The 2nd Statistical Account
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PARISH OF LOCHBROOM
(PRESBYTERY OF LOCHCARRON, SYNOD OF GLENELG)
Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty
The Second Statistical Account (1835)
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. THOMAS ROSS, LL.D. MINISTER.
Name, Situation, and Extent –
The parish of Lochbroom derives its name from a fresh water lake of about 3 Scotch miles in length, and 1 in breadth, at the distance of from 12 to 15 miles from the sea, which, being surrounded by high hills, and consequently much visited by the moisture of the passing clouds, is known by the very characteristic appellation of Loch-a’Bhraoin, or the Lake of Showers, Braon, or Braom, in Gaelic, signifying a shower, or drizzle of rain. The same name of Broom is, from this lake, also communicated to the river, which flows from it through a considerable part of the parish, and to the great arm of the sea into which that river falls near the parish church.
The parish is bounded on the west by the channel called the Minsh, which separates the island of Lewis from the mainland of Scotland. It has the parish of Assint on the north, the parishes of Kincardine and Contin on the east, and the parish of Gairloch on the south.
The figure of the parish is exceedingly irregular, a great part of it consisting of a variety of promontories of very different extent and appearance, and separated from each other by lochs and creeks and inlets of the sea. The distance, in a straight line, between the extreme points of the western boundary, is not more than from 22 to 24 miles, yet within that space of direct latitude there are included above l00 miles of shore washed by the ocean. The inland boundaries are almost equally irregular, so that the extent in square miles is utterly unknown, and will probably continue to be so.
It may, however, be very safely affirmed, that, in regard to extent of territory and number of inhabitants, and difficulty of the ground, and natural divisions, the parish of Lochbroom alone (independently of the village of Ullapool, in which there is a Government church) would form four large parishes, which would furnish ample scope for the exertions of four able and active parochial ministers. It may be proper to add that, if the parish of Lochbroom were divided into four such distinct parishes, having churches planted at the most suitable distances, with ministers in each, there would still be many persons in these parishes who would require to travel from five to fifteen miles, of very difficult road, before they could obtain any of the sealing ordinances of religion. It may be further observed, that, in this parish, there are seven cemeteries, or public burying-grounds, eight stations in which the minister thinks it his duty (though not obliged) to preach occasionally – always in the open air – yet always to larger congregations than on ordinary occasions meet in the parish church; eighteen stations, at which from 45 to 220 scholars could assemble for instruction, if they were blessed with teachers; besides several hundreds who could only meet in tens, and fifteens, and twenties; and finally, that in this parish alone, there are above 1300 young people – all poor – who are either receiving, or require to receive, instruction in the first principles of an useful education.
Surface, General Appearance, and Natural Divisions –
To a spectator placed on an eminence in the inland part of this parish, the appearance is that of a wide and dreary waste of bleak and barren heath, as if a segment of the great ocean, agitated and tossed, and tumbled, not by an ordinary storm, however violent, but by some frightful convulsion of nature, with here and there a rude and lofty peak of rugged rock, towering to the skies,had been suddenly condensed, and formed into a solid shapeless mass of unproductive desert, without one spot of green on which to rest the eye. On descending from the heights, however, and advancing towards the sea, the ground assumes a very different, and more pleasing aspect. Here, along the shores of the ocean, on the sides of the great arms of the sea by which the parish is intersected, and the rich valleys which extend far among the hills, the eye is refreshed by the sight of fertile fields, and populous hamlets, with numerous flocks and herds, and woods, and water streams. The parish is divided into four districts, viz. The Aird, or height of Coigach, Lochbroom Proper, the Little Strath, and the Laigh. The appearance from the sea, in a clear summer evening, is magnificent beyond description.
Rivers, Lakes, and Fish –
In Coigach, are the beautiful vales of Strathceannard and Rhidorch, watered, the former, by the water of Ceannard, and the latter, by the finely wooded lake of Achall, and the river of Ceannchruinn or Ullapool. Lochbroom is divided into what are called the Big and Little Straths, through the former of which flows the rapid river Broom, from the mountain lake already mentioned, which gives its name to the parish, till it falls into the Big Loch, below the parish church. Through the latter runs the Little Broom, fed by a number of mountain streams, into the Little Loch, about a mile below the House of Dundonnell.
