The 1st Statistical Account

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(County and Synod of Ross, Presbytery of Tain)

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

By the Rev. Mr Alexander Macadam

Ecclesiastical State, Stipend, Schools, Poor
Nigg is one of the mensal churches that belonged to the bishoprick of Ross. Behind the church is still to be seen the foundation of a large house above 90 feet in length, which goes under the name of the Bishop’s House, though not the place of his constant residence; and the hill already mentioned is, in old charters of the lands of the parish, called the Bishop’s Forest. One of the vaults of the house remained entire in the year 1727. The present church was new built in the year 1727, and underwent a thorough repair about two years ago. There were of old different chapels or places of worhip, particularly one at Culiss, where there is a small inclosure that goes by the name of the Chapel Park. Scarce a vestige of the building remains. There was another at Shandwicke, the walls of which stood pretty entire till within these few years. To the admission of the late incumbent there was a violent opposition on the part of the common people, headed by some of the heritors, and which terminated in a secession of almost the whole body of the people from the Established Church. Nor could the minister, though a man of sense, and greatly useful to the people by his medical skill, ever procure decent auditory in the place. After residing among them above 30 years, the number of his hearers did not exceed 69 persons, and though those who at present attend worship in the parish church greatly exceed that number, it is to be remarked that they are chiefly composed, not of the original inhabitants of the parish, but of those who have removed hither from other parishes, nor can it be expected that the present generation will return into the bosom of the Established Church.

The examination roll of the Established Church contains only 260 persons, while that of the Secession contains 673. The King is patron. The stipend is 10 chalders barley, with the vicarage-teinds, which, about 30 years ago, are said to have amounted in value to from L.16 to L.20 Sterling; but, at the admission of the present incumbent, they amounted only to from L.6 to L.7, and are still sinking in value, from the decrease of sheep in the parish, so that it is likely they will soon be inadequate to defray the expense of collecting them. There is a good manse, with offices, which have been lately repaired, and a glebe of father more than four acres of good quality. There is a parochial school, but no school-house at present; the heritors, however, have ordered one to be built. The salary is only L. 8: 6: 8, a paltry consideration to induce any young man, who has been at the expense of a liberal education, to undertake an office of all others the most slavish and fatiguing. The Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge have been pleased, of late, to appoint a school-mistress for this parish, to instruct young girls in the different branches of education necessary for that sex, which, it is believed, will prove of singular benefit to the place; as heretofore it was impossible for parents to get their children educated, but by sending to towns, which, by reason of their poverty, and the high rate of board wages, very few of them only were a able to do. Here, as in most other parishes in the North, the poor form a considerable part, who have no funds but what arise from the weekly collections in the church, and the interest of L.20 Sterling, which was lately mortified for benefit of the poor by a widow lady in this place, The number upon the poor roll is 28, who receive yearly the scanty pittance of from 3s to 10s. a-piece, according to their respective necessities. But in this parish there are several other poor persons, who belong to the Seceding meeting-house here, and who receive no public charity, as the weekly collections of this society, of which they are a part, are appropriated to another purpose. The only resource, therefore, on which they depend for subsistence, is begging from house to house.

Antiquities and Natural Curiosities
Near the place of Shandwicke stands a large obelisk, on the one side of which are cut the figures of different animals, on the other a cross handsomely executed. The former is supposed to be a much older work than the latter; and the tradition is that the stone was erected in memory of a shipwreck suffered opposite to that place, by the Danes when they were wont to infest the northern coast, in which shipwreck three sons of the King of Denmark are said to have perished, and to have been buried where the obelisk stands. Adjoining to it there is a piece of ground, which carries the appearance of a burying-place. The foundation of wall surrounding it remains, and marks of graves, both there and at the chapel, are to be seen, and in digging the ground human bones and skeletons have often been found. As to the particular time of the invasion and shipwreck, nothing is handed down.*

* There are two circumstances which serve to confirm the tradition, and the fact to which it refers; one is that the obelisk already mentioned is commonly called in Gaelic Clach Carraig, i,e, the stone of the rock; the other is that the rock opposite to Shandwicke, where the shipwreck happened is, from that event, known to seafaring people by the name of The King’s Sons. That rock lies not a half mile distant from the shore, and there is a great depth of water on each side of it. It stretches 2 or 3 miles in almost a straight line from E. to W. and is not to be seen at high-water; and this, a few years ago, occasioned the loss of a ship belonging to the Orkney’s bound for Cromarty, which in a fair evening, standing in to near to the shore , struck upon the rock and went down directly, the crew having only time to save themselves by the boat. The top of the mast was seen for several weeks above water.

