Close encounters of the laird kind No. 3:
Endangered species in the Scottish hills
One of the particular thrills to be got from exploring the remoter corners of the Highlands and Islands is the occasional encounter with species so reduced in numbers as to be practically extinct. And no single species is so endangered or exotic as the Highland laird.
Best observed from a distance, the laird is by nature aggressive. He is prone to marking out his territory with locked gates and with furious-looking notices which warn the unwary that, should they intrude on his domains, they will be guilty of innumerable offences and might, if they are particularly unfortunate, fall prey to the laird's habit, when excited or disturbed, of wildly discharging lumps of lead in all directions.
Should you persist in your approaches and corner a laird at close quarters, he is likely to try to intimidate you by turning red in the face, rumpling his tweeds, waving his cromag and bellowing in that strangely high-pitched and braying manner which is so peculiar to his kind and which arises, not so much from natural selection, as from protracted inbreeding - not to mention the impact of the several years he has probably spent, just after weaning, in those faraway reserves, such as Eton and Harrow, where it has become necessary to transport younger lairds in order to protect them from the many threats to their continued existence.
It can be tempting, on such occasions, to respond violently by punching the laird in the jaw or by bringing one of your size 12 Brasher Boots violently into contact with his hindquarters.
But all such harassment of the laird must be resisted. Just as it does not do to kill the tiger which eats an Indian villager - tigers being extremely rare and Indian villagers ten a penny - so it is extremely bad form, in these environmentally sensitive and conservation-conscious times, to interfere with one of Scotland's more distinctive lifeforms.
Less tolerant peoples, such as the French and the Russians, wiped out their landlords long ago - with the result that the Continental equivalent of the laird can be glimpsed now only in sadly faded prints and photographs which show whole herds of French and Russian landlords galloping happily through the peasantry's corn crops just a week or so before these crops were ready to be harvested.
But neither the Jacobins or the Bolsheviks, who preyed so terribly on those landlords who once roamed freely across the fields and plains of mainland Europe, ever managed to establish themselves in Scotland. And so our lairds survive here and there in their hilly fastnesses; engaging in their age-old rituals, taking a few grouse or stags in season, evicting the occasional estate-worker, covering the odd hillside in sitka spruce, but generally doing no more damage than might be expected from a species occupying their particular niche in nature's hierarchy.
Misguided urban agitators have urged, from time to time, that the lairds should be culled or even exterminated - with just one or two of the more notable specimens being stuffed and placed in a museum where they might be inspected by awe-struck children who would eventually come to regard them in much the same way as dinosaurs are regarded today.
But this is an unenlightened attitude and one which no right-minded hillwalker or climber could ever share. We who have seen the laird in the wild, wandering at large among the crags and mountains which he has made his own, would not want him to go the way of the dodo and the diplodocus. Stuffing lairds is not at all what we have ever been about.
Seamus Mac an t-Sealgair
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