The Second Statistical Account

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Parish of avoch

(Presbytery of Chanonry Synod of Ross)

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 Second Statistical Account (1840)
The New (or Second) Statistical Account of Scotland built on the previous work carried out by Sir John Sinclair for the First Statistical Accounts by including the knowledge of local doctors and schoolmasters. The Second Statistical Accounts were published between 1834 and 1845.

By the Rev. James Gibson, Minister

I TOPOGRAPHY AND NATURAL HISTORY.

Name, Boundaries:–AVOCH (a name which in the opinion of an ingenious etymologist, signifies ” shallow waters,”) is bounded on the east by the parish of Rosemarkie; on the south-east, south, and south-west, by the Moray Firth, and that branch of it called Munlochy Bay; on the west, by the united parishes of Kilmuir Wester and Suddie, on the north-west, by the parish of Urquhart; and on the north, by the united, parishes of Cullicudden and Kirkmichael.

Extent:–The greatest length of the parish of Avoch, in a straight line from the coast of the Moray Firth to the Folds of Auchterflow, is 41/4 miles, its greatest breadth along its northern boundary, 3 miles. But this measurement, from the irregularity of its figure and boundary, would give an area much beyond the true one, which is only about 101/2 square miles. This extent may be strictly said to form a portion of the southern side of one great hill, called the Milbuy, Maol Buidh, (yellow headland,) which, although only about 500 feet high, extends from the Muir of Ord to the town of Cromarty, and divides the two great arms of the Moray Firth which wash, the one the shores of Dingwall, and the other one, of Beauly.

Topographical Appearances:–Although, however, this range presents in appearance a regular acclivity from the sea to its summit, there are several ridges of sandstone and conglomerate over the lower half of the parish, running parallel to the main range, which occasion an agreeable diversity of hill and dale.

The extent of the coast along the Moray Firth, from the Craigland Burn to the Bay of Munlochy, is exactly three miles; and the shore of Munlochy Bay, with which the parish bounds almost the whole way, on one side measures one mile and three-quarters more. Along the coast, from the east boundary to the village of Avoch, there is a steep romantic ridge of conglomerate, covered with wood, and the richest and choicest collection of native plants. And at the entrance to Munlochy Bay, there is a large mass of similar material, which, according to tradition, was once covered with stately oak timber, but which now, whatever has been the cause of the great change, presents no trace of such a forest, and indeed over two-thirds of the mass seems to be completely denuded of the soil, and presents in its curiously formed circular peaks and basins of bare rock, a very apt miniature resemblance to a volcanic range. At these two places there are detached portions of rock but otherwise, the whole shore is sandy and gravelly, with here and there an occasional small boulder. The upper portion of Munlochy Bay is formed of a deep blue clay, which, if reclaimed, and it might be reclaimed at no great expense, would form a valuable addition to the agricultural portion of the district.

Climate:–The air is generally dry and healthy. There are 44 of the inhabitants of this parish above seventy years of age. There are no distempers peculiar to this parish; but it may be here mentioned, that in 1833, considerable havoc was made in the village by cholera.

Hydrography:–The waters of the Moray Firth, and also of Munlochy Bay, which bound the southern, and part of the western sides of the parish, are dark-coloured, but perfectly salt at all times of the tide. The tide recedes one-fourth of a mile opposite the village of Avoch, where the breadth of the Firth is about three miles. As the tides come through the Pentland Firth, they are always raised by a westerly, and depressed by an easterly wind. The highest stream tidesrise from sixteen to eighteen feet, the highest neap tides from eight to ten feet. The whole of the parish, with the exception of the south side of the second ridge, called Tourie Lum, is well supplied with excellent water from perennial springs. There are two on the north side of the village of peculiarly excellent quality, Hainuck and Charles’s. But the one of great celebrity is Craiguck, on the estate of Bennetsfield, which is annually resorted to by numbers of invalids-at any rate by numbers who fancy themselves to be invalids, early on the first Sabbath morning of May, old style, from various parts of the country. Previous to partaking of it, the propitiatory oblation has sometimes been rigidly observed-namely, of spilling a portion of the water upon the ground three times, and of affixing an offering of a rag, which is suspended upon a bramble bush that overhangs it which, from the traditionary antiquity of the custom, might appear to refer to something before the introduction of Christianity; at the same time, there seems a shade of compromise, as they do not forget to cross themselves. The amount of benefit, fancied or real, derived from the pellucid water of Craiguck, it is impossible to ascertain. But of this there can be no doubt, that in favourable weather, a morning sail or walk to that most picturesque spot, must prove essentially conducive to the health of many an invalid, whether the disease be real or imaginary. The Burn of Avoch, which rises principally in this parish, and proves so essentially serviceable to four mills, one wool-carding mill, and three cornmills. After winding beautifully through the estates of Rosehaugh and Avoch, discharges its waters into the firth at Henrietta Bridge, close to the village. Near to the source is a beautiful pool, called Littlemilstick, celebrated as the pool in which, in times past, Baptists were immersed. The last immersion was that of a young woman, from the parish of Rosemarkie, nearly twenty years ago. The only piece of fresh water is Scadden’s Loch, which covers fourteen imperial acres.

