The Second Statistical Account

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United Parishes of Urquhart and Loggy-Wester. *

(Presbytery of Dingwall, 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. John Macdonald, Minister

* Drawn up by D. Mackenzie, A.M. and revised by the Rev. J. Macdonald Minister of the parish

1. – Topography and Natural History

Name – This parish now known by the name Urquhart, is in all church records designated the united parishes of Urquhart and Loggie-Wester; the former comprehending the eastern and the latter the western district of the parish as now constituted. As the designation intimates, it was originally two distinct parishes, but at what period the union took place has not been ascertained. It seems, however, probable, from a reference made to the parishes in an old manuscript in the Advocates’ Library, that they had been incorporated as early as the year 1490, it being therein stated that one, Mr Munro, was at that time, vicar of Urquhart and Loggie-Wester.

In regard to the designation Urquhart it derives its origin, according to a tradition still current in the place, from the first church, on the erection of the parish, having been built by a lady of eminent piety, by name Sophia Urquhart, in Gaelic, Sitheag Urachdan. This tradition is noticed by the writer of the former Statistical Account, who adds that the lady was of the family of Cromarty, whose landed property in this country was anciently of vast extent, and that to the lady referred to, the lands of Urquhart had been allotted as her dowry. He likewise observes that although these lands have long since passed into a different line of proprietors, yet still many of the inhabitants of this, and some of the heritors of the adjacent parishes, are of the name of Urquhart. These circumstances taken together serve, it is conceived, to render this account of the origin of the name extremely probable.

Perhaps it may not be out of place to observe here, that the same tradition also bears that the parish of Urquhart in Inverness-shire, derives its name, in like manner, from the person who first endowed it, called Crostan Urquhart. The designation in the Gaelic is Urachdan mu (ma’) Chrostan, Anglice Urquhart, the benefit of, or endowed by, Crostan; the adjunct, ma’ Chrostan, being intended to distinguish it from other parishes of the name of Urquhart, of which there are, at least, two more in the north of Scotland.

Loggie, – the name of the other parish , is a Gaelic word (Laggie from lag), signifying a hollow, and is descriptive of the old church of that parish, the ruins of which are still to be seen in a pleasant valley on the south bank of the river Conan; the grounds contiguous to it receding and rising by a gentle acclivity, while the lands on the opposite side of the water present a bolder ascent, extending to the foot of the precipitous Brahan rock. It is called Loggie-Wester to distinguish it from another parish of the name of Loggie, within the bounds of the synod.

Extent and boundaries – The length of the parish is about ten miles; its breadth, three and a half. the form is a pretty exact rectangle; and it lies in a direction nearly south west and north east. On the east it is bounded by the parish of Resolis; on the south and south west, by the parishes of Knockbain and Killearnan; on the west by the parish of Urray; on the north, the boundary is formed by the Cromarty Frith and River Conan, which separate it from the parishes of Kiltearn, Dingwall, Fodderty and part of Urray.

Topographical Appearances. – From the shore and the bank of the Conan, the ground rises with a gradual and pretty uniform slope, to the ridge of hill called the Maolbuie. the surface is nearly regular, there being nothing to diversify it, beyond here and there a knoll or a hollow. There is no elevation that deserves the name of hill, or depression that can be called a valley. In short, to an observer situated on the north of the Frith, this parish presents the appearance of an inclined plane, having the east end somewhat more elevated than the west. The lower grounds are almost entirely brought into cultivation; those parts which the plough has not yet reached are rapidly diminishing in extent, and are generally covered with furze or whin, and broom. But towards the Maolbuie, the uncultivated ground produces nothing better than stunted heath; and in that part of the parish which adjoins Killearnan, there is a moss of some extent, supplying the inhabitants with a spongy kind of peat, which is used for fuel.

