The 2nd Statistical Account

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PARISH OF GAIRLOCH

(PRESBYTERY OF LOCHCARRON, SYNOD OF GLENELG)

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.

By the REV. JAMES RUSSELL, MINISTER*

*Drawn up by the Rev. Donald McRae, Minister of Poolewe.

I. – TOPOGRAPHY AND NATURAL HISTORY

Name
The name of the parish is compounded of gearr, short, and loch. The parish takes its name from a salt water loch of the same name. At the end of this loch, the natives point out a hollow spot of ground, which they choose to denominate “the Gairloch” by way of distinction, as they allege that the parish takes its name from it; but it evidently derives its name from the salt water loch, or rather bay, for, comparing it with most of the other salt water lochs on the west coast, it scarcely deserves the name of Loch.

Extent, &c.
This parish is 40 miles long, and 30 miles broad between its extreme points, and contains an area of about 600 square miles. It is bounded on the south by an arm of the sea called Loch Torridon, that runs in betwixt it and the parish of Applecross; on the north, by the river Gruinard, that separates it from the parish of Lochbroom; on the east, by a chain of hills, where the mountain streams running towards the east and west coasts separate; and on the west, by the Minch, that separates the Long Island, or Lewis, from the main land. To shew the irregularity of the figure of this parish, it may here be stated, that, on the west coast, it has from 80 to 100 miles of sea coast, all of a bold rocky description, except on the shores of the inland lochs.

Hydrography, &c. –
Few parishes on the west coast can boast of more magnificent mountain scenery, as the traveller can testify, who has sailed down the picturesque Lochmaree. The principal mountain in the range, is Slioch or Sliabhach; its elevation above the level of the sea cannot be less than 3000 feet. The traveller who, from the west end of Lochmaree, takes a view of the scenery before him, cannot fail to be struck with astonishment at the wild grandeur of the scene presented to his view; the much-admired and far-famed Lochmaree, with its four-and-twenty wooded islands; the range of mountains commencing on the right and left, and extending four miles beyond the east end of Lochmaree; Lochmaree itself, eighteen miles long, appearing in the distance like an amphitheatre of nature’s own workmanship, and presenting to the eye of the stranger an impenetrable barrier.

Hydrography
Lochmaree, as already stated, is 18 miles long, and 11/2 mile broad at an average. The greater part of it is 60 fathoms deep, so that it has never been known to freeze, during the most intense frosts. About the centre of the loch, is an island called “Island Maree”, on which is a burying-ground supposed to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary – hence the name of the island and of the loch. This is one conjecture, another is that some of the Danish Kings were buried in this island, and that the original name of it was “Eilean nan Righ”, which came to be pronounced “Eilean Maree”. The number of tombstones in the burying-place, with inscriptions and hieroglyphical figures which few now-a-days can satisfactorily decipher, gives a plausibility to this conjecture which is not easily got over. As it is a doubtful subject, and likely to remain so, a third conjecture may be ventured. There lived, a great many years ago, in this part of the Highlands, a great and good man called “Maree”, who had his principal residence on this same island; after his death his admirers prefixed Saint to his name. Many of his generous and benevolent deeds are, to this day, recounted by the people of this and the surrounding parishes.*

*On the centre of this island is a deep well, consecrated by the said Saint Maree to the following purpose. To this same well are dragged, volens, nolens, all who are insane in this or any of the surrounding parishes, and after they have been made to drink of it, these poor victims of superstitious cruelty are towed round the island after a boat, by their tender-hearted attendants. It is considered a hopeful sign if the well is full at the time of dragging the patient to the scene. In justice to the people of this parish, it may be stated that they have not such an unbounded belief in the healing virtues of the well, and the other parts of the transaction, as their most distant neighbours appear to entertain. The belief in such absurdities is daily losing ground in the Highlands and there is little doubt that, in course of a few years more, the clouds of superstition that overhang the moral horizon of our Highlands will be dissipated by the better education of the peasantry.