Geology:–The great peninsula of Ardmeanach, or the Black Isle, contained between the Moray and Cromarty Firths, consists mainly of a succession of sandstone ridges falling from the high sandstone hills, which are abutted in huge conglomerated masses on the primitive slates of Ord, Fairburn, and Coul, in the parishes of Urray and Contin. None of these ridges seem to be prolongation’s of the magnificent cliffs of Brahan, which, however, with the neighbouring masses to the south and west of them, undoubtedly belong to the old red sandstone formation.

To the east and north of the village of Avoch, a high granitic ridge has been upheaved from below the sandstone strata, disturbing and throwing their beds irregularly in every possible direction, but which has not to a great extent, or in many places, except along the coast, overtopped them. We shall afterwards describe the granitic rock, with its associate beds, directing our attention, in the first place, to the sandstone ridges, as to which it may be remarked, that an examination of them collectively, as extending over the whole district of the Black Isle, will prove more satisfactory, (and save repetition,) than if they were noticed in detail in the Statistical Account of each parish.

Commencing, then, with the coast line at Avoch, and proceeding westward and across the district to the shores of the Cromarty Firth, the sandstone ridges are disposed in the following order, having extensive plains between them, more or less open, sometimes inclined, and sometimes flat or undulating.

1st Ridge.–Ormondy Hill, or the Lady’s Hill of Avoch, and Castleton Hill, continued on the south side of Munlochy Bay, by the hills of Craigiehow, Pitlundy, and the Ord of Kessock, where the ridge is interrupted by the sea, but is prolonged on the opposite shore by Craigphadrick and Dunain Hill, to the sides of the primitive mountains on Loch Ness.

The rocks throughout the course of this ridge are simply either hard red sandstone, or coarse granitic conglomerate, composed of fragments more or less rounded, of primitive rocks, either immediately cohering together, or united by a gritty cement, with no alternating argillaceous or calcareous beds. The formation, therefore, may be decidedly pronounced as that of the old red sandstone.

2nd Ridge. Hill from which the stones for the garrison of Fort George were quarried, on the Bennetsfield estate, prolonged from the southern shore of Munlochy Bay, by the ridge of Drumderfit and Knockbain, to Lettoch, Coul, and Redcastle, on Loch Beauly.

This ridge most probably is of the same formation as the first or exterior one, its superior beds, however, passing into, and forming part of the next, or

3nd Ridge. Proceeding at first in a direction rather transverse to the former two, by Avoch House and Rosehaugh, this ridge afterwards assumes a course more parallel to them, as it proceeds past Suddy, Allanbank, Allangrange, and Arperpheilly, to the heights behind Redcastle, wbere it sinks rapidly, and on the estate of Tarradale is covered by the gravelly accumulations of Muir of Ord.