Of natural scenery, a surface so uniform can scarcely be expected to present much.. With the exception of one or two burns or ravines of rather a romantic character, there is nothing in the parish that merits any notice. One of these, the Findon-burn, has a fine cascade of about 20 feet, which, pouring its waters into a yawning gorge, formed by a sudden widening of the fissure on each side, the banks above rising boldly, and being covered with oak, birch, and hazel, there is nothing wanting to complete the interest of the scene, but a sufficient body of water. This gloomy chasm was in the olden times fully believed by the common people, to be the abode of some ideal being, called in Gaelic a Bhaobh or a Bhean Shith. To what class of animals this same Baobh belongs, naturalists have not, it is supposed, yet been able to decide. That she (for a female she was supposed to be) exercised no slight influence over the fears of the superstitious Highlanders, till a period not very remote, is well known. Her reign, however, in this part of the country terminated long ago; the last of the race who figured in the history of this parish having not been heard of for 100 years. Of this lady a marvellous story used to be related by the old people, who have now gone to the silence of the grave. They fully believed that she held intercourse with a man whose name and residence were specified, and that he was repeatedly absent months from his own family, being on those occasions in the company of his Dulcinea, the Baobh. But happily such silly ideas have vanished before the enlightening influence of Christian education.

But although this parish cannot boast of much scenery within itself, yet it commands an excellent view of one of the most beautiful and magnificent landscapes in the north. Take your stand on almost any spot in the parish, look towards the north, and a delightful scene every where meets the eye! In the foreground, the Frith presents itself, with a number of ships lying on the beach at various points, or perhaps here and there a sloop sailing down with spread canvas, or beating up against the wind. At its termination, it receives the waters of Conon. Directly opposite the middle of the parish, lies the town of Dingwall, surrounded by rows of trees, and finely situated on a rich carse, formed by the abrupt contracting of the Firth to about half its breadth. Ascending rapidly from the edge of the water, a beautiful slope, all the way from Brahan, extends to the east as far as the eye can reach, in the highest state of cultivation, adorned with hedges, rows of trees and clumps of wood, interspersed with neat farm-houses and the splendid mansions of gentlemen. Among these latter may be enumerated, Brahan Castle, Tulloch Castle, Mountgerald House, the princely castle of Fowlis, and Novar House. From the eastern parts of the parish, the celebrated vale of Strathpeffer, lying north-west, beyond Dingwall, is seen to great advantage. On a fine summer evening, when the sun shoots his slanting rays through the masses of mist which roll along the bosom of Ben Wyvis, or through the fleecy clouds that float over Strathpeffer and Dingwall, down on the still waters of the Firth, especially when there happens to be a drizzling rain, the scene as viewed from this side, is highly enchanting. The blaze of the light reflected from the water; the variety of rich tints produced by the refraction of the rays in their passage through the clouds; from the softest green to the most brilliant red, conspire to form a picture exquisitely beautiful, and gorgeous beyond description. In the distance, again, rises to the horizon a range of hills piled on one another, extending in the form of a crescent for about twenty-five miles, commencing with the hills of Urray on the west and terminating in the hills of Ardross on the east. In the centre of this chain, sits in majesty Ben Wyvis, often either capped with snow or enveloped in mist, and erecting its lofty front, as if looking down with contempt on every pretender to elevation around it.

“Verum haec tantum alias inter caput extulit urbes,
Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi”

Hydrography – It has already been observed that the north of the parish is in part bounded by the Cromarty Frith, which extends along it for about six miles and a half, terminating about a mile to the west of Dingwall. Its breadth at the east end of the parish may be about two miles; towards its extremity, it is less than a mile broad. At Dingwall it suddenly contracts by about a mile. The average depth, in the middle, may be stated at two or three fathoms; but towards the shore it is very shallow. The beach varies, being in some parts sandy, and in others clayey. Its water is muddy, and is rather brackish than salt, in consequence of being mixed with so large a body of fresh water as is discharged by the Conan. Salmon and grilse are taken in two yairs, on the property of Culloden, but, from whatever cause, in much smaller numbers than was the case forty or fifty years ago. The river Conan, which as already noticed, pours its waters into the Frith at its western extremity, rises in a small lake, about thirty miles north west from its mouth. In its course it is augmented by the confluence of several streams, such as the Black River, the Meag, the Orrin etc Its breadth near its mouth is about 50 yards, and its mean depth two and a half feet. It abounds with salmon of a rich flavour, which is chiefly sent to the London market. The lowest parts of the parish are exceedingly well supplied with springs of the finest water. The upper parts, however, are not so well provided in that respect; the water being inferior in quality, and in dry seasons, deficient in quantity. A few of the springs are slightly impregnated with iron, and are considered to be in some degree medicinal.

