The 1st Statistical Account

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(Counties of Ross and Inverness - 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 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 Reverend Mr John Downie

Name, Situation and Extent
Urray is composed of the united parishes of Urray and Kilchrist. The former seems to derive its name from its local situation. The church and burying-ground lie on a large plain, on the banks of the rapid river Orrin, near to its conflux with the Connon. The Orrin has, in the course of ages, evidently shifted its bed, and its passable fords, through every part of that plain, and would repeat its ravages almost every season, were it not restrained by the annual exertions of the surrounding proprietors. Hence it is probable the name is derived from Ur-a, the new ford. Kilchrist is evidently Cella Christi, a burying-ground consecrated to Christ. It is situated chiefly in the county of Ross; a small part of it lies in Inverness-shire. It extends from the Frith of Beauly on the south, to the north side of the river Connon, about 7 English miles in a straight line, nearly from south to north. Its breadth on the banks of the Connon, from east to west, is about 6 English miles, but does not exceed 3 towards the southern boundary, along the Frith of Beauly. The intermediate space lines the foot of the great chain of mountains which extend from thence to the west coast of Scotland. There is a davoch of land belonging to this parish in the valley of Strathconnon, in the bosom of the western mountains, at the distance of 10 computed, or 18 English miles. It is surrounded by the parish of Contin, and forms a part of the mission in that parish.


Surface, Soil and Climate
The general face of the parish presents a picturesque view of corn-fields, intermixed with barren muir, clumps of natural wood,* rapid streams, large plantations around gentlemen’s seats, with different views of the two beautiful Friths of Dingwall and Beauly, which, as canals formed by the hand of nature, and penetrating for upwards of 20 miles into a populous country, invite the merchant and manufacturer to settle on their banks. The soil is as various as the general face of the ground, but, on the whole, is warm, dry, and productive. The fields on the slopes of the rising grounds are comparatively of a richer soil than the low ground, except a part of the estate of Lovat, which once belonged to the priory of Beauly, and is a deep, rich, carse ground. The plains abound with pebbles, from 4 to 6 or 8 pound weight, evidently rounded by friction, and intermixed with beds of dry sand and gravel. Hence a considerable part of the low ground is barren dry muir, producing only a short heath, and the arable land (with a few exceptions) of inferior quality to that on the high lands. On one estate there are several small hollows surrounded by this dry barren soil, which seem to have been once small lakes but are now filled with peat moss. On the bottom of several of them some strata of shell marl have been found. These phenomena seem to prove the existence of a general deluge by which these stones have been rounded, and the shells deposited. There are no lakes or swampy ground in the parish, except one large meadow on the banks of the Connon. The air is dry, and free from noxious vapours, which conduces greatly to the healthfulness of the climate. No part of the common road, between the Frith of Beauly and the river Connon (which is almost the whole length of the parish) seems to be above 50 feet higher than the surface of the sea. It is defended on the east from the storms of the German Ocean by a tract of country, upwards of 20 miles in extent, towards Tain and Cromarty, on the north by the hill of Weavas, and on the west by the great chain of mountains stretching to the west coast. It is worth remarking that the western mountains make the weather alternately foul and fair on the east and west borders of them, in some measure similar to the monsoons on the Malabar and Coromandel coasts. The west and south-west winds blow most frequently, during which it generally rains on the west coast, and is fair weather on this side of the hills; or, at most, there are only slight occasional showers. On the other hand, the east wind uniformly brings rain or sleet on the east coast, but the storm dies away in the intermediate hills, and there is dry weather and sunshine on the west coast.

* Every little burn and meadow presents a bush of natural wood, consisting mostly of aller, interspersed with ash. There are a few bushes or birch, some oaks and willows. Around gentlemen’s seats there are to be seen large plantations of firs, and other forest trees. They continue to plant every year, particularly Mr Mackenzie of Seaforth, who rears an extensive nursery for that purpose.

