Watten parish


Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, Samuel Lewis - 1851

WATTEN, a parish, in the county of Caithness, 10 miles (W. N. W.) from Wick; containing 1266 inhabitants. This place originally formed part of the parish of Bower, from which it was separated about the year 1638. It is situated nearly in the centre of the county, and is supposed to have derived its name, in the Danish language signifying " water ", from its extensive lakes. The only events of any importance connected with the parish are, the various incursions of the Danes, and the frequent hostilities between rival clans in its vicinity; and even of these, the memorials rest rather on tradition than on any well-authenticated records. The PARISH is nearly ten miles in extreme length and seven miles in mean breadth, comprising an area of about 38,400 acres. Of this extent, about 5500 acres are arable and under cultivation, and the remainder, of which probably 5000 acres might be reclaimed and rendered profitable, consists of moorland pasture, moss, and waste. The surface is generally undulated, without attaining any considerable degree of elevation; and is intersected, especially in the southern portion, with numerous narrow glens, along which flow various small streams that have their sources in the moorlands. The river Wick has its commencement in the confluence of two rivulets issuing from the lakes, and which in their progress receive several tributary streams: on their union, nearly in the centre of the parish, the river thus formed flows eastward, and falls into the bay of Wick. Loch Watten, near the northern boundary of the parish, is a beautiful sheet of water, about three miles in length, nearly two miles in breadth, and about ten feet in average depth; and is surrounded on all sides by gently rising grounds in a state of rich cultivation. Loch Toftingall, near the southern boundary, is of nearly round form, about five miles in circumference, and having an average depth of eight feet; but being encircled by bleak and barren moors, it is greatly inferior in its scenery to Loch Watten. Both these lakes abound with trout and eels, the former fish weighing from half a pound to five pounds, and the latter varying from three to four feet in length. There are springs of excellent water, and in several places are springs the water of which is strongly impregnated with iron.

The SOIL varies in different parts: in some there is a rich deep loam, alternated with clay and sand; in others, a stiff friable clay; while in the neighbourhood of the moors are large tracts of peat-moss. Crops are raised of oats and bear, turnips, potatoes, and the usual grasses. On the small farms husbandry is in a backward state, but on most of the larger has been greatly improved: the principal farm-houses, also, are substantial and well arranged. The lands have been drained, and inclosed partly with dykes of stone, but chiefly with hedges of thorn; some of the commons have been divided and inclosed, and all the more recent improvements in the construction of agricultural implements have been adopted. Great attention is paid to the management of live-stock; and under the countenance of the landed proprietors, who give premiums for the best specimens, the sheep and cattle reared in the pastures have been much improved. The sheep are chiefly of the Leicester breed, and a cross between that and the Cheviot; and the cattle, of the native Highland breed, with a cross of the Teeswater lately introduced. Since the facility afforded by steam navigation, great numbers of fat-cattle and sheep have been shipped to Leith, Newcastle, and London. There is now but little wood in the parish, though numbers of trees of large size are found embedded in the peat-mosses, with the bark perfectly entire, at sixteen feet below the surface. At Scouthel are about ten acres of natural copse, consisting of birch, hazel, and ash; and at Watten is about an acre of plantation of twenty years' growth, which, the land being well trenched and drained, is in a thriving state. In this parish the principal substrata are flagstone and clay-slate, of which the rocks are chiefly composed, with limestone and whinstone, which occur in some few parts; marl is found to a considerable extent in the bed of Loch Watten, and bog iron ore is thinly scattered over the surface in several places, more especially in the dry moorlands. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4038. There are numerous substantial houses, formerly residences of landholders; some of them are occupied by the tenants of the larger farms, and others are the temporary resort of sportsmen during the shooting season.

There is no village in the parish, the inhabitants of which are all engaged in agricultural or pastoral pursuits. Fairs for sheep, cattle, and horses, the hiring of servants, and for various kinds of merchandise, are annually held on the first Tuesday in May and third Tuesday in September, O. S., and the last Tuesdays in October and December. Large cattle-markets are held on the first Mondays in July, August, and September. At the bridge of Watten is a post-office under that of Wick, with a daily delivery. Facility of communication is maintained by good turnpike- roads, of which about twenty miles intersect the parish in various directions; by roads kept in repair by statute labour; and bridges over the Wick and other streams. Ecclesiastically this place is within the limits of the presbytery of Caithness, synod of Caithness and Sutherland. The minister's stipend is about £'200, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £18 per annum; patron. Sir James Colquhoun, Bart. The church, a very ancient structure, in which were lately some allegorical paintings and other relics of antiquity, was substantially repaired in 1714, and contains about 800 sittings. At Halsery, in the south-west of the parish, a chapel was built by subscription in 1842, containing 350 sittings. The members of the Free Church have a place of worship. The parochial schoolmaster has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with a house, and a sum of money in lieu of a garden, A school is also supported by the General Assembly. A parochial library was established in 1840, which contains nearly 400 volumes, and is supported by subscription. Dr. James Oswald, of Methven, bequeathed a sum of money for the poor of every parish in Caithness, from which this parish received £100, now augmented by donations to £300: the interest is annually divided. There are numerous remains of ancient Pictish forts, and in the heart of the moorlands are the ruins of a Druidical circle, beautifully situated in a hollow covered with turf. There are also vestiges of chapels, the burying-grounds of which are still remaining.