The 2nd Statistical Account
- Page 1 -
PARISH OF DINGWALL,
(PRESBYTERY OF DINGWALL, SYNOD OF ROSS)
Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty
The Second Statistical Account (1837)
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. HECTOR BETHUNE, MINISTER
I. – TOPOGRAPHY AND NATURAL HISTORY
The parish of Dingwall, consisting of the royal burgh of that name, with an inconsiderable tract of the surrounding country, is situated at the western extremity of the Frith of Cromarty.
A diversity of opinion exists as to the origin of the name “Dingwall”. The accomplished author of the former Statistical Account derives it from “Digma Vallis”, words indicativeof the richness and fertility of the low grounds, which constitute a great part of the parish. Others, with perhaps greater probability, consider it, like that of several of the towns on this coast, of Scandinavian origin, and refer it to a word expressive of its being the seat of justice. It is certainly not Celtic, as the Highlanders have not yet become familiarized to it, but call the place Innerfeoran (Inverpeffery) marking its situation with regard to the small stream which gives its name to the well-known valley of Strathpeffer.
Extent, boundaries –
The parish occupies an extent of 10 square miles. It forms nearly an oblong, its northern extremity resting on the base of Ben Wyvis, whence, stretching in a direction almost south, it descends the fertile slope which forms the northern boundary of Strathpeffer, and crossing that valley where it opens into a rich flat, which extends along the shore to the end of the frith, on which the town is built, and through which the stream called the Peffery winds its way to the sea, it cuts off a portion of the abrupt rising ground which separates Strathpeffer on the south from the valley of the Conan, and reaches that river at its junction with the frith. It is bounded on the north by Ben Wyvis; on the east by the parish of Kiltearn; on the west and south-west by that of Fodderty; and on the south and south-east, by the sea, which, however, at ebb-tide recedes about three miles, leaving exposed a flat slimy strand, which detracts considerably from the interest with which the surrounding scenery is generally regarded.
Topographical appearances –
The general aspect of the parish is exceedingly beautiful. The character of the surface, diversified by hill and valley, the appearance of high culture which it presents, the abundance and luxuriance of the wood with which it is everywhere clothed, and the frith, which at flood-tide appears a beautiful sheet of water completely enclosed by land, stretching eastward for about fourteen miles; together with the rugged outline of the mountains in the back-ground combine in producing an effect which excites the admiration of strangers. The road from Inverness enters the parish at the east end of the village of Maryburgh, about a mile and three-fourths from the town. From this it passes eastward along the southern slope of the ridge, which runs between the town and the Conan. This ridge is crested by plantations of fir, its acclivity being lined out into fields intersected by hedge-rows with trees. On approaching the town it terminates abruptly, forming a steep bank called the green hill, which is covered by a plantation of hard wood. Along the base of this, the road runs, and enters the town flanked by a row of fine old trees. With the exception of its situation, which is beautiful, and its rows of tall poplar trees, which give it rather an uncommon air, the town itself presents little of interest. It consists of a main street, about half a mile long, running nearly from east to west. From this a number of small streets and lanes strike off at right angles, an arrangement which, in many instances, has the effect of presenting the gables of the houses to the street. The houses are in general of two stories high. Both the church and the jail have steeples. The flat on which the town stands, which is scarcely four feet above the extreme flood-mark, is about half a mile wide. To the west of the town, however, it contracts to about half this width, the southern ridge of Strathpeffer falling back at this point, and forming the recess occupied by the town. To the north of the town stands the hill of Tulloch, a continuation of the northern ridge of Strathpeffer, which rises to the height of about 800 feet. Its acclivity presents an aspect of uncommon luxuriance. It is occupied by several farms, which are ornamented by rows of fine old trees, and by the beautiful grounds attached to Tulloch Castle, which stands midway, about a mile from the town. “Embosomed deep in tufted trees.”
The summit of the hill is covered with wood, which is disposed in masses. Behind this hill, and distant about six miles, is seen Ben Wvvis, whose massy form affords a complete shelter from the north and north-west.
The following table shows the monthly and annual mean pressure and temperature of the atmosphere in this parish, as ascertained by observations carefully made twice each day for the last five years.
Mean of years
The prevailing winds in this parish are the westerly and south westerly, which blow during a great part of the year From this quarter also we have our most boisterous and stormy weather. Our easterly winds are generally laden with fogs and damps from the German Ocean, and are frequently accompanied with rain The coldest wind is from the north-west.
