Attribution: RCHS

The 1st Statistical Account

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Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness (Image taken from Raeburn painting) with background of west coast outline

Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty

The First Statistical Account (1790)
On the 25 May 1790, Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness wrote to over nine hundred Parish ministers throughout Scotland asking them to contribute to a Statistical Inquiry by answering as best they could,a series of one hundred and sixty-six Queries respecting each Parish.

By the Rev. Mr. James Smith

Name, Situation, Extent, etc – In old records, the name is written Avach or Auach. It is commonly pronounced Auch. The most probable derivation is from a Gaelic word, signifying a ford or shallow water. For the bay, opposite to the parish church, being more shallow, the tide flows and recedes farther than in any other part of this side of the Moray Firth, between the bays of Cromarty and Munlochy. This parish is situated in the presbytery of Chanonry, in the synod and county of Ross. It is one of the eight parishes comprehended within the ancient district of Ardmeanach, or the Black Isle, so called, because the whole make a peninsula, of which the greater part continues still black uncultivated moor, though a good deal has been planted and improved of late.

Avoch extends about 21/2 English miles from East to West, and 4 from South to North, and is nearly of a rhomboidal form. It is bounded by the parish of Rosemarky towards the East, by the Moray Firth and that branch of same Firth called Munlochy bay, on the South-East, South, and South-West, by the united parishes of Kilmuir Wester and Suddie, on the West, by Urquhart or Ferrintosh on the North West, and by the united parishes of Cullicudden and Kirkmichael on the North. It marches with these last on the large hill called Mulbuy, which extends nearly the whole length of the Black Isle, from Cromarty to Beauley.

Surface and Soil – This parish consists chiefly of two ridges of hills, of a moderate altitude, and pretty broad on the top, running nearly parallel to each other, in a direction from East to West, with a gently sloping vale on the North side of each, and part of the Mullbuy, formerly mentioned, rising behind all these towards the North. So that it presents, in a manner, three banks or faces to the beneficial influence of the southern sun, and enjoys all the varieties and advantages of hill and dale. The Southern exposures being in general best adapted for corn-farms, the northern for wood, and the valleys for pasture.

Almost every variety of soil is to be met with here. Towards the shore it is light and sandy, as usual, particularly in some of the lower grounds near the bay and sea town of Avoch, where on digging two or three feet deep, a stratum of sea shells has been found in different places. This would seem to indicate that the Firth had once over-flowed those grounds to a farther extent that it ever does now. To the Westward of this, on both sides of the Southern vale, the soil is generally a light loam, or loam mixed with clay, fertile enough.

Farther West, there is a deep rich clay, particularly on that fine extensive bank of the Mulbuy, called Auchterflow. In the Northern vale, there is a good deal of moss, on a tilly or clay bottom, of a bad quality and generally wet, which can scarcely be cultivated to advantage. The hill tops consist chiefly of a black sandy soil, covered with poor short heath, and a few moor stones intermixed, much better adapted for plantations of the Scots fir, than for pasture.

Climate – The air is generally dry and healthy, though comparatively speaking, few of the inhabitants attain to old age. But this seems more owing to their habits of life, than to the climate. No disease can be said to particularly prevalent. Fevers and the small pox have, indeed, at times made considerable ravages. This, however, can be easily accounted for, from the people’s want of cleanliness, and their excessive use of spiritual liquors.

Sea Coast – its Advantages and Productions – The Northern part of Scotland derives many advantages from those beautiful arms of the sea, with which it is intersected. Of these the parish of Avoch is not without its share. The firth washing it nearly on two sides, makes the air much more salubrious, without those fogs and that piercing coldness, which the inhabitants of the East coast of Scotland complain of, from the neighbourhood of the German Ocean. It also makes the snows melt sooner in winter, and prevents immoderate heat in summer, by that agreeable and refreshing coolness, which every flowing of the tide sends forth. It affords likewise employment for many of the inhabitants, and adds to the provision of the whole.°

° On one half of the bay of Avoch, from the Craig Burn (which divides this parish from Fortrose and Rosemarky) to the east end of the Seatown of Avoch, the coast is high and rocky. But few of these rocks extend into the sea, so as to be dangerous for boats. And there is for the most part a fine soft beach at the foot of them. From thence to Castletown Point, the shore is flat and sandy. There is good anchorage for shipping, and vessels of from 40 to 100 tons may lie to safety on the Seatown beach, to deliver and receive cargoes, unless there be a strong gale from South or South-East. From Castletown Point Westward to the mouth of Munlochy Bay, the coast is bold and rocky, and there is more depth of water. Along the said bay to the western boundary of this parish, it is generally high, and consists of land and gravel, with some large rocks interspersed.

