The 2nd Statistical Account

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UNITED PARISH OF KIRKMICHAEL AND CULLICUDDEN

(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

TThe Second Statistical Account (1836)
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. DONALD SAGE, MINISTER

I. – TOPOGRAPHY AND NATURAL HISTORY

Name
Of this united parish the eastern division is Kirk Michael. Its Gaelic name is “Kill a’ Mhichail” or the Cell of St. Michael; but this name is by the inhabitants usually given only to the church and burying-ground. The district which the ancient parish of Kirkmichael comprehended is called “Sgire’ a’ Mhichail” or the parish of St. Michael.

Cullicudden forms the western district of the united parish. Its Celtic name is Coull a Chuddinn or Chuddegin, signifying the Cuddie Creek, that species of fish being formerly, though not now, caught in great abundance in a small creek on the shore of Cullicudden, and a little to the west of the old church. It is probable, however, that St. Martin’s, or Kirk Martin, and not Cullicudden, was the name originally of this small but ancient parish. It is still called by the natives Sgire a’ Mhartinn, or the parish of St. Martin’s; and at the place of St. Martin’s, a small farm near its western extremity, the foundation of a church, surrounded by a burying-ground not now occupied, may still be seen. The probability is, therefore, that the parish church, dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, was originally at the place of St. Martin’s, but the church being afterwards removed to the more centrical place of Cullicudden, the parish from this circumstance came to be so called. 

The union of the parishes of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden must have taken place subsequent to the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland in 1688, for, about the middle or rather towards the beginning of the seventeenth century, and during the sway of Scottish Episcopacy, the three adjacent cures or parishes of Cullicudden, Kirkmichael, and Cromarty were served by three Episcopal clergymen, viz. Mr Robert Williamson, curate of Cullicudden; Mr Charles Pope, curate of Kirkmichael; and Mr Gilbert Anderson, curate of Cromarty; each of these curacies being in the gift of the Urquharts of Cromarty as patrons. The united parish of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden, though still so called in old deeds and in the records of presbytery, is better known by its more modern name of Resolis (Ri-sholuis, i.e. the field or ridge of light), and the united parish got this name from the circumstance, that the manse first, and a few years afterwards the church, was built, and the glebe designated by excambion at the place of Resolis, as the most centrical for the convenience of the parishioners, about the year 1767. Previous to that period, the minister had his residence at Cullicudden, while he preached every Sabbath alternately at the churches of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden. After the present church was built, the two old churches were suffered to fall into decay. The gables of both are still standing. That of Kirkmichael contains the old bell, which is occasionally tolled at funerals.

Situation, Extent, &c.
The united parish lies partly in the county of Ross, and partly in the county of Cromarty, within the district called an Eilean Dubh, or the Black Isle, on the south side of the Cromarty Frith. It extends in length, from east to west, about 8 miles, and between 3 and 4 miles in breadth. It is bounded on the north by the Cromarty Frith; on the east by the parish of Cromarty; on the south by the parishes of Rosmarkie and Avoch; and on the west by the parish of Urquhart or Ferintosh.

Topographical Appearances
Its form is that of an oblong square. From the shores of the Frith, the land rises gradually for nearly two miles, then sinks down into a valley, on the south side of which, it again rises rather abruptly until it terminates in the summit of a hill called the Maole-Buidhe (i.e. the yellow brow or ridge). The top of this hill, which is the precise boundary of the parish to the south, is called the Ard Meadhonach, or high midland, as it runs through the very centre of the Black Isle, and is equidistant from the Friths of Fort George and Cromarty, by which that district is bounded to the north, south, and east. This is the only elevation in the parish which most nearly approaches to any thing resembling a mountain range. It may be about 800 feet above the level of the sea. The valley at the base of it contains nearly all the arable land of the parish, and runs almost through the whole of it. The extent of coast from east to west, including all the sinuosities of the frith, may be about ten miles. The shore is gravelly, interspersed with low flat rocks, and below flood-mark.