The Laigh is watered by the Meikle river, which pours the waters of Loch-na’-sealg, (a beautiful sheet of fresh water, six Scotch miles in length) and of many other lakes and rivulets into the sea at Greenyard, and by the little river of Greenyard, which forms the boundary of the parish on the south. All these streams are well stocked with salmon, grilse, trout, and other kinds of fish.
Coast, Mountains, and Islands –
It has been already mentioned that the parish of Lochbroom possesses a very great extent of shore. But this is chiefly formed by the bays and deep inlets of the sea, by which the land is intersected. Along the coast of the Atlantic, the shore is bold, rocky, and precipitous, consisting of the promontories of More (or Great) Riff, Dunan, Duard, Ardchaduill, Handerick (or Cailleach) and Stadaig. But the heads of the lochs or bays are chiefly low and sandy. The principal mountains are Stac, Cumhill-Mhor, and Big Rock, in Coigach, on the north, Beinn-Deirg on the east; Fannich on the south-east; and the hills of Strath-na’sealg on the south-west. But their elevation above the sea is uncertain. There are several islands belonging to the parish, off the coast. Some of them are inhabited, as Ristal, Tanara, Isle Martin, Isle Greenyard, and sometimes the Priest Island. The others, called the Summer Isles, are excellent for wintering young Highland cattle. The hills of this parish were well stored with game of all kinds till the introduction of extensive sheep-farming, which has greatly diminished the quantity of game, as well as of salmon and other fish in the lakes and rivers. The same circumstance has had an equally deleterious effect on the growing woods of the country in general, and also on its race of heroes.
The temperature of the atmosphere, though exceedingly changeable, is rather moderate and mild; neither so high in summer, nor so low in winter, as on the eastern coast of the island, in Cromarty, Leith, or even London. The mercury in the thermometer perhaps never falls below 16° nor rises above 74° Fahrenheit. In the barometer, it runs over the whole range, from 28 to 31, sometimes beyond it; and it has been often seen to fall or rise a full inch, and more, in the course of one day. The climate is certainly moist, and much rain falls from the one end of the year to the other; yet more harm is done to the crop, on the whole, by dry weather than by excessive rain. Rainbows by the sun and the moon are frequently observed. Of the latter, a most beautiful instance occurred on Thursday the 24th of October 1833, at 8 o’clock p.m., forming a magnificent arch over the whole of the Big Loch, from side to side, such as Telford never constructed. The Polar Lights are often exceedingly grand and brilliant. The prevailing wind is the south-west, which almost always brings foul weather. There seem to be no diseases which can be said to be peculiar to the country; but consumption, and obstinate constipation of the bowels, are the most prevalent distempers among the people. In the year 1812, the parish was visited by small-pox in the natural way, which carried off almost all that were attacked by it. But the minister got the people, by much persuasion, to agree to have their children inoculated. A physician was accordingly called in, who inoculated from 900 to 1000 young people, out of which number only 5 died. Vaccination has been partially used; but the small-pox has not since prevailed in the parish.
There is little to be said on this head. The lochs, rivers, and lakes have been already noticed. There are some beautiful cascades in the parish, as may well be supposed from the nature of the ground, and the quantity of rain which falls upon it, but none of them of sufficient importance to merit a particular description here. There are also many mineral springs, which are chiefly of a chalybeate nature.
Old red sandstone forms extensive tracts in this parish, as Coigach and other parts on the mainland, and the Summer and other islands along the coast. Quartz rock abounds in some quarters, and Beinn Deirg on the east, Fannich on the southeast, and other mountains, are chiefly composed of gneiss, with veins of granite, beds of quartz rock, &c. A bed of limestone appears in the Little Strath, passes under the Big Loch to Ullapool, from which it runs into the beautiful and magnificent marble quarries of Assint. But, from the difficulty of the ground, and the scarcity of fuel, little use is made of it here. On the farm of Scorraig, the property of Dundonnell, there is a prodigious quantity of bog-iron ore, which seems to be of the sub-species of meadow-ore. It communicates a strong and harsh chalybeate taste, to all the springs of water in the neighbourhood. The soil in this parish, as may be supposed from its great extent aml different degrees of elevation and distance from the sea, is exceedingly various; but the prevailing character is that of a light, sharp, gravelly loam, well adapted to produce the ordinary crops of oats, barley, and potatoes. Wheat also has been tried in it, and answered remarkably well.
