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 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.

Drawn up by the late incumbent, the Rev. Lewis Ross, now minister of Duke Street Church, Glasgow.


The derivation of the name of this parish from Neuk or Nook (a corner) seems improbable. In some old records of the parish, the name is spelled Wig and Wigg. It is probably, therefore, of the same origin as the names of the parishes of Uig and Wick. Bailey, in his Etymological Dictionary says, that Wich or Vich is a Saxon word for bay or harbour.

Extent. –
The parish is situated in 57° 44′, north latitude, and 4° west longitude, and forms the most southern point of the district called Easter Ross. It is nearly 6 miles in length, from 2 to 3 miles in breadth, and contains about 14 square miles. It is bounded on the south-east by the Moray Frith, on the south and west by the Cromarty Frith, and on the north by the parishes of Logie Easter and Fearn.

Topographical Appearances
About one-third of its extent consists of what is called the Hill of Nigg.* This hill is about five miles in length and one in breadth; it extends along the shore of the Moray Frith, from the north Sutor of Cromarty (the southern extremity) to the farm of Shandwick (the north-east extremity) and varies in height from 300 to 500 feet. The rock overhanging the shore is generally 300 feet in perpendicular height, in many parts covered with ivy trees of wonderful size, and studded with caves and fissures, which must be seen in order to be admired. From the highest part of the hill, nine counties may be seen by the naked eye, when the state of the atmosphere is favourable, viz. Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, Cromarty, Inverness, Nairn, Moray, Banff, and Perth. The soil of this portion of the parish is generally poor, cold, and wet. The greater part has been planted with Scotch firs, which thrive or fail according to the favourable or unfavourable circumstances in which they are placed. All the inhabitants are comprised in twelve families.

* It was called of old the Bishop’s Forest.

The remaining two-thirds of the territorial extent of the parish consist of a naturally fertile slope on the north-west side of the hill, and an equally fertile plain betwixt the termination of the slope and the boundaries of the parishes of Logie Easter and Fearn. Much has no doubt been done, of late years, by various proprietors in the way of improving tbis extensive slope and plain, but still much remains to be done. Roads, and drains, and fences and trenching are required. In few cases has good taste in planning farms and dividing fields been hitherto shewn, and in as few have the cottages of the poor been located and built with a regard to cleanliness and freedom from damp. Indeed, the writer is constrained to state that, good as is the soil of this part of the parish, there is not a spot of it on which the eye can look with unmingled pleasure. The parish is inferior to none in Scotland in soil and other natural advantages. Why should it be at once proverbial for its fertility, and a bye-word for its ruggedness ?

The Sands of Nigg (a name given to a large bay of the Cromarty Frith) belong partly to the parish of Nigg and partly to the parish of Logie Easter, a small rivulet (named the Pot) being the boundary. They are about one mile in breadth at the east end, and two at the west. During high water, and more especially at spring tides, they are covered by the sea to the depth of from 4 to 8 feet, but at low water they are dry, and eminently useful. Here are to be found in abundance, in their respective seasons, cockles and mussels, and flounders and sand-eels; and it is here, likewise, where the fishers of Nigg, Fearn, Cromarty, and many of those of Banffshire find the bait wherewith they catch cod and haddock and whiting. On the Nigg side of the sands, vessels of light tonnage discharge cargoes of coals, lime, and slates, and take in timber, potatoes, &c. There is no harbour excepting the level sand, and it is only by following the channel of the Pot that vessels can get, even at high water, a sufficient depth for their purposes. Previously to the importation of lime from the south, the only lime used for building in this country was made of shells dug out of the sands of Nigg. The pits caused by this operation gradually became dangerous quicksands, and various individuals have lost their lives in them. But now quicksands are unknown, and there is no danger to the traveller who keeps to the eastward of a line drawn betwixt Tarbat House and the church of Nigg. To the westward of this line, however, there are several deep pits in the Pot, in which several strangers have been drowned within the last few years. There is one, in particular, named Poll nan Ron (the Seal’s Pool,) fatal to every one that touches its waters.

