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Selling a tranquil private island with journalists taking note

A frenzy of internet interest was generated when a Scottish island was put on the market. David Corrie relates how Galbraith handled the sale under the media spotlight.

It was probably when we were about half way down the estuary in a 12-foot speedboat that I realised how unusual and exciting working in a rural property practice can be. A week earlier I had been approached by a well-known Kirkcudbright landowner who had asked the blunt question: "Do you sell islands?" 

From there blossomed a discussion about Little Ross Island, about four miles south of Kirkcudbright at the entrance to Kirkcudbright Bay in Dumfries and Galloway. The island is a well-known local landmark and has a fascinating history intertwined with shipwrecks, the construction of a lighthouse and even a murder mystery. 

The lighthouse tower was not included in the sale but it is very much part of the Island's history. It was built to close the gap between other lighthouses at the Mull of Galloway and Southerness. Designed and built by Alan Stevenson, it was rst lit on January 1, 1843, and was the rst light of the catadioptric type, having metallic mirrors above and below the lenses. William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) hailed the light, along with Buchan Ness and the Rhinns of Islay, as 'undoubtedly the three best revolving lights in the world'. 

In 1960, in the final days of manned operation, the lighthouse keeper was found dead on the island with a gunshot wound. The assistant keeper was nowhere to be found. It was quickly ascertained that a quarrel had taken place and the lighthouse keeper had been the unfortunate victim. The perpetrator, the assistant keeper, was caught within 24 hours following an intense police enquiry when he arrived by train in Liverpool.

                   

The 29-acre island is essentially a large grass topped rocky dome just o the mainland and accessible only by boat when the tide is right and the sale included the former lighthouse keepers' cottages which had been converted into a six-bedroomed house though without mains services and entirely o-grid. In addition, there are two walled gardens, a trio of ruined outbuildings and a workshop. The house is served by a fresh-water spring, solar panels and a small wind turbine for electricity and septic tank drainage. The house had been lived in and restored over the previous 30 years by a long-term tenant of the estate but when the tenancy came to an end the estate considered the options for re-letting or sale. Given the unusual nature and the considerable contractual obligations of a lease, a sale was settled upon as the most straightforward way to proceed. 

My first visit, by speedboat, was to appraise the property and understand the layout of the island. I had to complete this in less than an hour to ensure I could return to the mainland on the falling tide. The weather was fair and I took a range of photographs some of which were later used for marketing. It was also my rst opportunity to inspect the lighthouse keepers' cottages and prepare a oor plan, under the advice and guidance of the previous tenant, who kindly showed me around.

The final piece of the jigsaw to ensure the best possible marketing, was arranging for drone photography to be produced which could be shared on our website and social media. This was carried out in late May and the results far exceeded our expectations with the most stunning aerial photography and short video giving a tour of the island. Marketing began on July 12 and we merrily shared on Facebook and Twitter, expecting lots of local people to like the post with a few happy comments and perhaps a purchaser or two. Little did we know what was to come. 

Within 24 hours the post had been shared more than 600 times and seen by more than 30,000 people. We had gone viral. From then on the telephone, e-mail and media enquiries were phenomenal. The team in Castle Douglas did an outstanding job of responding to them all as quickly and eciently as possible. Emails were received from all over the world in multiple languages and some required the assistance of colleagues in other Galbraith offices with German, French and Spanish skills. 

The lighthouse keeper's murder had provided the media of 1960 with an exciting story and the excitement proved no less intense when we marketed the island nearly 60 years later. Journalists from all over the world picked up the story from our social media and press release and the interest that was generated continued to feed the sale enquiries from people who dreamed of owning their own Island. 

We began to boil down the interest to those who were likely to submit a competitive bid. We managed to focus all the interest into one viewing date and the owner of the island chartered two boats to make the viewings possible. We met on a slipway outside Kirkcudbright Harbour. There were 12 viewings in a day which had to be run with military precision, not least because of the need to catch the high tide. Fortunately the sea was at calm and the sky was blue, and we managed a three-hour visit to the island. 

A French TV station sent a team of three to film the day and we were also joined by a BBC Radio 4 journalist. The owner had also arranged other viewings by boat and we arranged four helicopter visits from Glasgow and Carlisle airports. In total more than 800 enquiries were received resulting in 20 viewings. By the time the closing date was reached on August 24, there were 12 bids with a wide range of prices cvoered, from below the asking price to well in excess. The winning bid was selected at a meeting with the owners at our Galbraith office and the usual course of contracts then entered into by the respective solicitors. 

But our input didn't end at this point. There was one final trip to the island with the purchaser to collect water samples for environmental health to establish the condition of the drinking water. This gave the buyer a chance to discuss with me a range of improvements the island's properties would need in order to make a comfortable new home.