The 1st 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 seasons are always wet in this place, but within these few years they seem to be turning worse. Every thing almost is reckoned a sign of rain. If there be a warm or hot day, we shall soon have rain, if a crow begin to chatter, she is calling for rain, if the clouds be heavy, or if there be a mist upon the top of the hills, we shall see rain. In a word, a Highlander may make any thing a sign of rain, there is no danger he shall fail in his prognostication.

At the ferry town of Strom, are the remains of an old castle. It belonged once to the Macdonells of Glengary, who were proprietors of part of Lochcarron. There were quarrels between them and the family of Seaforth. The consequnce was that Seaforth, with some difficulty, dispossessed them.*


*The history of the siege of Castle Strom, as it is related in a manuscript history of the Mackenzies, and in possession of several people in Ross-shire, is literally as follows: “Lord Kenneth of Kintail, in spring 1609, gathered considerable forces, and besieged the Castle of Strom in Lochcarron, which at first they held out very manfully, and would not surrender it, though several terms were offered, which Lord Kintail seeing and not willing to lose his men, resolved to raise the siege for the time. But the defendants were so unfortunate, that all their powder was destroyed by the women they had within, having sent them out under silence of night to draw in water out of a well that lay just at the entry. The silly women were in such fear, and the room they brought the water to so dark, for want of light, still as they came in, they toomed the water in a fatt, missing the right one, wherein the few barrels of powder they had lay, but on the morrow, when the men came for more powder, having spent what they had the day before, finds their barrels of powder floating in the fatt so they began to rail and abuse the women, which Duncan MacIan vic Illichallum, being as yet prisoner there, and hearing being —- in the house, having given his oath and promise he would never come out by the door, till he were either ransomed or relieved, this they forced him to do to save his life. So going with the keepers to the wall head, and perceiving his countrymen packing their baggage, like to quite the siege, he threw his plaid on him that stood next him, loups down on a dunghill near the entry, and rising as soon as possible, he made for the camp. The man that stood by him, as he louped, cried after him, said you have lost much of your louping; he asked what it was? he said you have lost the two Clanranalds by it. He answered in the Irish parish, I take my being here at this time in pledge of that; so comes where his master was and tells all as it stood with these in the castle, whereupon he renewed the siege. The defenders, knowing their weakness was disclosed by Duncan, who had louped, whereof he was lame till his dying day, they begged quarters for their lives, which was granted them, with all their baggage, Lord Kintail presently causes blow up the house with powder, which remains there in heaps till this day. He lost only at the siege but two Kinlochew men. Andrew Munro of Teachnover was also wounded, with two or three others. And so dissolved the camp.”

There has been likewise an old building at Tomaclare, and another at Lagadum. Whether these houses were places of defence, or only light-houses to acquaint the country people of danger in case of sudden invasion from their enemies, we cannot say. There are several such buidings upon the west coast. Near the place of Attadale are two caves. The country people call them Uagh ashoil, the stranger’s cave. It seems to have been the dwelling of some robber, who lived upon plunder and carnage. There has been a burying place near this cave, and a place of worship in times of Popery or Paganism.

Miscellaneous Observations

About 40 years ago, there was a lint manufacture in Lochcarron. If there were an woollen manufacture established here, it would employ a great number of idle hands, and might prevent emigration. All the common tenants upon the shore towns are fishers. Every town has 2 or 3 boats, or more, according to the number of tenants. They go out with their boats, and kill several kinds of fishes with the hand line, but the principal favourite is the herring. Many of the poor people live for several months upon herring and potatoes. With this humble fare, they are cheerful and thankful, and when they take it with sobriety, and qualify it by drinking water gruel after it, it proves wholesome food. God Almighty often receives the tribute of thanksgiving for his homely fare, when those who live upon the luxuries of the earth forget the hand that feeds them. Improvements are thriving and going forward in the Highlands. We wish that we could say that religion was improving likewise. May God revive his own work, and pour a spirit of grace and supplication upon all ranks and descriptions of people.*

*It is impossible, it seems, to breath the air of Lochcarron, without acquiring a taste, if not a talent for poetry, of which the minister has sent the following specimen, under the name of “Statistical verses”, with which he concluded his account.

1. This same statistical account,
Is sent to please Sir John,
And if it be not elegant,
Let criticks throw a stone.

2. We have not fine materials,
And our account is plain,
Our lands and purling streams are good,
But we have too much rain.

3. In Humbay there’s a harbour fine,
Where ships their course may steer,
Such as are building villages,
Might build a village here.

4. From Castle Strom there is a road,
Straight down to Kessock Ferry,
And by this road the men of Sky
Do all their whisky carry.

5. Of old the fox killed sheep and goats,
But now the fox we kill;
The huntsman gets four hundred merks.
And whisky to his will.

6. Our girls are dress’d in cloak and gown,
And think themselves quite bony;
Each comes on Sunday to the kirk,
In hopes to see her Johny.

7. A drover, when the sermon’s done,
Will ask the price of cows,
But the good honest Christian,
Will stick to gospel news.

8. The breach of Sabbath day is here,
Cause of regret and sorrow,
All worldly things should then give way,
And be discussed the morrow.

9. We call for tea when we are sick,
When we want salt we grumble,
When drovers offers are not brisk,
It makes our hopes to stumble.

10. Now good Sir John, it was for you
I gather’d all my news,
But you will say that I forgot
To count the sheep and cows.

11. Of these we have a number too,
(But then, ‘twixt you and I),
The number they would never tell,
For fear the beasts should die.

12. Sir John send word, if you are pleas’d
With what I here rehearse,
Perhaps ’twere better had I told
My story all in verse.

13. The Parson has no horse nor farm,
No goat, nor watch, nor wife,
Without an augmentation too,
He leads a happy life.

14. I wish you health and happiness,
And may you live in peace;
And if you would be truly great,
Then plead and pray for Grace.

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