On this head there is little to be said. The animals which were generally found in wild mountain districts, abounded long ago on the hills of Lochbroom: deer, roe, hare, rabbit, ptarmigan, grouse, black game, wild pigeons, sheep, goats, horses of a small size, but hardy, and cows. The race of wolves has been extirpated; but reynard contrives to keep his ground in spite of every effort to expel him, and often commits sad ravages among the sheep. The hens he scorns, as also the ducks of the poultry-yard, and leaves them to the meaner tricks, but not less rapacious fangs, of fumarts, martins, and wild-cats. Badgers are found among the lower grounds, partridges in the fields, and abundance of otters along the shores of the sea, and the banks of the rivers and lakes.
Of fishes, besides salmon, grilse, and trout, there are perch, pike, eel, and minnows, to be found in some of the rivers and lakes of the parish. The salmon come up to spawn in autumn. But, alas! it is much to be feared that but very few of them are allowed to return to their briny element, being intercepted by lawless and merciless poachers. The fishes which frequent the sea coasts of the parish are too numerous to be particularly noticed, but the herrings cannot be passed over in silence, being the great staple of the country.
Of herrings, prodigious shoals appear off the coast of Lochbroom, often as early as the month of May; but they pass on towards the south, and do not strike into the lochs and arms of the sea, so as to be productive of much benefit to the country, sooner than the month of September. From that time, their appearance, though exceedingly irregular, is anxiously looked for, till the month of February. Great is the preparation made, and much the expense incurred, engrossing even the little all of most of the poor families along the coast to meet and profit by the expected bounty. When the herrings set fairly in, at a proper season, and when they continue for a considerable time within the lochs and bays, the benefit is very great. The herrings of this coast are of the very best kind – the people are instantly afloat with every species of seaworthy craft – numerous crews from all parts of the east and west coasts of Scotland, and even from Ireland, press forward with the utmost eagerness to the field of slaughter – sloops, schooners, wherries, boats of all sizes, are seen constantly flying on the wings of the wind, from creek to creek, and from loch to loch, according as the varying reports of men, or the noisy flight of birds, or tumbling and spouting of whales and porpoises, attract them. Hundreds of boats are seen to start at day-set for the watery field, they silently shoot their nets, lie out at the end of their train, all night, and return in the morning full of life and spirit, to sell or cure their cargoes. The scene is extremely animated and interesting. And when there is a successful fishing, it is important, in a national as well as in an individual point of view. For some years back, however, the take has not been great, and much loss has been sustained.
Of insects, the most injurious to fruit and garden vegetables, in this parish, has been the caterpillar; and the only means which the writer of this has found effectual in preventing their depredations, has been to pick them off the leaves as soon as they appear, by the fingers of young people, and put them into small dishes containing a little water, to be carried away and destroyed. And although this method may appear, at first sight, an endless work, particularly in a large establishment, it is by no means so. Let the work be boldly and perseveringly attempted, and it will infallibly succeed.
Of shell-fish we have great varieties, many of which, such as oysters, cockles, mussels, spout-fish, &c. are most useful to many of the poor people near the shores, who, in a great measure, subsist upon them during the summer season, when meal is scarce or exhausted. Great numbers of crabs and lobsters also are taken among the islands, and along the coast, which are carried in smacks to the London market.
This parish was once thickly covered with woods of various descriptions of trees, chiefly Scotch fir, ash, elm, oak, birch, alder, mountain-ash, willow, poplar and hazel. There are still some beautiful trees of oak, ash, birch, geen, bird-cherry, and mountain-ash, with some small thriving plantations of fir, in the Little Strath, about Dundonnell House and Mains; and a few old ash trees about the village of Ullapool, and firs in the glen of Achall. But with these exceptions, and some few alders, growing at the sides of rivers, in the glens, the parish is nearly denuded of wood.
The soil and climate, however, are exceedingly favourable to the growth of wood of all kinds which are common to this country; as may be seen by passing through the glebe, where firs of different kinds, and hard wood, and fruit-trees, planted by the present incumbent, have succeeded beyond the most sanguine expectations. Of fruits in particular, viz. apples, pears, plums, cherries, Spanish filberts, walnuts, currants, gooseberries, of many different kinds, he can shew samples which he has not seen exceeded in any part of the country; all on standards, in the open air. The culinary plants committed to the soil produce the best returns.