The climate here is upon the whole pretty good. It is, however, exceedingly variable, and subject to frequent showers, owing to the vicinity of Ben Wyvis, about which the clouds congregate, and which on this account serves the purpose of a natural barometer, from the position of the clouds with regard to which changes can be predicted with tolerable accuracy. From the sheltered situation of Dingwall, being almost surrounded by hills, it suffers little from cold, the winters being remarkably mild. But from its low situation, the nature of the soil, and its vicinity to the sea, it suffers considerably from damp, more so than the quantity of rain which falls (as showed by the following table of observations for:
Mean of months
The climate, although variable, is decidedly salubrious. The parish is occasionally visited, in common with the district around, by the usual epidemics of the country, small-pox and measles, typhus and scarlet fever, &c; but these occasions are by no means frequent, nor are those diseases distinguished here by any particular virulence. The only complaint peculiar to this parish and district is not a little singular, and is deserving of notice, on account of the mode of cure, which is illustrative of the simplicity of the people, and worthy of being classed with the celebrated system which rendered Mesmer and Deslon so famous at Paris towards the close of last century. This notable disease, which is confined exclusively to the lower orders, among whom it is of frequent occurrence, is supposed to consist in such a derangement of the bones of the chest, as impedes the action of the vital organs, accompanied by a variety of symptoms, such as slight pains about the breast and shoulders, difficulty of respiration, disinclination to labour, etc. (probably caused by a slight rheumation.) When any of these is felt, the person affected has immediate recourse to a man in the neighbourhood, distinguished for his skill in curing the disorder, who, on seating the patient, proceeds to draw some hieroglyphical figures on the ground, and to mutter a spell, in the course of which the fingers are carefully counted over, and the parts affected gently pressed and rubbed, and thus, on receiving a few shillings for his trouble, generally succeeds in dislodging a disorder whose seat is chiefly the imagination.
A considerable part of the parish to the south and east is washed by the Cromarty Frith, which, from this quarter, presents the appearance of a long narrow inland lake, its opening to the ocean being concealed by an intervening headland. The tide formerly advanced quite close to the town, but a canal, which was cut some years ago, has served the additional purpose of an embankment, by means of which a good deal of wet carse land, over which the sea formerly flowed, has been converted into fields. Owing to the distance to which the tide recedes at ebb, the muddy nature of the bottom, and the freshness of the water from the influx of the Conan, and the other streams which discharge themselves into it here, the frith in this parish is very unproductive, affording no fish, with the exception of a few flounders and some salmon, the latter of which are taken in yairs during the summer months.
Perennial springs of clear wholesome water abound throughout the parish, from one or two of which, in the neighbourhood, a plentiful supply has lately been introduced into the town. Along the south side of the hill to the north of the town, there are mineral springs strongly impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen, issuing from a dark-looking schistose rock, one of which, at a place called Drynie, is nearly as powerful, and contains the same ingredients, as the celebrated Strathpeffer spa. There is also within the town a strong chalybeate spring, which has lately attracted some attention as a powerful tonic. It rises from a depth of about 20 feet below the surface, and was discovered by sinking a pump-well through the clay strata upon which the town is built.
There are no lakes, properly speaking, within this parish, but a small isolated and now uninhabited district of it is situated on the border of a lake called Ousie, about two miles to the south-west of the town. It is nearly a square mile in extent, studded all over with richly wooded islets, which, with the bold outline of the blue hills around, give it rather an interesting appearance. It is, in other respects, only remarkable as the haunt of various aquatic birds, which resort to it for the purpose of breeding.
The river Conan, which bounds this parish to the south, is a considerable stream. It has been estimated to discharge 70,000 cubic feet per minute. Its course, which is from west to east, is about thirty-five miles, from its source in one of about a dozen mountain lakes which feed it, to its debouchement into the Cromarty Frith. The Conan has few peculiarities. It is one of the Scotch rivers which furnish pearls. They are obtained in considerable quantity, and often of remarkable beauty, from the river mussel (Mya Margaritifera Lain) It produces abundance of salmon, trout, &c. and derives its name from the number of otters that formerly infested it, but which have now become comparatively rare.