Agriculture, Produce, and Cattle
Barley, oats and potatoes are the principal crops.* Most of the gentlemen have inclosed their farms, and, by putting them into a rotation of fallow, corn, and green crops, give a laudable example in agriculture to their tenants. They use the English plough with two horses, without a driver, with most of the other instruments of husbandry used in the Lothians. The tenants, however, have not yet surmounted their prejudices in favour of old customs, and are satisfied with following the mode used by their grand-sires except in the culture of potatoes, which has taken place only within the last 30 years. The lands are still open, nor do they shew any desire to have them inclosed. They use a plough peculiar to the country, drawn for the most part by six small oxen, or by two horses and four oxen. Almost every kind of carriage is performed with carts.+ The wheels are timber tumblers, bought at about 2s the pair, on which are placed frames for the different purposes, made by the tenants themselves. Horses are the only cattle whose numbers can be ascertained with the greatest precision. The tenants (of whom there are 120) keep, at an average, 4 horses each. Some of the cottagers have from 1 to 3 horses. Hence they may be estimated at 600. They are small, but hardy, and are reared by the western Highlanders, and sold at our markets. The price, till lately, was from 3L. to 4L. Within the last two years, the south country drovers have raised the price from 15s. to 20s. a head. The average value may be computed at 3L. It will not be far wide of the truth to estimate the number of black cattle at 10 head each tenant, including his oxen, and each mailer at 1, which will amount to 1448, worth 40s each at an average. Both horses and black cattle are sent to graze in the western hills, from May to Michaelmas, at about 1s. 6d. per head. Of late, since sheep-farming is become prevalent in the Highlands, the price of grazing low country cattle is raised to 2s. Horses are returned in July to bring home fuel. If the weather admit of that service being soon performed, they are sent back. The residing heritors keep about 40 draught horses, worth 15L. each, and 250 black cattle, worth 5L. at an average, besides riding horses and wheel carriages.

* In the district of which this is a part, from Inverness round by Beauly to Dingwall, grain sells higher than in any other place in the north of Scotland. The reason is that it abounds with licenced still, which consume the barley. It is the nearest corn country to a large extent of the west coast and Mid Highlands. The Highlanders are supplied from thence with oat meal and whisky, hence considerable quantities of barley and oat-meal are imported by the Friths of Dingwall and Beauly to a sure and ready market. Home-made barley of crops 1789 and 1790 sold at 18s. per boll. At the same time, barley sold in Murray at 16s. 6d; oat-meal of these crops sold at from 16s. to 18s.; 9 stones barley of crop 1791 sells at from 18s. 6d. to 20s. per boll. Potatoes generally sell at from 6d. to 8d. a peck; beet from 2d. to 4d. a pound; mutton and pork at 21/2d; a hen at 6d; chickens at 2d. each; eggs at 11/2d. per dozen; a wedder of the country breed at 6s.

+ The great number of cottagers affords labourers, who are employed by the proprietors in improving their farms. The common hire is 6d. a day. In harvest, men and women earn 6d. and, in some places, their maintenance. Common men servants are hired at 3L. a year, woman at 1L. 10s. Several young people of both sexes, and some married men, go to the south country to earn harvest wages, and return the beginning of winter.

