The foreign billionaires turning Scotland into their playground

Donald Trump in Scotland
Donald Trump is a long standing investor in the country, proudly claiming Scottish roots - AFP/Getty

There is clearly something about Scotland. There must be, as a flurry of American millionaires – and even billionaires – are investing in the country’s wilder corners including, reportedly, a friend of George Clooney. Trump is at it too, developing a brace of luxurious properties, with further developments backed with Indian and Danish money. So who is investing in what and why?

The why is simple. I’m writing this at 57 Nord, a design-led brace of self-catering oases overlooking iconic Eilean Donan Castle. Out of floor-to-ceiling windows, Highland massifs soar above the island-studded loch. An otter has just splashed by; last night saw not only shooting stars, but also a meteorite and the Northern Lights. This natural drama – and space, with over 10 per cent of Europe’s coast – has attracted a new breed of accommodation that didn’t exist when I started writing about Scotland 20 years ago.

“There is indeed something about the Scottish Highlands,” 57 Nord’s London-born owner Mumtaz Lalani, tells me. “Here you are alone with nature. This really resonates with people in today’s world, particularly if you’re living in a big bustling city and are constantly connected to technology.”

Eilean Donan castle, Scotland
The iconic Eilean Donan Castle is one of the many attractions of the Scottish Highlands - Visit Scotland

Scotland has certainly resonated with Discovery Land Company (DLC), the company associated with Clooney’s friend, who are behind the massive new £300m Taymouth Castle project in Highland Perthshire. They’ve snapped up over 7,000 acres, from the castle where Queen Victoria stayed (said to have inspired Balmoral), through to a flurry of surrounding houses, a hotel, and boathouse in the adjacent village of Kenmore on the banks of Loch Tay. This is the majestic loch Ed Sheeran is also rumoured locally to have bought property on.

DLC have fashioned what they call ‘worlds’ across North America, the Caribbean and Middle East – dubbed ‘gated communities’ due to their top-end exclusiveness. Whatever the semantics, it seems clear this vast enclave will be a playground for the rich, given the high buy-in prices for the 200 or so residential properties.

There has been talk of Taymouth Castle being a “30-minute hop by helicopter from Edinburgh or Glasgow” and rumours of grass seed especially imported from the US for a golf course revamp. DLC stress that they also aim to develop amenities that will benefit the community.

Singer Ed Sheeran, Scottish village of Kenmore
Singer Ed Sheeran is rumoured to have bought a property in the Scottish village of Kenmore - Getty, Stone RF

Donald Trump is a long standing investor too, proudly claiming Scottish roots. There are his Aberdeenshire golf course developments and the signature Trump Turnberry hotel and golf resort on the Ayrshire coast. Trump’s projects are open to mere mortals, but Turnberry is revamping in a bid to be recognised as Scotland’s best hotel. Money has been thrown at it and there is talk of the building of upmarket residential property. Trump’s surreal plans to erect a cable car connecting the hotel to the golf courses, though, seem to be on hold. For now.

It’s not all just American money. Scotland’s richest man is Anders Holch Povlsen, a Danish billionaire said to now own even more land in Scotland than King Charles. He has his hand in everything, from rewilding projects, through to Highland space ports.

Upmarket guesthouses and self-catering, too. Take Killiehuntly in the Cairngorms National Park (the UK’s largest) as a microcosm. I’ve reclined in its cosseted charms – think Wallpaper Magazine meets Scandinavian Hygge, more Montrachet than single malt. Immaculate, luxurious: perfectly tailored to the new wave of visitor to Scotland.

Sgurr an Fhuarail above the Cluanie Inn, Glen Shiel, Skye & Lochalsh, Highland
Wealthy Indian siblings Sanjay and Rachna Narang have reinvented the ultra-remote Cluanie Inn - Alamy

Indian money is flowing in too. Black Sheep Hotels have snapped up and worked wonders with a trio of faded Highland hotels. Siblings Sanjay and Rachna Narang have reinvented lochside Whispering Pine Lodge, stately Rokeby Manor and ultra-remote Cluanie Inn. They are already said to be looking at new investments, with toes in the water with pop-up restaurants in Inverness and Fort William.

Not all the investment has been universally welcomed. There have been anti-Trump protests and most recently a revolt against the Taymouth Castle plans, with over 150,000 signatories to a petition against it.

This opposition is perhaps understandable given Scotland’s popular liberal land access laws that enshrine the universal right to roam. And that even the ‘wild’ parts of the Highlands are no virginal wilderness, the ‘untouched playground’ said to be in earlier DLC publicity material; rather a manmade wilderness forged through the mass depopulation of the tumultuous Highland Clearances. There are worries that a new type of Clearances could shut out local communities. There is real controversy, perhaps reflected in DLC declining our approach for comment.

The Impressive gated entrance to Taymouth Castle at Kenmore Perthshire Scotland UK
The impressive Taymouth Castle is one of the many millionaire-targeted projects in Scotland - Alamy

Taymouth Castle was not, of course, the first millionaire-targeted project in Scotland; nor will it be the last. On September 15, 2023, undeterred by the existing controversy, DLC announced their surprise acquisition of Moness Resort, also in Highland Perthshire.

The millionaire love for Scotland shows no signs of abating and it is easy to see why. Looking out of the window, a deer has just bounced by with its calf as the sun warms the sides of Eilean Donan. But for how long this dwindling wilderness will remain the preserve of the common man, perhaps only time will tell.

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