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 (1838)
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.



The name of this parish is supposed to be derived from two Gaelic words, Foigh and Ritaobh, which signify ” a meadow along the side of a hill.” These terms are
descriptive of the valley of Strathpeffer, which forms the principal part of the parish, and stretches westward from Dingwall to the distance of four miles.

Extent, &c.-
The parish has been greatly diminished in extent, quoad sacra, since the localities attached to the Parliamentary churches were disjoined from it. It measures, at present, from east to West 9 miles, and from north to south II miles; and is bounded by Dingwall on the east; Urray on the south ; Contin and Kinlochluichart on the west; and Kincardine and Kiltearn on the north.

Topographical Appearances, &c.-
Tbe parish is one of the most hilly and mountainous in Scotland. This is its general character, with the exception of the valley of Stratbpeffer.

Ben-Wyves or Ben-Uaish rises to the height of 3426 feet, and in respect of lateral bulk is the principal bill in the north. It was never known to be so free of snow as in the singularly hot summer of 1826. Its top is covered with a green soft sward, and when the sky is cloudless the extent and grandeur of the view from it amply compensate for the labour and fatigue of climbing. The principal proprietor, it is said, holds his right of possession from his Majesty, on condition of presenting a snow-ball at the court of St James’, on any day of the year on which it may be required. At the bases there is an extensive peatmoss, part of which is very spongy and easily consumed, and a part hard and black ; than which, there is scarcely any fuel better fitted for keeping up a mild and gentle heat.

Knock-Farril, situated on the opposite or south side of the valley, is crowned with one of those vitrified forts which so puzzle and interest the antiquary. It is one of the most beautiful and strikingly marked in the country. Its form is conical, and the ascent on the side fronting the valley almost perpendicular. The ruins on the top surround a plain of nearly an acre in extent, from which Craig-Phadric, near Inverness, and Dun-Skaith, on the northern Sutor of Cromarty, are distinctly seen. Most of these hill-forts seem, in the first instance, to have been constructed by the aboriginal inhabitants, for the purpose of defending themselves from their enemies. The vitrified appearance which some of them present, it is well known, has been the source of much controversy. Mr Williams and Dr Anderson supposed that fire had been used for cementing the walls, by fusing the materials of which they were composed. Mr Tytler (the late Lord Woodhouselee) was of opinion, that the vitrification resulted from the destruction of the buildings, of which we now see only the ruins. There is a third view, which has been ably advocated by Sir George Stewart Mackenzie of Coul, Baronet, viz. that the vitrified appearance was caused by beacon-fires. ” The following considerations,” says he, ” seem to support the idea of such high situations being chosen exclusively for signal stations. Such hills only as command an extensive view of the sea or adjacent country have been selected. There is a regular chain from Knock-Farril and Craig-Phadric along the great valley of Lochness to the west coast, and others are in sight towards the east, so that on the appearance of an enemy on either side of the island, the whole country from coast to coast could be informed, perhaps within the short space of an hour. And such is the situation of vitrified forts exclusively; for they are not seen in any but commanding situations, while many spots, more convenient and better adapted in every respect for defence, are often to be found in their vicinity, or at no great distance.”

The origin of beacons is of the highest antiquity. They were used among the Jews and Greeks. The Romans, too, were wont to lightup nocturnal signal fires; and latterly the ancient beal fires of Ireland have, in times of excitement, been revived, for a similar purpose in that country.

“To be satisfied,” says Sir George, “of the reason why the signal fires should be kindled an or beside a heap of stones, we have only to imagine a gale of wind to have arisen when a fire was kindled on the bare ground. The fuel would be blown about and dispersed to the great annoyance of those who attended. The plan for obviating the inconvenience thus occasioned, which would occur most naturally and readily, would be to raise a heap of stones on either side of which the fire might be placed to windward;-and to account for the vitrification appearing all round the area, it is only necessary to allow the inhabitants of the country to have had a system of signals. A fire at one end might denote something different from a fire at the other, or in some intermediate part.

On some occasions, two or more fires might be necessary, and sometimes a fire along the whole line. It cannot be doubted,” he adds, “that the rampart was originally formed with as much regularity as the nature of the materials would allow, both in order to render it more durable, and to make it serve the purposes of defence. “After combating the other opinions upon the subject, he concludes, that these structures may have served as beacons to castles in their vicinity, the remains of which are almost in every instance to be found, e.g. that Knock-Farril may have been the signal-post of the Castle of Dingwall, which formed the principal residence of the ancient Earls of Ross.

Craig-an-Fhiach, or Raven’s Rock, lies to the westward, and presents a bold perpendicular front, from which a loud and distinct echo is heard. Near to it, is a very strong chalybeate called Saint’s Well. Another spring, on the north-east side of Knock-Farril, bears the name of John the Baptist’s, the water of which is of the purest kind, and till within the last fifty years was supposed to possess a miraculous virtue. It used to be resorted to by sick people and maniacs, who always left on a neighbouring bush or tree a bit of coloured cloth or thread-as a relic.*

Loch-Ussie lies to the south of Knock-Farril. It contains severul small islands, and is surrounded with a young thriving plantation. Kenneth Oure, whose sayings are still held in great repute by the common people, resided in its neighbourhood. He attributed his power of foretelling future events to the possession of a beautiful white stone resembling a pearl, but much larger. It is said that, shortly before his death, he threw it into Loch-Ussie, predicting that it would be found many years afterwards in the stomach of a pike, by one who, in consequence, should be also endowed with the gift of prophecy. Above Dunglass, is a low mound covered with green sward, and surrounded by a well defined circle of forty feet diameter. It seems to be a fairy ring. The grass of the circle is greener and fresher than that in the middle,-a phenomenon which is supposed to be occasioned either by lightning, or by a kind of fungus, which breaks and pulverizes the soil.

The views from all the eminences in the parish are extensive and striking, but especially from those to the north. Behind, rises the stupendons Ben-Wyves, its top often covered with. clouds and storm; in front, is Knock-Farril; and beneath, lies the beautiful vale of Strathpeffer, with its gently winding road, its well-cultivated fields, its tall ancestral trees, its venerable-looking castle, and its neat dwelling-houses. Stretching the eye to the westward, there appears nothing but one vast assemblage of conical topped hills of the wildest and most rugged description; while on the east, are to be seen the town of Dingwall, part of the Frith of Cromarty, and the rich landscape which surrounds the Castle of Tulloch. The view, as a whole, is one of the most varied and magnificent, and includes the heights of Inverness-shire rising successively one above another, until they are lost from sight in the far-distant clouds.

*Some derive the name of the parish from this well, the water of which was by way of eminence called Fuar dibhe, i. e. cold drink or refreshment.


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