There is only one river worthy of particular notice in this parish, viz. the “Ewe”, which issues from Lochmaree, and is only one mile long from its source to its confluence with the arm of the sea, called “Lochewe”. This beautiful stream abounds with salmon of the very best description. It is surpassed by no river on the west coast for angling, and hence it is, during the summer months, frequented by gentlemen from all parts of the kingdom, for this healthy and delightful exercise. An English military gentleman killed one hundred salmon and grilse in the course of a few weeks during the summer of 1834, and I am credibly informed that the late proprietor, Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch, Bart. frequently killed twenty salmon in one day. Besides Gairloch, Lochewe is the only other salt water loch in the parish. This loch, into which the waters of Lochmaree fall, is from 8 to 10 miles long. Near the mouth of it, is a fertile and well cultivated island, called Isle Ewe. Much attention and expense were bestowed upon the improvement of this island, by the present proprietor, Sir Francis Alexander McKenzie of Gairloch, Bart., before he came into the full possession of the Gairloch estate. The two principal headlands jutting out on each side of Lochewe, are Ru Rea on the south, and Green Stone Point on the north side.

Climate
The climate is mild, although extremely rainy. This may be accounted for, partly by the mountainous character of the country, and partly by other causes. The prevailing winds are the west and south, and at whatever season of the year it blows from these quarters, we are almost certain of torrents of rain. Easterly winds invariably bring us dry weather, and hence they are welcome visitants, although they warn us to wear additional coverings. The easterly winds are more prevalent in the month of March and first half of April, than at any other season of the year. But there has been a marked change in the climate, for some years back. Instead of the deep falls of snow, and the long-continued frosts that were wont to starve the black-cattle, smother the sheep, and fertilize the soil in former years, we have now mild weather, and very much rain. Notwithstanding the extreme wetness of the climate, and the people’s frequent exposure in the open air, their principal employment being fishing, they are in general healthy, and of robust constitutions.

Geology and Mineralogy
This, and the neighbouring parish of Lochbroom, afford numerous displays of interesting geological phenomena. Old red sandstone and quartz rock abound, but gneiss and its various subordinate formations may be considered the prevailing formation. Upwards of one hundred and fifty years ago, when the science of mineralogy was comparatively in its infancy in Scotland, and when the spirit of speculation and adventure did not move with such bold strides as in later times, a Sir James Kay sent several people to work at veins of iron ore, on the estate of Letterewe, along the north side of Lochmaree, in this parish. I understood they continued to work successfully for several years, but as wood was their sole fuel for conducting the operations, they were obliged to desist when the wood in the neighbourhood was exhausted. The ruins of one of the furnaces for working the ore are within a few hundred yards of the manse of Poolewe, and those of another are ten miles farther up, along the north side of Lochmaree. A spot is pointed out to the passer by, near the east end of Lochmaree, where they buried their dead. It is, to this day, called “Cladh nam Sasganach”, the burying-ground of the Englishmen. Highlanders look upon all who do not speak the Gaelic language as Sasganaich, or Englishmen. At a later period, some other individual, or perhaps the same, thought he had discovered a vein of silver ore, in another place along the north side of Lochmaree, but after digging to a considerable depth, the undertaking was abandoned, without yielding a remunerating return to the spirited adventurer.

Botany
The rarer plants that are found in the parish are the

Ajuga pyramidalis

Saxifraga stellaria

Arbutus alpina

Saxifraga hypnoides

Cornus Suecica

Serratula alpina

Hieracium alpinum

Thalictrum alpinum

Rubus chamaemorus

Epipactus longifolia

Salix herbacea

All the culinary plants usually cultivated in Scotland, grow freely in this parish, as well as all the common fruits. With regard to plants used for medicinal purposes, I know only six, viz.

Menyallthes trifoliata

for the stomach

Linum catharticum

aperient.

Ground ivy

deobstruent

Wild carrot

diuretic

Ranunculus flammula

for blistering instead of cantharides

Dandelion

for the jaundice

Trees indigenous to this parish are the

White barked ash

Fraxinus excelsior

Poplar

Populus tremula

Oak

Quercus robur

Bird cherry

Prunus padus

Birch

Betula alba

Holly

Ilex aquifolium

Alder

Betula alnus

Pine

Pinus sylvestris

Upland willow

Salix alba

Elm

Ulnus montana

Mountain ash

Sorbus aucuparia

Of exotic trees for timber, there are none planted excepting Larix, Pinus larix, Chestnut, Fagus castanea, which thrive extremely well. A variety of delicate exotic shrubs bear this climate, and produce their flowers, in the grounds of Sir Francis McKenzie. Trees in general grow rapidly in this moist climate, whenever the soil and situation are suitable.

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