In the more inhabited and fruitful parts of the parish, the climate is comparatively mild and warm, though damp. The insularity of the situation, and innumerable spring wells, and the shelter afforded by the hill from the east wind, have a considerable effect on the temperature of the atmosphere. It is no uncommon thing to find, in winter and spring, the roads quite soft in the parish of Nigg in the morning, while the roads are frozen and slippery in the neighbouring parishes, not many rniles distant.

Nervous disorders, and cough and asthma, are the prevailing complaints, and seem occasioned, in a great measure, by the damp of the houses, and the poor quality of the food. It is observable, that cough and asthma prevail most on the north-west face of the hill, where there is no morning sun, and where the damp oozing out of the ground is great. There are no instances, nowadays, of extraordinary longevity, though a greater than ordinary proportion of the inhabitants arrive at a good old age, varying from seventy to eighty-five years. Epidemic diseases are not common.

The Moray Frith bounds the parish on the south-east side. The Cromarty Frith bounds the parish on the south and west sides. The Bay of Cromarty has the appearance of an inland lake, and is a remarkably safe and commodious place of anchorage for vessels of all sizes. It was known to the Romans as Portus Salutis.

The springs of the parish, which are very numerous, are all perennial, and excellent, though various in their qualities. Strong chalybeates are not uncommon. Sulphureous springs are likewise found, and even some containing a small quantitv of magnesia. Of the latter description, there is at Wester Rarichie a very copious spring named in Gaelic Sul na ba, the cow’s eye. There is a tradition that it flowed in olden times through the trunk of a tree that grew about 400 yards to the south-east of the present site, and that some injury or insult having been offered to this natural pump, the water disappeared, and afterwards came forth as Sul na ba. While the water discharged itself through the tree, many diseased persons from distant parts of the country flocked to it for healing. It does undoubtedly possess some medicinal qualities, operating as an aperient.*

*It would appear from the following extract from the records of the kirk-session, that even in comparatively modern times, this well was much resorted to, and Sabbath explanation the consequence. “July 7th 1707. In regard many out of the parish brethern and several other parishes within the sheriffdom, profane the Sabbath by going to the wel1 of Rarichies, John and William Gallie, &c. are appoinited to take notation every Saturday evening and Sunday morning of such as come to the well, and to report the same accordingly.”

Half a mile to the eastward of Sul na ba is a spring, noted as a favourite of the fairies, before they were driven away from the parish. If, as is said to have happened in days of yore, any of the little people stole a child from a parent of the race of Adam, and left a puny bantling in its place, the child of the human parent might be got back by leaving the elfin near the well, late in the evening, and perhaps offering some presents to the King of Fairyland.

Half a mile to the eastward of this latter well may be found, at the foot of the rock on the shore of the Moray Frith, a well dignified with the name of Tobar na Slainte, the well of health or salvation. The occasion of its having received this appellation is unknown. It seems nowadays as much neglected as that well of spiritual salvation, of which the Evangelical Prophet sweetly sung of old in the land of Judah. In the centre of the parish, near the Black Hill, is a well named John the Baptist’s well. But why it has been so called, none can tell. At Dunskeathness, close to the ferry of Cromarty, there is a draw well in the sand, the water of which deposits a siliceous sediment.

Professor Sedgwick of Cambridge, and Mr Murchison of London, examined the geological structure of this parish and coast a few years ago, and gave to the public the result of their inquiries in the Transactions of the Geological Society of London. Last year, Messrs Anderson of Inverness favoured the public with a very good essay on the same subject in the “Guide to the Highlands” and Mr Hugh Miller of Cromarty has, in his “Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland” given an interesting and beautifully descriptive, at the same time highly poetical chapter on the various processes, whereby the present structures of rocks, and hills, and vales, have been made to spring out of the original mass of chaotic elements.

But all these learned authorities may speak for themselves; and in the meantime the following sketch by a novice may suffice. A scientific one is not attempted.

