The 1st Statistical Account

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(County and Synod of Ross - Presbytery of Chanonry)

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 Alexander Wood, Minister

Name and Extent
The name of this parish was anciently spelled Rossmarkie, and sometimes Rosemarknie. The most probable account of the origin of the name is this: to the parish church, in former times, was annexed a steeple, in an elevated and conspicuous station, which being one of the first objects observed by mariners in coming up the Murray Frith, they would naturally say to one another, “Mark ye Ross!” which, for the sake of better sound, was turned into Rossmarkie. The extent of the parish, from E to W, is about 6 miles in length; and 3 miles in breadth, from S to N.

Situation, Soil, Climate and Diseases
The situation of the parish is very fine and pleasant, as it rises gradually from the sea, and the hills, both on the S and N, are for the most part arable, in summer covered with verdure, and producing rich and early crops. The nature of the soil is various. In the neighbourhood of the town, where there is a large and beautiful flat, well cultivated, it is a fine black mould upon light gravel which, in moderately rainy seasons, never fails to yield a luxuriant produce of barley and pease, which are the grain principally sown here. In other parts of the parish, the lands lie generally on a deep clay bottom, producing oats in great abundance, that make excellent meal. As the country lies dry, and has the benefit of fine sea breezes, the air is pure and salubrious, so that few contagious distempers make their appearance, and when they do, their progress is quickly checked. The smallpox, that in former times used to make the greatest ravages, is now alleviated by inoculation, to which even the lower ranks of the people begin to be reconciled. In this parish very few children have died of that distemper for the last 20 years.

Coast, Shell, Fish, and Caves
The coast all along, between Rosemarkie and Cromarty, is bold and rocky. It abounds with romantic views, and frightful precipices. Along these the ivy creeps in ragged cliffs, where hawks and wild pigeons nestle, and

“Low brow’d rocks hang nodding o’er the deep.”

Crabs and lobsters are dragged from holes among the rocks, with old corn hooks, by country women; and seals are often seen on them, and otters shot, though not very numerous. There are likewise a variety of curious natural caves along the shore, some of them very deep, and one that runs quite through the rock, for about 50 yards, affording an open passage to such as wish to examine it. Some of these have been used as a temporary lodging by fishers, when there was a great run of herring, and others resorted to by smugglers as fit places for concealing of their prohibited articles.

Woods, Fisheries, Ferry, etc
Though large tracks of the parish were of old covered with wood, it had become quite exhausted. In the course of 20 years back, some considerable plantations of firs have been raised, which are very thriving; and as the parish is but poorly supplied with moss, these will be a useful fund for fuel. There is a salmon fishing at the Point of Chanonry Ness, where the salmon are caught, fresh from the sea, in their highest perfection. About 40 years ago, it was rented at a 100 merks Scotch. It now produces £70 Sterling. The Point here projects a good way into the sea, and forms a fine curve, which makes it a beautiful object. It terminates the Links of Fortrose, about an English mile in length, and smooth as a carpet. This is fine ground for the golf, which is often played here by the gentlemen of the town and country. The Point is the situation for the ferryboat that passes to Fort George, and so safe is the passage that there is not an instance of any being lost on it in memory of man.

Agriculture, Produce, and Cattle
The common Scotch plough is for the most part used in the parish, but some farmers begin to prefer that with the feather sock, as most convenient, especially for turning lee or meadow ground. The number of ploughs in the country and town is reckoned to be about 60. These are commonly drawn by 6, and sometimes 8 middle sized, or rather small oxen, which are found best adapted for steep or hilly lands, and go through their labour with much steadiness. Small horses are employed in carrying manure, yoked in a sort of light sledge, rolling on wooden wheels. But where the ground is tolerably level, many farmers now begin to use coups, drawn by a couple of oxen, which make the work much easier and more expeditious. Horses are chiefly employed in cultivating the lands about the burgh. The method of farming there, for time immemorial, has been remarkably uniform. It consists of a constant succession of barley, and though the lands be seldom or never rested, it is surprising how much they produce, bearing commonly six or seven returns. When a quantity of sea ware and tangles are thrown ashore (which often happens in a storm), the farmers, in spring especially, are very attentive in gathering it, and spreading it upon their lands, and they reckon it an excellent manure for a barley crop. They seldom take time to mix it in a compost dunghill, though that might better answer the purpose. Of late, they have begun to use the roller, which in light soil they find to be an advantage. In the country part of the parish, the tenants are not so accustomed to raise green crops, but frequently sow oats in the same fields for several years running, which renders them much less productive. A large quantity of potatoes is raised here, of a very free and sweet quality. Some of the farmers have flocks of sheep, of a small kind, which are pastured on heath, and among whins and broom; but their flocks are not numerous.*

*The prices of labour, servants’ fees, and articles of provision, are much the same as in the neighbouring parishes. Most of them are nearly doubled since the present minister was settled.

Here it may not be amiss to take notice of a small improvement lately made by the minister of the parish, which, in similar operations, may serve as an example and encouragement to others. Very near the manse, on the side of the public road to Fortrose, there was a lake, covering between 3 and 4 acres, in winter filled with water, running down from a hill above it, and kept in by a rising ground on the side contiguous to the king’s highway. Owing to this, it was, in the middle, at least four feet deep, and a small boat has been seen paddling through it, with persons in quest of wild ducks. By the stagnation of the water in the heat of summer, and the steeping of lint by the people (which raised a most disagreeable and unwholesome smell), it was often an intolerable nuisance. Many schemes had been formed for draining it, but they were generally thought impracticable. However, the write of this, considering that his glebe, which lay directly opposite to it, on the other side of the road, was upon a bank of gravel (having first taken a feu of it from the town, at a reasonable feu-duty), determined to cut a very deep drain across the road into his glebe, so as to command the level of the water (which required about 14 feet in depth), and then to let it off by degrees, in hopes the gravel bank might swallow it. The experiment answered his expectation, and, in the course of less than a month, there was not a drop left in it. He then cut a wide deep ditch by the side of it, to receive the water as it fell from the hills, and, besides a number of cross drains, filled with stones, he dug under ground an open drain, faced with stone and covered with flags, communicating with the bottom of the ditch, and conveying the water, for more than 150 yards, into the bank of shingle, where it sinks, and never more appears. Sometimes, indeed, on a sudden thaw, or a violent rush from the hills, the drain cannot immediately command the water, and so it breaks out upon the surface, but in a short tract of fair weather it goes down, and leaves a slime, which serves to enrich the soil. These operations were attended with considerable expense, but the success has amply repaid it. From a single boll of Essex oats, sown here in 1789, in scarce an acre and a half, there were actually reaped 22 bolls and 2 firlots, a very extraordinary return. The stalks in many parts were from 6 to 7 feet long. Last season a part of it was laid down with large glossy black oats, from a farm in Aberdeenshire,* and though the feed happened to arrive rather too late, it produced a good return. This species of black oats is a new grain in this country, but they are said to meal remarkably well, and a few bolls of them have been circulated to give them a fair trial. It is hoped the length of this article will be excused, as it may incite others to make the like useful experiments.

*Viz. Monkshill, a farm belonging to Dr Anderson, Editor of the Bee, which in an essay on the different species of oats, strongly recommends these black oats as of excellent quality, which was the reason of sending for them.

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