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


Climate, according to Dr Ure, is the prevailing constitution of the atmosphere relative to beat, wind, and moisture. There is considerable humidity in the high grounds of this. parish, and the cold at times is very intense. In the lower parts, however, the air is mild and genial. Even in winter, this is not unfrequently the case in the vicinity of the spa. Hills surround it in all directions, the sinuosity of the valley breaks the force of the cold easterly winds,-while those from the west are deprived of much of their moisture by the beath-clad hills over which they pass; and besides, the gradual rising slope of this district elevates it into a kind of mid-air, which is always pure and invigorating. During the greater part of the year, the wind blows from between south-west and north-west, and at the time of the equinoxes is generally accompanied with rain. There are occasionally strong gales from the east and north-east, but the most violent proceed from the former points. Thunder is seldom heard. The temperature in summer is often equal to, and at times greater than, that experienced in England; but in spring and autumn, it is subject to sudden changes, which are severely felt. The climate, as a whole, however, is one of the purest and most salubrious in great Britain, which accounts for the longevity of the people, and the fewness of the diseases which prevail among them. The healthiness of the parish has been much increased by the general system of drainage begun by Major McKenzie, Fodderty, in 1811, in consequence of which, what was formerly in a state of marsh and meadow now yield luxuriant crops of grain, and the grounds which used often to be covered with mildew have been almost, if not entirely, freed from it.

The parish is well supplied with water. Besides numerous springs which are chiefly perennial, there are also many mineral springs-some pure cbalybeate, and others strongly impregnated with hydrogen gas. Of the latter kind, two at the west end of the strath have been long known for their medicinal, qualities, which they seem to derive from the bituminous rocks mixed with beds of shale abounding with pyrites or sulphuret of iron, through which the water flows. An imperfect analysis of these springs was given in the Philosophical Transactions for 1772. That by Dr Thomson of Glasgow in 1824 is as follows :

“There are two wells,” says he, “at a little distance from each other. The temperature of the lower well, on the 24th June, was 39°, and that of the upper 39¾°. The day was rainy, and the temperature of the air rather under 60°. Both had the smell of sulphuretted hydrogen gas. But the upper spring was obviously stronger than the lower. The specific gravity of these wells was as follows:
Upper Well, 1.00193
Lower Well, 1.00091

"An imperial gallon of the upper spring was found to contain

Sulphuretted hydrogen gas,


cubic inches

Sulphate of soda,



Sulphate of lime,



Common salt,



Sulphate of magnesia,



" An imperial gallon of the water attached to the pump-room yielded

Sulphuretted hydrogen gas,


cubic inches

"The saline contents were similar to those of the upper spring, but in the proportion to them
of 7 to 9,

Sulphate of soda,



Sulphate of lime



Common salt,



Sulphate of magnesia,



“The upper spring is more strongly impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen gas than Moffat wells; but the lower spring is a good deal weaker.”

Strathpeffer Spa was brought into great celebrity by Dr Thomas Morrison of Elsick and Disblair, in Aberdeenshire; a gentleman who had previously tried almost every other spa in the kingdom. He gave it as his opinion, that this was the most valuable of the whole, and, in describing the climate, his usual expression was, “the balsamic air of Stratbpeffer.” At his suggestion, the proprietor built, in 1819, a handsome pump-room ever the lower well, 40 feet long by 20 feet broad, in which there is an excellent full -drawn likeness of Dr Morrison, done by George Watson, Edinburgh. It cost L. 125 Sterling, and was paid for in subscriptions of from one to ten guineas by the visitors, out of grateful respect to Dr Morrison for his able and gratuitous services.

The season for drinking the water extends from the beginning of May to the middle or end of October. it is found to be highly beneficial in all cases of ill health which result from a relaxed state of the system, especially in the great variety of disorders occasioned by nervous debility; in gouty, rheumatic, scrofulous, and cutaneous complaints; in affections of the kidneys and bladder, the water being highly diuretic; in cases of dyspepsia, and for constitutions which have suffered by long residence in tropical climates.

It is prejudicial, however, to those whose ailments are attended with any degree of inflammation or fever. Its specific gravity approximates to that of the mineral waters on the banks of the Rhine; from which circumstance, large quantities of it can be taken without oppressing the stomach, or irritating the system. It is quickly digested, and works its way gradually yet thoroughly into the constitution, on which it acts as a mild alterative. After taking a course of the sulphureous water, it is generally of advantage to follow it up with a course of chalybeate, of which there is a spring close to the pump-room, and many others in the neighbourhood. There is no doubt but the pure dry, bracing air which circulates around this district, and the beauty of the scenery, by tempting invalids to walk abroad, contribute in a great measure to their restoration to health.

