The Second Statistical Account

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Parish of Avoch


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

By the Rev. James Gibson, Minister

Gravel–The whole of the parish of Avoch is, like the neighbouring districts, strewn over with great beds of sand and gravel, transported from a distance, as well as resulting from the decomposed materials of its own rocks. In the eastern part of the parish, towards Raddery, the gravel beds increase in extent and thickness, and on descending the course of the burn of Rosemarkie, which is situated nearly along the junction of the sandstone and granitic masses, we find that hollow to have been a very ancient one, for it appears to have been partially filled with a vast accumulation of fine sand and communicated gravel, enclosing boulderstones of various sizes, disposed in layers, not horizontal, but inclined towards the centre of the valley. Streams from the adjoining hills have since greatly cut up these gravel beds, which, from their great depth, present most fantastic forms, many of the banks being cut into large cones, both acute and truncated, while others present sharp ridges, leading up to battlemented impending masses, perched like old castles over the deep and winding moats which encompass their bases. Some of these gravel beds are, at least, 250 feet high, and exhibit bare sections most instructive to the geologist.

Zoology.–In the burn of Avoch, the common trout and eel are to be found, and in the Firth, opposite to Avoch, oysters, cuddies, flounders, and occasionally small herrings, are caught. When the small herrings appear, cod generally abounds. Halibut is also to be found in the Firth. There are two salmon-fisheries, one on the estate of Avoch, the other on the estate of Rosehaugh. In Munlochy Bay, mussels are to be found in great profusion. This bay is much frequented during winter by swans, the great northern diver, and an immense variety of ducks.

Botany–Few parishes in Scotland contain such a rich and extensive flora as that of Avoch. But it will be sufficient to give the following list of those not common in many districts in Scotland.

Linnean Name
English Name 
When in flower 
Adoxa mosehatellina  Tuberous mosehatel April, May
 Allium ursinum Broad-leaved garlic  June
 Astragalus glycyphyllus Sweet milk vetch July
 Avena pratensis Narrow-leaved oat-grass Do
 Carex capillaris  rare Dwarf capillary carex  June, July.
 Carex binervis Green-ribbed carex June
 Circea alpinaAlpine enchanter nightshade July,August
 Drosera Auglica Great sundew Do. do.
 Echium vulgare Common viper’s bugloss June, July.
 Equisetum variegatum Rough horsetail July,August
 Equisetum hyemale Rough horsetail Do. do
 Eriophorum pubescens,rare  Down-stalked cotton-grass April, June
 Eupatorium cannabinum Common hemp agrimony  July,August.
 Fedia olitoria salad or lamb’s lettuce April June
 Galium boreale Cross-leaved bed-straw June, July.
 Geranium sanguineum  Bloody cranesbill Do. do.
 Helianthemum vulgare Common rock-rose July,August.
 Hyoseyamus niger henbane July.
 Juncus Baltieus  rare Baltic rush  Do
 Knautia arvensis  Field knautia  Do
 Listera ovata Common bird’s nest 
 Pinguicula alpina rare Alpine butterwort May, June.
 Sinapis alba White mustard July.
 Trollius Europaeus Mountain globe-flower June, July.
 Viburnum opulus Common guelder rose or water-elder Do. do.
 Vicia sylvatica Wood vetch  July August.

The exposure of the Craigwood, like that of all the cliffs along the coast down to the Sutors of Cromarty, and the clayish qualities of its decomposing granites, render it extremely prolific in native herbaceous plants. In no part of the Highlands are more luxuriant festoons to be seen of Vicia sylvatica, or larger and more showy specimens of Geranium sylvaticum, and G. sanguineum, and Saxifraga granulata. The roses which make such a show in the same neighbourhood, and which caused the celebrated courtier, Sir George Mackenzie, to style his property “Rosehaugh,” are of the species Rosa canina and R. spinosissima.

In the above list there will be found several rare plants, and one, Pinguicula alpina, recently discovered here in great abundance, and not yet found in any other part of Britain. As this discovery excited at the time and since, considerable interest in the botanical circles, and as the particulars of it are variously detailed in several publications, it may be interesting to give the following account which the writer has received from Campbell Smith, Esq. land-surveyor.

In June 1831, while Mr Smith was engaged in the survey of Sir James W. Mackenzie of Scatwell’s estate of Rosehaugh, he invited his friend, the Rev. G. Gordon of Birnie, to visit him, and make a botanical examination of the neighhourhood. Upon Mr Gordon’s arrival, Mr Smith presented him with a number of plants which he had collected for his examination, (he himself having only commenced the study of the science) with one of these, viz. the new Pinguicula. Mr Gordon was delighted, and next day proceeded to the ground to gather fresh specimens of what he had hastily, and without examination, denominated P.lusitanica, which he had never seen either in a live or dried state; but which he knew was to be found on the west coast of Ross-shire. He traced it in great abundance from the bog of Auchterflow to Boggiewell, Raddery a distance of more than two miles, and although he, no doubt, looked upon it with the eye of an experienced botanist, which he is, and observed the difference in the form of the spur, the specific character of the genus, yet, never questioning his first impression, and far less dreaming of being in possession of a plant which had as yet no place in the British Flora, and being content with finding a new and extraordinary station for P.lusitanica, which has never been found on the east coast of the kingdom, and rarely if ever in the interior, he sent specimens of it as such to several botanical friends, and among others to Mr H.C Watson the author of the Geographical Distribution of British Plants, to whom the credit of examining and determining it to be a species new to Britain, must be awarded.

Mr Watson communicated his opinion along with the specimen to Dr Graham, who also recognized the plant as P.alpina, and was the first to communicate to Mr Gordon the discovery which he had been the means of making to the British Flora. Dr Graham afterwards described the plant, and got it figured in the Botanical Magazine, from live specimens furnished by Mr Gordon.

This new plant, P.alpina, is confined to the Rosehaugh estate, the property of Sir James Weymss Mackenzie of Scatwell, Bart. Lord Lieutenant of the county of Ross, and it is a curious circumstance, that since its discovery, P.Iusitanica, which it was at first confounded with, has been found by Mr Smith in great abundance, on a Highland estate, Kinlochluichart, in the very centre of Ross-shire, belonging to the same proprietor.

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