1851 - Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, Samuel Lewis
OLRICK, or Olrir, a parish, in the county of Caithness, 5 miles (E. by S.) from Thurso; containing, with the village of Castletown, 1584 inhabitants, of whom 1107 are in the rural districts. This place, which is of remote antiquity, seems to have derived its name, signifying the " son of Erick", from one of the Norwegian chieftains, who is supposed to have made himself master of it during the general invasion of Caithness by the King of Norway, about the commencement of the ninth century. There are not any events of historical importance. It appears that an inconsiderable descent of the Danes took place here at a distant period, on which occasion the force landed at the bay of Murkle, but was totally defeated by the inhabitants in a sanguinary conflict on a height called, from the slain, Morthill, of which the present name of the bay is supposed to be a corruption. The PARISH is bounded on the north by the bays of Dunnet, Murkle, and Castlehiil, and is about five miles in length and three miles in average breadth; comprising an area of 10,000 acres, of which nearly 6000 are arable, and the remainder meadow and pasture, with about 500 acres of links and moss, and twenty acres of plantations. Its surface is diversified with hills of moderate elevation, interspersed with pleasing and fertile valleys; and most of the hills and high grounds are clothed with verdure, affording pasturage for sheep and cattle. Olrick hill commands from its summit an extensive view of the coast and the adjacent country: the view embraces the bays of Sandside, Scrabster, Dunnet, Freswick, and Reiss, the heights of Canisbay and Nosshead, and several of the islands of Orkney, with the mountains of Sutherland, Moray, Banffshire, and Aberdeenshire; forming together one of the finest and most comprehensive prospects in the north of Scotland. The only lake in the parish, Loch Durran, from which issued a rivulet flowing by the village of Castletown into the bay of Dunnet, was about three miles in circumference, but has been drained for the sake of its marl, and laid down in pasture. The coast is not more than two miles in extent; it runs from east to west, and is generally shelvy and rugged, but not precipitous. On the east is the bay of Castlehiil, forming a commodious harbour at the village of Castletown; and on the west is Murkle bay, which, from its superior shelter and depth of water, might at a moderate cost be improved into one of the best harbours on this part of the coast. There is a salmon-fishery; and cod, ling, and other white-fish abound.
Along the coast generally, and in some of the other low lands, the soil is a deep rich clay alternated with sand and till; towards the interior, mostly of lighter quality, but fertile: the higher grounds, and such other portions as are not arable, afford excellent pasture. The crops are oats, bear, potatoes, and turnips, with the usual grasses. On the lands of Murkle, a species of black oats, which almost every where else degenerates by repeated sowing, thrives luxuriantly without any change of quality, and the produce is consequently in great demand as seed in the surrounding country. The system of husbandry has for many years been gradually advancing, and is now in a highly improved state. Furrow-draining has been introduced by Mr. Traill with great success, and large tracts of waste land have been brought into profitable cultivation. On most of the farms due regard is paid to a regular rotation of crops; and on the larger farms the buildings are substantial and well arranged, and the lands well inclosed, partly with hedges of thorn and partly with stone dykes: all the more recent improvements in the construction of agricultural implements have been adopted. Great attention is paid to live stock; the cattle are generally of a cross breed between the Highland and the Teeswater, and the sheep are of the Leicester breed. Considerable quantities of grain are sent to the Edinburgh market; and large numbers of cattle and sheep are shipped for London and the southern markets, for which steam navigation affords abundant opportunities. The plantations are chiefly on the lands of Castlehiil and Olrick, and consist of ash, for which the soil seems peculiarly favourable, plane, elm, oak, mountain-ash, and larch; all in a thriving condition. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4122. There are large quarries of what is called Caithness paving-stone, of very hard and durable texture, and varying from grey to blue in colour. In these quarries a number of persons are constantly employed; and at Castlehill is machinery for sawing and polishing the stone, which is there formed into slabs, mantel-pieces, and other ornamental parts of the interior of buildings. Great quantities are sent to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, and London. Castlehiil, one of the seats of George Traill, Esq., of Ratter, an elegant mansion beautifully situated near the shore of the bay of Castlehiil, in a tastefully embellished and richlyplanted demesne; and Olrick House, the seat of James Smith, Esq., a neat modern mansion near the base of Olrick hill, are the only houses of any importance. The village of Castletown is described under its own head. Fairs are held on the second Tuesday in March, and the third Tuesdays in June and November. Facility of communication is maintained by the turnpike-road from Wick to Thurso, which passes through the parish; and by cross-roads kept in excellent repair.
For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Caithness and synod of Sutherland and Caithness. The minister's stipend is £191. 8. 8., with a manse,and a glebe valued at £10 per annum; patron. Sir James Colquhoun, Bart. The old church, erected in 1633, and containing 400 sittings, having become ruinous, and inadequate to the increased population, was deserted, and a handsome structure was erected at the eastern extremity of Castletown, affording ample accommodation. The members of the Free Church have a place of worship. Olrick parochial school, also situated in the village, affords instruction to upwards of eighty children; the teacher has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with a house and garden, and the fees average £15 per annum. There are numerous Picts' houses; and on the lands of Murkle, it is said, was a nunnery, the site of which is supposed to be indicated by a small burn called Closters, thought to be a corruption of Cloisters. On the summit of the hill of Olrick are some remains of an ancient watch-tower; and near the eastern boundary of the parish, at a place called St. Coomb's Kirk, was a church dedicated to St. Columba, and supposed to have been the church of the united parishes of Olrick and Dunnet: this, with the adjoining manse, was overwhelmed during the night by a drift of sand.