For fifty bucks, even you can swan around with a title fit for the Scottish gentry and, if you see fit, wear plaid kilts and tartan dresses.
An organization dedicated to the preservation of Scotland's disintegrating woodlands is offering California residents the title of Lord or Lady if they buy a square foot of dirt in the old country.
"It's a great gift for the person who has everything," said Lady Alex Flewitt, spokeswoman for the non-profit group Highland Titles, which promoted the deal last month during the annual Highland Games, in Pleasanton, Calif. "It's something quite unique over here to be called a Lord or a Lady."
Flewitt's company wants to restore to its natural state 700 acres of land dominated by a bog and biting insects near the tiny village of Glencoe, in the Scottish Highlands. To raise money, the group is selling square-foot plots to anyone willing to put up $50. The proud owners of the kitchen tile-sized parcels get in return a certificate with the master title deed for the property. The document, embossed with a crest depicting a tree, gives the owner the right to use the title of Lord or Lady.
The offer has been attacked as a fraud by Internet critics, who point out that the Lord and Lady titles are actually meaningless. Flewitt said the titles were never presented as anything but ceremonial.
"It's not a title you can use in the House of Lords -- those are given to you by the queen only -- but it comes in handy," said Flewitt, an Englishwoman who has been a Lady for two years now. "In my travels I've been upgraded (on airplanes) twice because of my title. One man told me that he was pulled over by the highway patrol and was let go after the officer saw that he was a Lord."
If the title isn't enough to loosen the pocketbook, Flewitt said, then perhaps folks are willing to part with a Ulysses Grant or two just to help the environment. Centuries of logging and resource exploitation have left Scotland with only 1 percent of its native woodlands.
"If people didn't do this, it might be some dodgy council estate," claimed Flewitt, using the British term for tenement.
The landlordly idea was hatched 10 years ago by Peter Bevis, an Englishman who lives in Scotland. He founded Highland Titles and purchased 10 acres of former woodland that had been stripped of its native ash, alder and oak trees in preparation for development.
Bevis' plan was to restore the area, but he ran out of money and decided to get the public involved by selling square foot plots. Under Scottish law, anyone who owns property is a Laird and is entitled to use Lord or Lady on all correspondence bearing his or her name.
Sales have apparently been brisk, Flewitt said. She said thousands of people from all over the world -- including celebrities Phil Collins, Ozzy Osbourne, Barry Manilow, Cindi Lauper and Kate Moss -- have bought in.
This past year, officials said, plots ranging in size from a square foot to an acre were sold to 7,500 buyers in 41 countries. Flewitt said the organization has put all of the money collected over the past decade -- at least $1 million -- back into the land.
Buyers visit all the time. Flewitt said one plumber from Australia is pushing to build a lavatory on his land and another Lord is growing potatoes. Visitors are constantly arriving in campers, she said.
"Some people take it incredibly seriously, dressing up with medals and sashes and the like," she said, adding that there is no obligation under the purchase agreement to wear the various accoutrements of Scottish landlordism. "Two Lords that I know of tattooed the crest on their bodies. Some of them are really kooky, but we are still very grateful."
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