The 2nd Statistical Account

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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.

The following is a transcription ( by Duncan Murray, Evanton, with the help of some friends ) from the actual Account of the Parish of Kiltearn from the second or new Statistical Account of Kiltearn (dated August 1839).



KILTEARN derives its name from two Gaelic words, Kiell Tighearn, the burying-place of the laird, though the particular circumstance which gave rise to the name is unknown; for the principal family in the district, the Munroes of Fowlis, had their burying-place at Chanonry, until the year 1588.

Extent, Boundaries
The parish is situated about the middle of the county, on the north shore of the Cromarty Firth. Its breadth along the shore, from Novar Burn to the rivulet of Altnalait, near Tulloch, is about 6 miles, but, as it extends for about 20 miles into the hills, its breadth becomes considerably varied. It is bounded by Alness on the east; by Contin and Lochbroom on the north; by Dingwall and Fodderty on the west; and the Cromarty Firth, as already mentioned, forms the southern boundary.

Topographical Appearances
The whole of the parish, with the exception of a part, varying in breadth from one to two miles along the shore, consists of one mass of hills covered with heath, or in some places planted with firs. Among these are some of considerable elevation, particularly Wyvis, which rises to the height of 3720 feet above the level of the sea. This hill is never without some snow even in the hottest summer, and the forest of Wyvis is held of the King on the singular condition of paying a snowball any day of the year, if required. In the valleys between these hills there is a great deal of heath and coarse grass, which at one time maintained numbers of cattle from the small farms on the low grounds. In one or two of these hollows, too, the mountain streams have formed small lakes, which diversify the scenery, and afford excellent sport to the angler.


The principal of these lakes is Loch Glass, at the distance of six miles from the sea, about five miles in length, and one in breadth. Its depth has not been ascertained; but from the circumstance that it is seldom known to be covered with ice, it must be considerable. Near the south end of it is a small island, where the lairds of Fowlis had at one time a summer house. The waters of this loch are discharged into the sea by the Aultgraad, a stream which, in its course, presents the most singular natural curiosity in the north of Scotland. Shortly after quitting the loch, it forms a succession of very picturesque falls, and, after winding for some distance in a valley, enters a deep and narrow chasm in the red sandstone rock, and flows through it for two miles. Its course is thus graphically described by the late Dr Robertson in the old Statistical Account: “The river continues to run with rapidity for about three-quarters of a mile, when it is confined by a sudden jutting out of the rock. Here, the side view from the summit is very striking. The course of the stream being thus impeded it whirls and foams, and beats with violence against the opposing rock, till, collecting strength, it shoots up perpendicularly with great fury, and, forcing its way, darts with the swiftness of an arrow through the winding passage on the other side. After passing this obstruction, it becomes in many places invisible, owing partly to the increasing depth and narrowness of the chasm, and partly to the view being intercepted by the numerous branches of trees which grow on each side of the precipice. About a quarter of a mile further down, the country people have thrown a slight bridge (There is at present a substantial wooden one.), composed of trunks of trees covered with turf, over the rock, where the chasm is about 16 feet wide Here the observer, if he has intrepidity enough to venture himself on such a tottering support, and can look down on the gulf below without any uneasy sensations, will be gratified with a view equally awful and astonishing. The wildness of the steep and rugged rocks; the gloomy horror of the cliffs and caverns, inaccessible to mortal tread, and where the genial rays of the sun never yet penetrated; the waterfalls, which are heard pouring down in different places of the precipice, with sounds various in proportion to their distance; the hoarse and hollow murmuring of the river, which runs at the depth of near 130 feet below the surface of the earth, cannot be contemplated without exciting emotions of wonder and admiration in the mind of every beholder.” From the appearance of the opposite sides of this remarkable chasm it seems quite clear that the rock must, at some early period, have been rent asunder by volcanic agency. Anterior to this period, the hollow above the point where the river enters the rock must have been filled with water, for in some places the height at which the water stood is still quite distinguishable.