4th Ridge. The great central range of the ancient commonty called Milbuy which overlooks all the other ridges, its elevation being 500 feet above the sea, and whose sides, sloping up to it as the great back-bone of the district, are shortest and steepest toward the north, but broader and more gentle in their southern inclination. Behind Belmaduthy House, this ridge attains its greatest altitude, but it thence proceeds with no interruptions or breaks in its outline, and generally of a pretty equal height, both towards Cromarty on the east and by Tore, Kilcoy Castle, and Ryefield on the west, to the valley which is watered by the rivers Orrin and Conon, which separate it from the sloping fields and rocky frontlets of Brahan. On the north, the Milbuy range subsides by several parallel but lower sandstone ridges, into the Dingwall or Cromarty Firth, and on the south it is separated from the third ridge above described, by the moss of Auchterflow, the cultivated grounds below Belmaduthy, and the flat or boggy land which separates the property of Tore from that of Redcastle.

The structure of the third and fourth ridges may now be considered together, and although between them and the first and second ridges above-mentioned, we have discovered no beds of the true mountain limestone of the coal measures, nor yet of the bituminous shales of Ferrindonald and Strathpeffer * which seem to represent them, yet we have little hesitation in assigning the geological place of these two ridges to the new red or variegated sandstone formation. Mr Miller’s recent fossil discoveries at Cromarty may, however, perhaps determine these ridges to be the upper beds of the old red sandstone deposit. Their strata are softer and finer in texture than those of the old red sandstone ridges. They have much fewer imbedded masses of conglomerate; they are more argillaceous, and abound in steatite and chlorite or green earth. No organic remains have as yet been seen in these strata, but in very many places they present the striped or variegated aspect whence the formation has acquired its name; some of the quarries, as on the estate of Rosehaugh and Suddy, exhibiting layers of alternate yellow, brown, and red colours, disposed in parallel streaks or ribbons. Several of the superior beds are also entirely yellow, or of a dusky white colour, whence it is suspected that they might perhaps be the outgoings in this direction of some of the colitic deposits, which at one time seem to have been extensively spread around the shores of the adjoining firth. The unusual fertility and deepness of soil, however, on these ridges prevent the rocks from being frequently seen, and the prolific nature of the materials into which they are decomposed, hence affords a farther indication of their belonging to the new red sandstone series, which abounds more largely with unctuous and clayish substances than such as occur in the older sandstone deposit.

As already stated, the sandstone ridges now enumerated have been affected at their eastern termination by a great granitic eruption or ridge which first appears in the cliffs of the Craigwood between Avoch and Fortrose, behind which it is covered with sand and gravel-banks, but the granite reappears on the north side of the burn of Rosemarkie, and thence composes several of the hills and cliffs along the coast, till, at the Sutors of Cromarty, it is found completely disencumbered of the secondary deposits. The rock, especially at its western boundary, consists chiefly of a hard, small granular and flesh-coloured granite, through which are interspersed in minute grains and coatings, crystals of black iron ore and lead glance. Numerous and large masses of gneiss also occur intermixed with beds of hornblende, actynolite slate and quartz rock, among which garnets are extensively disseminated, while the whole are everywhere charged with granite veins. The intrusion of such granitic invasion among the sandstone strata could not fail to have greatly affected them, and accordingly, on the estates of Avoch and Rosehaugh, the ridge of which seems to have been over a centre of volcanic action, we find the soft new red sandstone upheaved into short perpendicular hardened masses, the alteration and dislocation of the previously horizontal strata being seen to extend from the base to the very summit and crest of the ridge. On the opposite sides of the hill, the strata are seen thrown off in opposite directions, and even in the plains of Suddy the layers of the red sandstone are so irregularly disposed, and so often broken and disturbed, that it would be as useless as tedious to attempt to lay down with any degree of precision, the bearings or dip of the rocks. This confusion is worthy of notice, only as demonstrative of the greatness and extent of the granitic influence. That rock itself, with its various beds, falls to be more minutely described in the reports of the parishes of Rosemarkie and Cromarty. It is proper to add, however, that the great elevation of the Milbuy sandstones has been most probably occasioned by the same subterranean action, although we have not as yet seen the granitic rock cropping out on the surface, and in this view, it is likely that the basin of the Cromarty Frith was formed on the upheaving of the sandstone ridges along its sides, and that, before the invasion of the sea from between the Sutors, it consisted of a series of inland lakes or hollows.

* These beds usually intervene between the old and the new red sandstone formations.