Even these rocks have turned out advantageous. For in Munlochy Bay there is an excellent quarry of hard reddish freestone, accessible to boats on the water-edge. Out of this quarry almost all of the extensive works of Fort George were built. The late Mr Matheson of Bennetsfield, proprietor of the grounds, let the quarry to Government, or to the undertaker employed by the Government, at the small sum of 10L a year, while that fortification was going on. A cheap contract, indeed, if we consider the immense quantity of material furnished? For 20 or 30 boats, besides several sloops, were completely employed in conveying it.

The quarry is now wrought chiefly for builders at Inverness, who though there be 5 or 6 miles of water-carriage, find this their easiest supply. And two boats of 10 to 11 tons burden each, are almost daily engaged in the business, which, with the quarrying work, yields a pretty good subsistence to eight or ten families in this parish, besides a rent, or profit of about 30L Sterling yearly, to the proprietor. A boat’s cargo of the stone fetches at Inverness, 16s to 17s.

The Moray Firth at Avoch, is about four miles broad. And a finer bason is scarcely to be seen in the North. To an observer on this shore it has all the appearance of a beautiful lake. For Chanonry point from the North, and that of Ardersier from the South East, appear like projected arms to clasp each other, and to break off its connection with the sea, while the point of Inverness, and the hills in that neighbourhood, seem to bound it in like manner in an opposite direction. The town of Inverness, at the one end, and Fortrose and Fort George at the other, add much to the landscape. From a boat in the middle of the Firth, opposite to Culloden house and the bay of Avoch, the view is still grander and more embellished.

Since the important era of 1746, the trade of Inverness, and of the other towns on this Firth, has been gradually increasing and flourishing. It employs now more than six times the former number of vessels, some of which may be seen here passing and repassing almost ever day.

But the chief benefit of the Firth to this parish, is that of the Fisheries. Here are caught herrings during their season, whitings, flounders, sprats, a few oysters and crabbs, with abundance of mussels, quilks, and small fry for bait. There might be a shell fishing for salmon, near Castletown point. But as the shore is not altogether convenient for drawing the net, it has not been much tried. Some small whales, purpoises, and snipe fish, come up now and then. About 50 years ago, haddock were frequently caught within a mile of Avoch. But they have since quite disappeared. They seem to have retreated Eastward to the wider parts of the Firth, towards Tarbat point and the coasts of Moray and Caithness. Nor have they been got there for several years past in such plenty as before, until this summer (1793) when the fishermen have had good success, and found them again about the mouth of Cromarty Bay.

There is some quantity of seaweed on different parts of the shore. A little of it has at times been burnt into kelp. The neighbouring farmers chiefly use it as a manure for barley. It is very beneficial for this purpose, whether laid on green, or rotted in the dunghill.

Springs Etc – There is a great abundance of excellent springs throughout all this parish. Some of them have a mineral tint, but have not become remarkable for the cure of any diseases. A well, called Craiguck, issuing from a rock near the shore of Bennetsfield is resorted to in the month of May, by whimsical or superstitious persons, who, after drinking, commonly leave some threads or rags tied to a bush in the neighbourhood. But if they derive benefit from this, it would seem to be more owing to their own credulity, than to any effect of the water, which differs nothing in taste or appearance from common.

In the southern vale, there is a fine rivulet, called the burn of Avoch, perhaps the largest in Ardmeanach, which rises mostly in this parish, drives three corn-mills, and empties itself into the sea near the church. It produces the common trout and eel. Its mouth makes a safe harbour or retreat for the fishing boats in time of storm. And here a good species of red trout is taken, from 15 to 18 inches long.

Minerals – A small lake, called Scaddin’s Loch, near the eastern boundary of this parish, was drained some years ago. In its bed, a good many peats have been dug, and under them appears a large stratum of shell marle. It is believed, that limestone also might be found, on a proper search, as several pieces of it are to be seen frequently in the channel of the burn. Free stone quarries have been wrought on different grounds, besides that in the bay of Munlochy, particularly, one of a deep red colour on the farm of Arkandeith, out of which it is believed that the cathedral church of Ross at Chanonry was built, many centuries ago, as a considerable excavation has evidently been made, and no other rock of the colour used there, is known in this part of the country.

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