Meteorology, Climate
There is nothing very peculiar in the climate. It is usually moist and cold about the middle of spring. The snow during the winter months, owing to the almost insular situation of the district of the Black Isle, does not lie long upon the ground. The coldness of the spring, the prevalence of rain and easterly winds, and a sour damp soil, retard the labours of spring, and protract both sowing and reaping nearly a month longer than in those parishes in the immediate vicinity to the south. Dry weather, often frosty at night, commences about the middle or end of May, and the wind shifts to the north-west, from which, with but few intermissions, it continues to blow during the rest of the season, sometimes with great violence, and heightened by the valley through which it rushes, so that trees planted in hedgerows which have not a firm hold of the soil, all over the parish, have a cast to the east. In autumn, the high west winds occasion much loss to the farmer by shaking, more especially in those more elevated localities which have neither woods nor hedges to protect them. Thunder storms usually occur about the beginning of July, after a long course of dry scorching weather. They have been known in some seasons, though not with any degree of violence, to continue for a week, beginning at noon and ending at sunset. Any instances, however, of houses being struck by lightning or of loss of life thereby, whether of man or beast, the oldest persons living never saw or heard of. In winter, when loose and open, thunder storms have occurred but very seldom. The polar lights are visible almost every night after the autumnal equinox, often before. They were distinctly visible this year about the 1st of August, or even about the middle of July. It has been ascertained, by observation, that when close to the verge of the horizon, they indicate loose stormy weather; when more elevated, fair but frosty weather. About four years ago, the aurora assumed here an unusually striking and magnificent appearance. It was observed at midnight and about the middle of October, shooting along the whole extent of the upper region of the sky; and, after assuming various fantastic shapes, it formed itself into an immense arch resembling a rainbow, diffusing over the heavens a pale but vivid light, and giving a most unearthly appearance. The climate in general, however, is certainly salubrious. The people are healthy, and many among them attain to a very advanced age. The oldest man in the parish is now entering his 109th year. Epidemic distempers are rare, and the Asiatic cholera, which, in 1882 so fatally visited the surrounding parishes of Avoch, Cromarty, and Kilmuir Wester, and Suddie, appeared in this parish only in the case of one man, who recovered after a comparitively short but severe illness.

Hydrography – Friths
The only Frith or arm of the sea in this parish is, as already mentioned, the Frith of Cromarty, or perhaps, more properly speaking, the estuary of the river Conon, a large and beautiful stream, which runs into the Frith 11/2 miles above Dingwall, and about 7 miles beyond the western boundary of this parish. The extreme length of the Frith from the town of Dingwall to the Sutors of Cromarty, may be about 231/2 miles. Its depth varies, but does not exceed 20 fathoms. Its waters, particularly at the west end of the parish, are brackish, and, during the winter floods and at low water, almost fresh, and of a deep brown colour. There are no quick-sands on this side of the Frith, with the exception of a single spot from which clay formerly had been dug, immediately below the House of Poyntzfield, but there are very dangerous ones on the opposite side, particularly in the bay of Nigg, where many lives have been lost.

Springs, Rivulets, &c.
The north side of the parish is totally destitute of springs, in consequence of which, during the summer drought, the inhabitants are very ill supplied with water. Such as can afford it are under the necessity of digging wells and erecting forcing-pumps at a considerable expense. A well of this description was dug by the present incumbent, about four years ago, behind the manse, to the depth of thirty feet, and it is remarkable that the water issuing through a red species of rock has the smell and much of the taste of the celebrated Strathpeffer mineral. Strong springs, and of excellent quality, abound in the south side of the parish. The only stream of fresh water is what is called the Burn of Resolis, which, issuing from a small lake at Kinbeachie, at the western extremity of the parish, runs throughout its whole length, drives two or three mills in its course, and, after receiving four small tributary streams, falls into the Frith at the village of Gordon’s mills. There are no mineral springs of any note in the parish.