The regulations are, that all ladies and gentlemen put down their name upon arrival, and pay 2s. each week during their attendance ; that those drinking the water at the upper or lower well, but not attending the pump-room, pay ls. as above; and that all strangers taking only one glass in the pump-room, pay 6d. The allowance to the well-keeper is voluntary. On week-days the pump-room is open from 6 to 9 A. M., 12 to 2 P. M. and 5 to 7 in the evening. It is shut on Sabbath days from 9 A. M., to 5 P. M. The poor have the water gratis, and are accommodated with a comfortable room attached to the upper well. They receive unremitted and disinterested attention from John M’Kenzie, Esq. M. D., Kinellan, who acts in this quarter in his professional capacity of consulting physician.

The public prints are regularly supplied by the proprietor. Within the last four years a penny-post has been established. Bread, meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables and fruit are to be got in the neigbbourhood. During the drinking season, a coach runs twice a day to Dingwall, which is connected with another that goes to Inverness in the morning and returns in the evening.

Since the spa has come so much into repute, a number of respectable-looking buildings have been erected for the accommodation of visitors. Through the benevolent exertions of J. E. Gordon, Esq. late Member for Dundalk, an institution has also been established for the benefit of the poor who resort thither from a distance. It is capable of accommodating fifty at one time, and is to be opened inthe course of next year. The hotel at Blar-na-ceaun, which has been recently built, within half a mile of the pump-room, is not surpassed by any in the country ; and there is also a comfortable inn on the east side, where strangers receive every convenience and attention.

As is usually the case, in the high grounds of the parish, which present a bold front and outlines only the primary rocks are to be met with, and of these the most frequent is gneiss. The south side of the valley abounds in red sandstone and conglomerate, while on the north, the rock is bluish and slat exhibiting in many places swinestone of a blackish brown colour, which on being rubbed gives out a fetid urinous odour. In the direction of the spa, the rock begins to assume the appearance of a dark calcareo-bituminous schist, soft and foliated, and mixed with beds of shale abounding with pyrites. On the north-west and north, are several appearances of coal. Some extracted about seventy years ago was found to be of a clear black colour, and remarkably inflammable. Neither of these places, the one lying in the vicinity of Castle-Leod, and the other near the river Sgiah, at the foot of Wyves, have been considered worthy of being worked, as the coal found in them does not seem to belong to the true coal formation.*

The land towards Dingwall is heavy, approaching to clay. To the westward, it presents in many places a fine free loam or mould, partly black and partly brown, having a swinestone or gravelly subsoil. And on the south side of the parish, it is generally black with a very retentive bottom, which renders it extremely wet in winter.

The less ordinary botanical specimens which have been noticed are, the Pinguicula, lusitanica and Melampyrum sylvaticum, near Castle Leod, the Linnam borealis, in the woody part of the district of Brahan, and the Arbutus alpina, Saxifraga oppositifolia, Betula nona, Azalea procumbens, Alopecurus alpinus, &c. around Wyves. Both here and along the glens to the west of Castle-Leod, mosses, of every shade and colour, and of the softest texture, are to be met with in abundance.+

The rarer kind of animals which occur are the deer and roe-deer, also the fallow-deer from the policy of Brahan, the fox, martin, wild and polecat, stoat or ermine, and weasel.

The ornithology includes the ordinary sorts of game, together with the grey and golden eagle, which build on the Bealach Mor, or west end of Wyves, the merlin, kestril, herrier-hawk, also the falcon-hawk, which builds in Craig-an-Fhiach, the kite, buzzard, raven, hooded-crow, thrush, &c.

Black trout, some of which are of considerable size, are often caught in the Peffery, a small stream which runs eastward through the strath, and gives to it its distinctive name. And the river Conon, part of which belongs to the Honourable Mrs Hay M’Kenzie, and is connected with this parish, abounds in salmon. The quantity taken, however, has of late years diminished. This was supposed to be owing to the stake-nets in the Frith, which have been recently abolished. But these, if confined within low water mark, could rarely intercept either the kelts or fry, as the former, from their exhausted state, and the latter from their weakness, suffer themselves to be carried down the mid-channel or main stream; while they would secure for the public many of the salmon which at present become the prey of the seal and grampus.

* Mr Witham informs us, that the coal of Castle-Leod is not true coal, but the mineral named slaggy mineral pitch, and that it occurs in veins traversing the gosis of the hill on which the castle is built.-Vide Memoirs of Wernerian Natural History Society. Vol. vi p. 123.
+The Rev. D. M’Kenzie, one ofthe former. incumbents of the parish, surrounded the lawn in front of the manse with a hedge of the barberry. However desirable as a fence, both from its beautiful appearance and its therny branches this shrub may be, it was found necessary to cut it down, as the corn sown near it on the glebe, and also to a considerable distance in the adjoining fields, usually proved abortive-the ears being in general destitute of grain.

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