Rivers and Firths
The Beauly empties itself into the Frith of that name at the S.W. point of the parish, and cannot be said to belong to it. The Connon intersects the parish near the north end, and is composed of four great branches.* The Orrin, running from the S.W. falls into the Connon at Urray, and intersects the parish from south to north. About two miles west from Urray, the Garve falls in on the north side, which, running from W.N.W., rises on the confines of Lochbroom. Thence 5 miles farther west is the junction of the other two branches, the Meig and the Lichart. The former rises on the borders of Lochcarron to the W.SW., and the source of the latter is on the confines of Gairloch to the west. The Connon abounds in salmon and pike. It has few trouts, except sea-trout in the months of July and August. A Company from Berwick farms the salmon fishing, along with several other fishings in the neighbourhood. During the spring months, and beginning of summer, they send considerable quantities of kitted salmon to the London market, but are kind enough (though against their own interest) to indulge the neighbouring families with a competency for their tables at 2d. a pound. But the body of the people are more indebted for their support to the shoals of herrings, which, for the most part, appear annually in the Frith of Beauly, at the ferry of Kessock. They visit us in the beginning of harvest, and sometimes continue till February. They are smaller and leaner the those caught on the west coast, and therefore unfit for the foreign market. From 14 to 22 score were sold for 6d. in the year 1791. They serve the adjacent parts of the counties of Ross, Inverness, Nairn, and Moray. People from the braes of Banff, Aberdeen, and Perth shires come to purchase them. It is said that, in the beginning of the fishing, their entrails have produced oil equal in value to the prime cost.

Fuel, Roads, and Bridges
Most of the estates have mosses on the adjacent hills, yet the proprietors, in general, use coals along with peats in their own houses. Except on estate, the mosses are at such a distance that only two draughts can be got home in a summer’s day. The roads are steep. No part of a farmer’s work exhausts his horses so much as the leading of his peats, and that at the time his horses ought to be at grass. Were that impolitic and oppressive duty at the Red-head taken off, it were cheaper for the poorest tenant in this parish to burn coals than to wear out his horses leading peats. The poorer part of the cottagers must therefore satisfy themselves with sandy clods picked from the adjacent moors with the breast spade. The great north road* leading to Sutherland and Caithness passes through this parish, and is kept in excellent repair. The county road, leading to the west Highlands, was made about 30 years ago, and is kept in tolerable repair as far as the parish extends. A road begins in this district leading to Fortrose, and another to Cromarty, both eastward, besides cross roads. The whole were made, and are kept in repair by the statute labour. The gentlemen of the county, availing themselves of the plenty of hands, are attentive to this branch of the police. There are two bridges; one of stone over a branch of the Orrin; another over the Orrin itself, of timber; both built at the expence of the county.

* There are some stones standing in end, about 5 feet above the ground near Beauly, on the side of the great north road. Several cairns of barrows have been lately opened, where human bones were found, and the remains of offentive armour made of copper, which the gentleman who found them sent to the Society of Antiquaries at Edinburgh. In a barrow opened at Brahan Castle, an urn was found containing small pieces of bones, but was unluckily broken by the inattention of the labourers. It was made of burnt clay, and beautifully varnished over both within and without. The tower or Fairnburn reminds one of that barbarous period when every great man found it necessary to live in fortress.

Small spots of lint are to be seen on every farm. Most of the inhabitants rear sheep for their wool. They manufacture both the wool and the lint for their own use, or for home sale, but either in sufficient quantity for their own consumpt. A great deal of English cloth is every Sundays seen at church. The only article in this and the neighbouring parishes that can be called a manufacture is distilling of aquavite. There are 9 licenced stills in the parish, at 30 gallons each. Highlanders from Lochaber, the extensive west coast of Ross shire, and the Isle of Sky, buy the spirits at between 10s and 14s per Scotch gallon. One man only in the parish occupies a still without partners. From 5 to 10 or 12 tenants join about one of these stills, by which means each has an opportunity of manufacturing his own growth of barley, and where that falls short of making up his proportion, he buys from his neighbours. The whole barley in the parish is distilled. Though no feed is left for the ensuing season, yet the whole growth is not equal to the quantity manufactured into spirits by 9 stills. They say that no barley answers so well as the growth of the parish, which they attribute to the warmth and dryness of the soil. The principal or only profit resulting from the distillery is keeping up the price of grain, and converting it speedily in to money. The profits otherwise are next to nothing, except the draff or grains. The only other resource they have is from black cattle, but, grass being scanty, the increase of cattle seems hardly sufficient to supply the waste of horses, few of which are reared in the parish.

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