Geology, Mineralogy
The prevailing rock in this parish is sandstone or freestone. Geologists refer it, in greater part, to the old red sandstone formation. The soil, with but few exceptions, is poor and unproductive. A black light loam covers a hard till on a substratum of clay. The till itself is a composition of clay and gravel, and the inveterate foe of vegetable life. In trenching, it is necessary either not to reach the till at all, or to go at least a foot and a-half beyond it, in order to break it up altogether, and place the substratum of clay on the surface. In many places, the till is so far below the surface, or so very thick, that this is impracticable, and in any case the expense is so great, that it has never been attempted. The effect is that, in spring, which is usually rainy, the soil is so wet as entirely to prevent early sowing, whilst the summer drought hardens it almost to the consistency of rock, and the growth and grain are miserable. On the west and north-west side of the parish, and close by the shore, the soil forms an exception to this almost general character of it. It is there kindlier, and of a sharper and better quality. The baneful till is absent; the bottom is chiefly freestone. The soil, however, is so light after all, that sowing must commence before the moisture of the spring rains be exhausted by the too near approach of summer drought and warmth. Lime answers well, provided the surface be properly drained, which, owing to the inequalities of the ground in the greater part of the parish, is attended with considerable difficulty and expense. Simple minerals are either wanting, or at least undiscovered. The lead ore found in the freestone rock to the south of the mill of St. Martin’s, by the late Mr Gordon of Newhall, in 1786, has ever since been unnoticed. Some indications of coal were a few years ago observed near the freestone quarry at Cullicudden, but a closer investigation has never been attempted. It is highly probable that coal exists in the parish, but the expensive, though ultimately unsuccessful, efforts of the late Marquis of Stafford at Brora, in the neighbouring county of Sutherland, pretty clearly prove that both the quality of the coals, and the enormous expense of mining, are insuperable obstacles to any thing like a profitable coal trade so far north, and probably even north of the county of Fife. At Cullicudden, a freestone quarry has been opened, and in operation for many years. The materials of many public buildings and of stone piers have been taken from this quarry. The freestone varies both in quality and colour, from red to a deep yellow. The quality of the red freestone is seldom good. If taken, as too often it has been, near the surface, it blasts, and, by the action of the weather, it very soon crumbles down. The yellow is rather better, but is often almost equally friable under the action of a northern climate. To secure the good materials which this quarry affords, the only way is to quarry at a considerable depth – perhaps nine or twelve feet.

Zoology
No animals of the rarer kind are found in this parish. Moor-fowl or grouse, though very scarce, is to be found on the Maoile Buidhe. Partridges and hares are very numerous. Rabbits were introduced a few years ago, by a gentleman who had a temporary residence in this parish, and have now so much increased as to have become a public nuisance. In most cases, they burrow under ground, but the east end of the parish being overgrown with furze or whins, when burrowing is not practicable, they find shelter and nestle in them. Roes are found among such of the plantations as are not yet cut down, though not very numerous. The fish caught in the Frith by stake-nets and yares, are chiefly salmon of excellent quality: they are sent to the London market. Skate and whitings or cuddies, are caught by nets laid during the silence of night. Herring-fry, salmon, and salmon-trout, as well as the cuttle-fish, and other species of the rarer kind, are often caught in a yare, the property of Major Munro of Poyntzfield. Shell-fish is also found on the rocks, but more abundantly in a small bay or creek below Poyntzfield, on the sands at low water, and at springtides.

Trees
There is no natural wood in this parish, with the exception of a few patches of birch, quaking-ash, and hazel, growing on the banks of the rivulets, running through the estates of Poyntzfield and Braelangwell. The surface of the parish where it has not been planted is generally bare and moorish, yielding only furze, and a stunted kind of heather. Very extensive plantations of Scotch fir have been cut down on the estates of Newhall and Braelangwell. The larch fir in small patches, or rnixed with the Scotch pine, has been lately introduced by such of the proprietors as have considerably improved their estates. It is much to be regretted that the larch is not more universally cultivated, not only on account of the rapidity of its growth and the value of its bark and timber (excellent for ship and boat building) but also, as it is a well established fact, that plantations of larch, which will grow equally well on any kind of soil, instead of impoverishing, as the Scotch pine always does, actually improve it by the fall of the leaf at the end of autumn. Hard wood does not altogether thrive in this parish. The climate and soil are against it. At the policies of Newhall and Poyntzfield, it is true, there are fine old trees of ash, beech, and elm, nearly one hundred years old (and which a few years ago made a very narrow escape from the axe), but in most other parts of the parish where hard wood has been planted, it is stunted in its growth, and bark-bound. Comparatively young trees of ash are covered with seed, an almost infallible sign that their natural growth is checked. The leaves, too, fall off about the beginning of September.

Botany
Of plants, either rare or medicinal, there are scarce any in the parish worthy of notice. On the banks of the rivulets, and among the patches of natural wood, the Oxalia Acetosella, the Primula veris, the Anemone nemorosa, and the wild hyacinth, so common to the Highlands of Scotland, grow luxuriantly. The Orchis maseula, very rarely, and the Orchis Morio, rather abundantly, are found in the woods of Poyntzfield. The Saxifraga oppositifolia is found in the west end of the parish. The rag-weed, as in most parishes in the lowlands of Ross-shire, is the great nuisance of the pasture field, about the close of summer.

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