Geology.- The only kind of rock in the parish is the old red sandstone formation of geologists. There are several quarries of good freestone, which supply the parish, and from which hewn work is sent to Dingwall, and to other places in the vicinity. In regard to the soil, there is considerable variety, being in some parts light and sharp; in other parts a rich clayey loam is to be found; but the prevailing kind is a quick black mould__ the ” solum putre” of Virgil, which is very fertile. Towards the Maolbuie, the subsoil is a raw unpropitious gravel, or rather rough sand, which being covered only with a thin mossy or spongy layer, the land is consequently there considerably less productive. In former days, a mischievous custom prevailed, of cutting up the
surface to obtain turf, which supplied a wretched substitute for better fuel; that process necessarily much impoverished the soil. It may be observed, in general, that in this parish the subsoil is dry and kindly, and that, consequently, the crops are not often materially injured by changes of weather, which not unfrequently occasion much damage in many other districts.

Zoology.- None of the rarer animals are to be found among us; and even some of the more common species, which, thirty or forty years ago, were to be met with in the parish, are now seldom or never seen. Reynard himself, who used to make depredations of a serious nature among the poultry, has been forced to decamp, not for want of provision, but for lack of secure quarters. Of breeds of cattle there are various kinds, but it is unnecessary to specify them. Rabbits, introduced some years ago, have multiplied prodigiously, and cause a great deal of damage throughout the parish. Pheasants are found in the woods about Conan. In winter, the woodcock is to be seen; and occasionally the blackcock shows his rich plumage. The snipe also is to be met with; partridges are numerous; groups of plovers may be seen; but the moor fowl has found it necessary to resort to higher ground. The heron is no stranger among us; and the swan is sometimes seen sailing in state on the Frith.

Botany .- There is a considerable variety of plants to be found through the parish, especially in the woods; but it has not been observed that there are any of the rarer sorts such as deserve particular notice here. The plants used for medicinal purposes are chiefly the foxglove (Digitalis), both the purple and the white; the latter is, however, very scarce among us; the whortleberry, ( Arbu-tus Uva-Ursi); the ground-ivy, (Hedera terrestris), considered an excellent remedy in cases of dysuria; coltsfoot, (Tussilago); trefoil or buckbean, (Menyanthes trifoliata). It may be proper to observe, that monkshood ( Aconitum Napellus), though it cannot be classed among the indigenous plants, has been found to have an excellent effect in discussing indolent tumours. It was applied in several cases in the form of a strong tincture, and seemed to act more powerfully than the ointment of the hydriodate of potass. The trees which are indigenous to the parish are, the oak, the ash, birch, quaking-ash, mountain-ash, gean, bird-cherry, holly, &c.

Plantations.- There are pretty extensive plantations of fir and larch on the properties of Ferrintosh and Conan. On the latter, there is also a thriving plantation of hard-wood; and the grounds about Conan House, one of the seats of Sir Francis A. Mackenzie of Gairloch, are beautifully ornamented with shrubberies, and rows of trees of various kinds. On each of the properties of Findon and Ferrintosh there is a wood of natural oak, interspersed with birch, mountain-ash, hazel, bird-cherry, &c. which constitute the! chief objects of attraction in the aspect of the parish. The oak, however, is not allowed to attain to great size.

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