A local businessman is “devastated” to have to put his 10,000 acre estate on the market due to a long-running costly legal battle with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).
Sandside Estate near Reay has been put up for sale by Magnohard Ltd with an asking price of over £2.45 million.
The move comes more than a decade after company owner Geoffrey Minter started a legal challenge over radioactive particles found on the estate’s beach.
The sale will not include the stretch of sand, which has been polluted by over 200 shards of reprocessed radioactive fuel fragments washed ashore from nearby Dounreay.
Mr Minter blames the ongoing expense of the court action for Magnohard going into voluntary administration in March.
“We are devastated,” he told the John O’Groat Journal about the sale. “But we have to take this action in case things are not equitably resolved”.
The sale of the estate comes after 21 years of ownership, improvement and stewardship by Mr Minter and his immediate family.
Sandside House and its renowned gardens, which are owned privately, will be offered simultaneously by the same estate agent, Savills.
Mr Minter yesterday confirmed the contaminated four miles of coastal land and sand dunes, which Magnohard owns down to the low-water mark, and its wild salmon-fishing rights, will not be offered for sale with the estate.
It is expected Mr Minter will retain the beach, to which the public has access, and fishing rights until the legal case is resolved.
The first radioactive particle was discovered on Sandside beach in 1984 but Mr Minter said he was not made aware of this until after he bought the estate in 1990.
When two further particles were discovered in 1997, it caused fresh alarm for the estate owner.
He started the action against the UKAEA in 2002 to try and make up for surrounding land valuations decreasing and losses incurred.
Magnohard went into voluntary administration after a panel set up by the Government to assess compensation in the case only awarded him a fraction of the sum he believed he was due.
Mr Minter’s lawyer is keen to point out that the court action is not yet concluded.
Meanwhile, the estate retains the control of access and use of its land for radioactive hotspot monitoring.
The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has warned Mr Minter that it would take around 300 years for the particles in the bay and on the beach to be no longer a concern.
Mr Minter and the nuclear authorities have been involved in clashes over the years as consent was given, halted and withdrawn for monitoring on the beach.
SEPA has independently, repeatedly and publicly stated that access and use of Sandside’s land for the monitoring programme is not within its powers, being “a private matter between the estate and the UKAEA”.
There is no mention of the beach or the long-standing problems in the brochure being put out by the estate agents.
The focus is the 18th century main house, secondary house and estate cottages, large grounds, historic harbour and 18-hole golf course.
“Sandside is an exceptionally diverse property, with its portfolio of cottages, the historic harbour, the golf course, farm and moor, and the quarry,” said Anna Henderson of Savills. “Caithness is one of the most unspoilt areas of Scotland,” she said.
“People are often surprised by how easy it is to get to, although it is almost 700 miles from London. There are flights to Wick, daily train services from Inverness to Thurso, and Inverness is about two hours’ drive away.”