A BUSINESS friend of Russian President Boris Yeltsin becoming Baron of Skelbo is not exciting the conservative members of Dornoch Heritage Society in Sutherland.

Society chairman Ian Ross-Harper said yesterday: ``It is to be hoped the new owner will do something with the ruined manor house, which is hugely important in Sutherland's history.

``I doubt if it could be saved now for a residence, but it could become an attractive tourist draw.''

The new Baron Skelbo is Mikhail Debouar, said to be a wealthy businessman from Moscow, who acquired the title from writer and Colditz Castle survivor Michael Alexander.

It is understood he paid the Sara Alexander Trust, which owned the ruined fifteenth-century manor house and twelfth-century Norse stronghold, around #75,000 for the barony and its restricted grounds on the shores of Loch Fleet, between Dornoch and Golspie.

Mr Alexander, who disposed of the more modern Skelbo House on behalf of his daughter's trust three years ago to American medical consultant Michael Meftah, has not so far met Mr Debouar.

``I rather want to meet him,'' he said from his London home yesterday, ``because I would like him to do some work on the ruins of Skelbo Manor. I sold it on the understanding that restoration would occur, and I hope he will soon get on with it.''

The completed deal was set up by Mr Robert Smith of the Manorial Rights Society, with Labour life peer Lord Whaddon as sponsor for the Russian.

Mr Alexander, 75, a former officer in the Scots Guards, said: ``Mr Debouar has bought the land, which has the barony title with it, and I have the impression he does want to do something with it.

``I was assured he was even interested in building a residence at Skelbo, let alone just restoring the ruins. That would involve quite a lot of money, of course.''

At present, the ruined castle and its manor house are protected with ``Dangerous Building'' notices, warning off sightseers. It was here, in 1290, that emissaries from Edward 1 learned of the death of the Maid of Norway, who had been betrothed to his son, on her voyage across the North Sea to Orkney.