tenants, farmers, gamekeepers and estate workers have got lot signs outside and are set to make the shipping and banking dynasty - who only bought the estate in August - 7.2m.
Gannochy has an illustrious history having played host to a beleaguered Neville Chamberlain after his fateful trip to Munich in 1939. It was once famed for having one of the finest grouse moors in Scotland.
But now some of the tied cottages are occupied by people earning about 10,000 per year, unable to meet the offers over 75,000 price tag now on their homes.
These are only the latest victims of the ruthless tactics employed by Edinmore Properties Ltd, a company 100% owned by Caledonia Investments Plc, the investment vehicle of the Cayzer family, headed by Sir James Cayzer of Kinpurnie Castle, near Angus.
Eton-educated Sir James, 71, enjoys an opulent lifestyle. He has a collection of more than a dozen vintage Rolls-Royce cars but does not drive. He also maintains a permanent suite at Claridges Hotel in London and was a close friend of the late Queen Mother.
Edinmore has quietly used its blue-blooded connections to acquire estates in Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, Angus and Speyside. In 1999, it bought the Revack estate on Speyside from Lady Pauline Ogilvie-Grant Nicholson, the sister of the Earl of Seafield whose family had owned the property for 800 years. As she left to retire in the West Indies, Edinmore set about hiving off profitable chunks of the estate.
Last year Edinmore bought the Brucklay estate near Maud in Aberdeenshire from former Scottish Landowner Federation leader Andrew Dingwall-Fordyce and sold it off in 22 lots at a profit. Brucklay had been in the Dingwall-Fordyce family for 700 years and prior to its sale he spent several years promoting the benefits of land ownership by the great estates.
But as property prices soar and demand for second homes rises, unprofitable sporting estates are worth more when broken up and assets are sold off.
John and Christa Hale have lived in and around the estate for more than 50 years. Their lease expires in May next year. Many other have even less to run.
Christa, who teaches part-time at the local school, said: "We have spent our life savings doing this place up and we absolutely love it. This is not just a home, it is a way of life that we have created ourselves. We are very scared and threatened. They have forced this upon us and we feel hopeless. We feel left in no-man’s land, with no fixed income and nowhere to go. No one in this glen has the means to stay here."
She added: "Everyone is too afraid of saying anything and it is wrong. This is a sophisticated Highland Clearance and it is terrible, especially in this day and age.
"The 10 they are kindly giving us for showing prospective buyers around our homes should be given to the homeless, because it could be us very shortly."
Another tenant, who did not want to be named, said: "What is going to happen to the 20 or so families who will lose their homes and, in many cases, their job as well?
"All will lose their homes to those who can afford to give way over the asking price. If you thought that the Highland Clearances were over 200 years ago, think again.
"The current owners have had the property for less than a month, and appear to be interested only in a quick turnover.
"There seems to be no thought for those who have lived and worked on the estate, some for all their working life, and who will have little chance of work in the locality. Who knows what may happen next?"
Estate farmer, local independent councillor and third generation Gannochy tenant Robert Myles said: "I would like to see the estate sold as a whole, as would everyone else. If it is broken up in small bits, then the workers will be out of jobs and out of their homes.
"Short term tenancies give the people no security whatsoever. They have very little rights and can be chucked out at any time. The whole attraction of the glens is the people more than anything else. We live and work together and support each other. It is a very close-knit community. I do not want to see people come up from London and buy these properties for holiday homes.
Myles added: "The farmers have some security in their tenancies, but whoever buys it could make life very difficult for us. For most people, buying their properties is not an option."
Another unhappy resident said: "The bottom line in all of this is the human aspect - where are people supposed to go, what about their jobs and their houses? People are worried sick.
"We are just talking about basic human dignity and respect. To offer people 10 a time to show buyers around their homes is absolutely sickening. It is adding insult to injury. We are all disgusted at being treated like this.
"It’s like a modern day Highland Clearance. There are people who have been on this estate for three generations."
Bert Burnett, spokesperson for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: "It is extremely sad that these gamekeepers and farm workers are facing uncertainty through this.
"We are also worried what will happen to the environment once it is sold and divided up. It will mean a big loss to the community in this area. The current tenants are only country workers and I doubt if their bank balances would be healthy enough to buy their own property."
Local MP and SNP leader John Swinney said: "I have had several expressions of concern about this. It is disgraceful that hard working people can have their lives turned upside down by the sale of an estate over their heads in what is an exercise in asset-stripping."
Angus Crow, managing director of Edinmore, said that the company were responsible property agents and that all leases would be respected.
He said: "We are an entrepreneurial company and on certain occasions proprietors may decide that they wish to quietly sell their estate as a whole rather than in lots. Mr Ruttenberg chose to sell to us and knew that we were a commercial operation. We are not a charity.
"I am not a politician but it seems to me the politicians have to make their minds up. Many of them complain about the existence of big estates and then complain when we break them up offering tenants a chance to buy their homes and farms."
GANNOCHY Estate was famed as having one of Scotland’s finest grouse moors and was originally part of the vast Dalhousie Estate, owned by the Earl of Dalhousie who resides at nearby Brechin Castle.
The estate was eventually purchased by the American businessman JP Morgan, the billionaire rail and steel tycoon.
Under his ownership Gannochy became famed for its decadent hospitality. After the Munich debacle of 1939, Neville Chamberlain, right, recuperated from his nervous collapse at Gannochy.
Gerald Ruttenberg, an American lawyer turned steel magnate and chairman of Studebaker, bought the estate in 1983 and invested heavily in it, earning the respect of locals.
Today, four gamekeepers, two gardeners, a farm manager, a farm worker, a tractorman, and a shepherd all live in tied homes connected with their work, under the tenancy banner of Service Occupancies. Under the agreement, if the estate is sold in lots, they will become both unemployed and homeless.