There was another obelisk in the church-yard of Nigg, said also to have been erected by the Danes. The sculpture upon it is still entire, and is much the same with that of the other monuments left by that people, consisting of figures of animals, and of weapons used either in war or hunting. It stood till about the year 1725, when it was thrown down by a remarkable storm of wind, which at the same time threw down the belfry, and broke the bell of the church. The Rev. Mr Cordiner, who, in his progress through this country had occasion to view the obelisks, has favoured the public with some account of them, and has likewise given plates of them in his useful and entertaining book. Where that range of rocks, which over hang the Murray frith, terminates, at a place called Dunskeath, on a small moat situated above the sea, once stood a fort, of which mention is made by Sir David Dalrymple, in his History of Scotland, vol.1. p. 121, built as far back as the year 1179, by William, surnamed the Lion, King of Scotland. The ditch around the castle, and the entrance to it, may still be observed, but nothing of the wall, or of the stones of which it was built, remains. It was built with a view to suppress disorders in the country, and to disperse and destroy robbers, and other persons, who came to plunder, as may be collected from its name Dunscath, or Dunsea, which is compounded of two Gaelic words, Dun, a “Fort or Castle” and Scath, “Destruction” or “Dispersion”. The farm adjoining to it is still called Castle Craig. In the place Ankerville, a part of the property of Mr Cockburn Ross of Shandwicke, in a bank removed at more than the distantance of a mile from the sea, and raised many feet above its level, there is a stratum of oyster shells of considerabble extent, and above a half foot in depth; they lie about three feet below the surface of the ground, and underneath them there is a stratum of fine sand like that on the sea shore. It is difficult to account for their being there, without supposing the ground to have been some time covered by the sea; and to conceive that, from the elevation of the ground, not only of this but of the neighbouring parishes. In that extensive piece of ground called the Sands of Nigg, and about a foot under surface, there is stratum of different kind of shells, of considerable depth, many boat-loads of which are annually dug up by fishermen of a neighbouring parish, and made by them into lime of a superior quality. It is some time before the pits, from which they are taken, fill up, become solid, which render these sands dangerous, and sometimes fatal to passengers, especially to strangers, some of whom falling into these pits before the tide is thoroughly gone, unhappily lose their lives. In that range of rocks which over-hang the Murray frith, there is a number of natural caves, some of which are so capacious that they could contain from four to six hundred men a-piece, The entrance to them is narrow, but within they widen to a great extent, are of an amazing height, and of a depth which no man would incline to examine. There are drops of water constantly distilling from the upper part of these caves, which, gradually petrifying, make them to appear above like an arch of the finest marble. In these, different birds take up their up their residence, and numbers of pigeons hatch their young in them.

One great disadvantage which the farmer in this place labours under, is the high multure which he pays to the mills. If he send eight bolls of corn to the mill, he must leave one of them for mill-dues, But the principal disadvantage, and which above every other thing retards all improvement in agriculture, is the want of fuel, of which no kind whatever, young fir-trees excepted, is to be found within the parish; and these fir-trees, or thinnings of the woods, are generally sold at such a rate, that it would be much easier for the people to provide themselves in coals, The fuel used in this parish consists chiefly of peat and turf, of which they carry from the distance of five or six miles; and in cutting and carrying which, the farmers and their servants are employed for the whole of the summer season, to the total neglect of every thing that might improve and benefit their farms. And what is still more distressing, many of them are under the necessity of going through the sands to fetch home their fuel, and must therefore for by night and by day watch the opportunity when the tide is out, so that it is no unusual thing to see them set out for the moss at the time when others go to rest. The badness of the roads, and the great distance which they have to go, occasion them great expense in carts and harness, and after all they have but most uncomfortable fuel. If the season be wet, they generally lose their labour, being not able to carry their fuel out of the moss; and what they carry home is so wet, that it will not answer for fire. It was therefore with the highest satisfaction they learned that it is intended to bring a bill into Parliament, to repeal the duties payable on coals carried coast wise to the North, as it will enable them to procure fuel at a cheaper rate, and with far less drudgery, and at the same time will permit them to direct their attention to agriculture, which at present, from the above-mentioned cause, is too much neglected by them.

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