The prevailing rock in this parish is sandstone, intermixed with conglomerate, being a part of the mass of old red sandstone and conglomerate which traverses this county from the Sutherland coast in a south-westerly direction, till it reaches the borders of Inverness-shire. This rock, which is stratified, dipping towards the south, and apparently resting conformably on the gneiss and mica-slate of Ben Wyvis, passes occasionally, particularly in this and the neighbouring parish of Fodderty, into a dark-coloured calcareous schist, foliated and impregnated with bituminous matter, producing the sulphureous mineral springs mentioned. As it approaches its junction with this latter rock, the sandstone loses its characteristic colour, and becomes of a pale bluish gray, and, being of a smooth friable texture, is well adapted for the purposes of masonry. Over this, there is generally a pretty thick deposit of a species of coarse, gravelly, light-coloured clay, containing boulders of granite, sienite and gneiss, occasionally of considerable size, and this is separated from the black vegetable mould by a layer of yellow clay. The low flat, however, which forms the bottom of the valley, and which bears evident marks of having at some period been a part of the bed of the frith, consists of successive strata of blue clay, varying in thickness, and alternating with sand or gravel containing quantities of sea shells. In this clay, whilst cutting a water-run some years ago, in the bottom of the strath within the parish, the vertebrae of a whale was found not far from the surface, in high preservation. And this succession continues to the depth of about twenty-five feet, beyond which the writer is not aware of its having been penetrated.
The general character of the soil in this parish is clayey, containing a greater or less admixture of vegetable matter. In the lower part, particularly in the neighbourhood of the town, it consists of a bed of black vegetable mould, varying in depth from one foot to two and a-half feet. Throughout the whole parish, it is remarkably fertile, and, being generally in a high state of cultivation, yields luxuriant crops. It is especially adapted, with the aid of lime, for the growth of wheat, affording in favourable seasons grain of this description, not inferior to the finest production of the Lothians. From the richness of the soil, however, the nature of the subsoil, which renders it exceedingly retentive of moisture, and from the extreme flatness which makes drainage difficult, if not in some cases impracticable, farming in the lower part of the parish is somewhat precarious – a wet season always proving uncommonly injurious, not only in retarding farming operations in spring and autumn, but in spoiling the grain, by causing the crops to lodge from over-luxuriance.
Of the plants most peculiarly attached to the soil perhaps the most characteristic is the poplar tree, which here rears its slender form to an unusual height. Numbers of these grow in the neighbourhood of the town, whose tall pyramidal shapes, disposed in rows, have an uncommonly picturesque effect. It would appear that in former times (as it is at the present day) Dingwall was famous for the growth of cabbages! as it was, and even is still known by the sobriquet Baille a Chaille (kail-town), a title which was no doubt originally intended, by their wild and warlike neighbours, to convey a sarcasm on the effeminacy of the worthy burghers.
The animals found in this parish, are such, generally as are common to it with most parts of the Highlands. In addition to the usual domestic quadrupeds, we have, either as permanent inhabitants, or occasional visitants, the roe-deer (the red-deer is now rarely seen in the district), the rabbit, the common hare, the mountain hare (Lepus variabilis), the weasel, the ermine, the black, the brown, and the water rats, the shrew, the mole, the fox, the otter, and the seal. The wild-cat, the polecat and the badger, which were formerly common, are now almost extinct in the district.
From the sheltered situation of this parish, and the abundance of wood and which it is covered, it is a favourite resort of the feathered tribes – few places of an equal extent affording so great a variety. There is abundance of game, consisting of partridges, grouse, black-game and pheasants. These last have been only lately introduced, but have multiplied so amazingly fast as to have become, to the no small annoyance of the farmer, almost as numerous as partridges.
Along with these the following are either stationary residents, or periodical or occasional visitors:
Linnet - Twite
Along the shore are found:
The fishes found in this parish are chiefly those of the salmon tribe, the frith (as has been observed) affording no sea-fishing. The Conan produces abundance of salmon of excellent quality. They begin to ascend the river to their spawning ground about the middle of January, but comparatively few are taken before the end of March or beginning of April, the Conan being later than some of the northern rivers. About the middle of June, the grilse make their appearance, and proceed up the river in great numbers, upwards of 100 of them having repeatedly been taken at one sweep of the net. They continue to travel upwards until towards the end of August or middle of September, and return in the sea in February or March. There is abundance of trout of various kinds. The salmon-trout appears about the beginning of June, and is taken in considerable quantities throughout that and most of the succeeding months. Towards the end of July, the whitling (known here by the name of finnock) enters the river in great numbers, and remains throughout the winter, and part of spring, affording excellent sport to the angler. The Conan also produces pike and eels, the latter of which commence their great annual migration from the sea early in June.