The only other stream in the parish worth mentioning is the Skiack, which is formed by the union of several mountain streams, and falls into the sea near the church, about half a mile from the mouth of the Aultgraad. In summer, particularly if the season be dry, these streams are so small that they can scarcely struggle among the stones to reach the shore, but after heavy rain or the melting of the snow in the hills, they swell into impetuous torrents, and require to be prevented, by embankments, from injuring the cultivated spots on their banks.

The Cromarty Firth, on the south side of the parish, lies on a bed of sandstone covered over with sand and the detritus of the different rivers which flow into it. The slime thus deposited covers the sand, in many places, to the depth of several inches. The water contains little salt, and the time of high and low water is a quarter of an hour later than at Cromarty.

In the heights of the parish, there are several extensive tracts of moss, where the inhabitants cut peats in summer to serve for winter fuel. In cutting out these, numbers of fir-trees are dug up, which, owing to the antiseptic qualities of the moss water, are perfectly sound, and remain so for a very long time when used for building. They are also very commonly used by those who live near the mosses for light. When split up into small pieces and carefully dried, they burn with much clearness, and add greatly to the comfort of the poor during the long winter nights. Clay and shell marl are found in trifling quantities; but have not been applied in any considerable quantity to the purposes of agriculture.

There are indications of the existence of coal in different parts of the parish, and some attempts were actually made many years ago under the direction of the late Sir Harry Munro, to discover the most proper situations for working a mine, but were unfortunately abandoned. The reason alleged was, that though coal was found, it lay so deep, that, unless the bed was considerable, it would not pay the expense of working. In a rock on the banks of Aultnancaorach, a rivulet that falls into the Altgraad, some ore was discovered, which, when smelted, was found to produce good lead. The prevalence of chalybeate springs in different quarters clearly indicates the existence of iron, though the quantity is unknown. Some of these were frequented at one time for their medicinal virtues.

Climate, &c.
The climate of a district is of course greatly influenced by its situation and exposure; and, in a parish like Kiltearn, where all varieties exist, from the maritime low grounds to heights some thousand feet above the level of the sea, great differences are found to exist. During the prevalence of the southerly and westerly winds from the Atlantic, the weather, though often rainy, is not so cold as when they blow from the east and north-east over the frozen countries in the north of Europe. The air on the higher grounds is often cold and moist; but the cultivated district that rises gradually from the sea to the hills, enjoys a climate second to none in Scotland. A favourable testimony to the healthfulness of the climate is afforded by the many instances of longevity which have occurred. Persons have been known to attain to tbe great age of 100, 107, and even l 17 years. Several live to 80, and 70 is by no means an uncommon age. The prevalent disorders are colds, coughs, influenza, and rheumatism, and these are more severe during easterly winds.

(The gradual deterioration of the climate for many years is a subject of universal remark. Some seem disposed to regard this as an idle fancy, but it is apprehended without any just grounds. It is an undoubted fact, that several years ago, the crops were secured much earlier than at present; this is the more remarkable, as the system of management was then very defective, and many varieties of early seed have been since introduced.)

There are no rare species of animals in the parish, but such as are common throughout the country. Wolves existed in former times; foxes were numerous till lately, and a few are yet occasionally seen. Badgers and Polecats are found, though in very inconsiderable numbers. Some rabbits were introduced a few years ago, and they have since that time multiplied so amazingly as to have become a serious annoyance. The hills abound with deer and all kinds of moor game, and on Wyvis are found ptarmigans and mountain hares.

Various kinds of shell-fish are found on the shore, as mussels, cockles, and welks. There are also some banks where, in the proper season, and at a certain state of the tide, good oysters may be gathered. The salmon tribe enter the streams about the end of June, and in the beginning of October ascend for the purpose of depositing their spawn. The fry descend to the sea with the floods in January and February, and reascend in autumn as salmon trout and grilses. In the lochs and streams are found several varieties of trouts, in considerable numbers.

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