1st, The more elevated part of the parish must at one time have been an island, as throughout the whole extent of the neck of land betwixt the Cromarty bay to the west, and the village of Shandwick on the shore of the Moray Frith to the east, the substratum contains a layer of sea shells and shingle, mingled with such organic remains of land vegetable matter as the neighbouring shores may be supposed to have added. Even at Fearn, which is two miles distant from the present shores of either frith, the skeleton of a cetaceous animal has been found.

2nd, This island must, at a previous period, have formed a continuation of the Black isle, as an examination of the submarine strata betwixt the Sutors will testify. The disruption may have been caused by an agency comparatively local.

3rd, The rocks of the parish may be described as follows, in an ascending order: 1. The north Sutor consists of granitic gneiss, much foliated and nearly vertical; conglomerate of rolled pieces of various size and composition; white sandstone alternating with schistose limestone; and red sandstone forming a terrace on the north-west side of the hill, from one extremity to the other. The two strata of sandstone are highly inclined, and stretch in the same direction as the hill. 2. Passing along the top of the hill towards the north-east, the gneiss is succeeded by conglomerate, and this again by sandstone highly inclined, and subsiding at Shandwick. The different strata may be classed as follows, in an ascending order, viz. 1. Hard red sandstone. 2. Soft white sandstone, containing coal apparently of woody origin, several veins about a foot broad, appearing just at the surface, and not easily distinguished on account of the shingle. 3. Greenish clay passing into sandstone, and containing fragments of shells and impressions of bivalves. 4. Hard greenstone containing many belemnites. 5. A series of shales and limestones.

The strata are inclined at an angle of about 30°, in the form of a curve, with the chord towards the hill, and dipping towards the south-east, under the sea The shells are chiefly ammonites, belemnites, and Gryphea gigantea and Gryphrea incurva.

Nigg is very barren of minerals. Iron enters into the composition of the gneiss in some places, and ironstone is found associated with the lias beds. Lime appears in the form of a crystallized carbonate in small veins at Shandwick, and of stalactites on the roofs and sides of the caves; and when associated with some of the springs, petrifies the mosses, over which their waters flow. Garnet is, frequently after a storm at sea, spread in small fragments over a considerable extent of the shores, and so thickly, as to give the sand a deep purple colour.

The soils are various, and apparently transported. The west end of the parish, which has a very bleak appearance, consists of light sand. But a foot or two under the sand, there is a deep layer of fine loam intermixed with blue clay; and there is a tradition, on which some dependence may be placed, that the covering of sand is not of older date than the seventeenth century; and that previously to that period, the west end of the parish of Nigg, which is now a sandy desert, was a fertile field. The sand is said to have performed its destructive work in the coursc of one night, as happened in the cases of Culbin in Morayshire, and Morichmore near Tain. The wickedness of the laird of Dunskeath is said to have been the occasion of this calamity. In various parts of the parish, the soil is clayey. But the greater part of the arable land consists of remarkably fine black loam on red sandstone, the loam varying from one to four feet in depth.

The neighbouring friths abound with fish of various kinds, such as salmon, turbot, cod, haddock, mackerel, whiting, cuddies, crowners, soles, flounders, skate, dog-fish, and herrings in their season. The rocky shore abounds likewise with crabs. There were many lobsters fifty years ago, but the greater part of them were then conveyed to London, and now the race is almost unknown, as it is only once in a season, perhaps, that a gourmand can have the pleasure of seeing one at his table. There are a few oysters of large size in the Cromarty Frith. But they are seldom dredged for, and do not promise to multiply. It is difficult to account for the rarity of oysters now, when it is considered that under the soil in some of the lower grounds of the parish, there are to be found multitudes of oyster shells.

Among the rarer British plants growing within the range of the parish, may be mentioned Draba incana, Geranium sanguineum, Juncus balticus, and Oxytropis uralensis. The lofty and perpendicular rocks may, however, possess others, which men of ordinary nerves have not the courage to approach.

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