History and Description

Morayshire - History and Description, 1868

"ELGIN, (or Moray), a maritime county in the N. of Scotland, comprising the eastern portion of the ancient province of Moray, Murray, or Murreff. It lies between the Grampian mountains and the Moray Firth, by which it is bounded on the N., on the W. by Nairnshire, E. and S.E. by Banffshire, and on the S. by Inverness-shire, which intersects a small portion near its southern extremity. It is situated between 57° 10' and 57° 43' N. lat., and 3° and 3° 45' W. long. Its mean length from N. to S. is about 40 miles, and its breadth from 8 to 26 miles. Along the sea-coast the surface is flat, but inland it rises into hills of moderate elevation, intersected by fertile valleys. The coast line extends for above 30 miles, and is indented by several small harbours, with a lighthouse at Covesea, Skerries Point. In the middle portion it presents a range of bold precipitous sandstone rocks, with the "Holyman Skerries "and a few detached rocks lying seaward; while at either end, for several miles, the sea has formed vast mounds of shingle and sand. The Cullen Sands have recently drifted over many acres of fertile land to the W. of the river Findhorn, rendering them irretrievably sterile. Along the coast are several harbours, as Kingston and Garmouth, at the mouth of the Spey; Findhorn, the seaport for the burgh of Forres; Hopeman, a fishing station; and Burghhead, where the steamers from London, Leith, and Sutherland touch. The caves of Covesea, lying in the parish of Drainy, are large natural excavations in the sandstone cliff, and were formerly the resort of smugglers. The chief rivers are the Spey, Findhorn, and Lossie, the two first remarkable for their romantic and picturesque scenery, and for their fine salmon fisheries. The Spey rises in Badenoch, a district of Inverness-shire, and is joined in its course through Elgin by the Nethy, Dulnan, and Avon. It waters the valleys of Dipple, Dundurcas, Rothes, Dandaleith, and Dalvey, and is crossed by an iron bridge at Craigellachie, where is much fine scenery. The Findhorn also rises in Inverness-shire, among the Monadleadh hills, and is joined in its course through Elgin by the Durie, a fine salmon stream. The Lossie, which, is inferior to the former rivers both in the length of its course and the picturesqueness of its scenery, rises in the hills between Dallas and Strathspey, and passing to the W. of the town of Elgin, where it is joined by the Lochty or Blackburn, falls into the Moray Firth near Stotfield-head. There are several lochs in the county, abounding in excellent trout. The loch of Spynie, which bounds the parish of Drainy on the S., has greatly varied, both in superficial extent of surface and the quality of its waters, at various eras. At no very distant epoch it was an inlet of the Firth of Moray, as attested by the abundance of marine shells at its bottom, principally oyster and cockle shells. Subsequently, by the action of the sea, it became converted into a lake or lagoon, and the salt or brackish water replaced by fresh, which destroyed all the marine molluscs, and nourished typhæ; and cyperaceæ. In recent times attempts have been made to drain off its waters; but in 1829 the Moray floods swept away the floodgate which regulated the discharge of the superfluous waters of the lake; and the gate not having been replaced since, the waters have again become brackish, and fuci and other æstuarian species have made their appearance on its banks, which are famed as the resort of wild fowl, particularly of the migratory sorts. The loch of Glenmore lies in a well-wooded valley in Abernethy; Lochindorb on the outskirts of the county, adorned by an island, on which are the remains of a royal castle. Besides these are Lochnabo, Trevie, Dallas, and Noir, all favourite resorts of the angler. The banks of the Spey, towards its mouth, where the underlying strata have been laid bare by the action of water, exhibit secondary rocks of the Old Red sandstone formation, extending over the northern part of the county. In the southern portion the underlying rocks arc igneous, chiefly gneiss, granite, felspar, rock-crystal, and mica slate, with isolated patches of sandstone and gravel. Along the coast are several large and inexhaustible quarries of freestone and slate, which are extensively worked; but neither coal, lime, nor metallic ores occur in any quantity, and the inhabitants have to depend entirely for their fuel upon the coal-fields of the S., while lime is imported in large quantities, even for agricultural purposes. The soil of the northern part of the county, called the How of Moray, is very ferule, and produces wheat, potatoes, and turnips, which are now extensively cultivated; barley, beans, peas, clover, and grasses are also grown to a small extent, but oats are still the chief crop in the inland districts, which are less fertile. In the uplands there are extensive pastures, on which Cheviots, Leicesters, and black-faced sheep are bred, and a small variety of native cattle, recently improved by importations from Skye, Aberdeen, and Argyle. The hilly regions of the S. were formerly clothed in wood; but most of the native forests having been cleared, vast tracts of land produce nothing but furze and broom. These have recently been planted; and in some districts thriving plantations of Scotch fir, larch, and hard-wood are now to be met with; but at present only about one-third of the surface of the whole county, which is estimated at 531 square miles, or 310,000 acres, is under cultivation. The old valued rent was £5,467; the valuation for 1857 was £116,851. There is one line of railway, the Inverness and Aberdeen Junction; and steamboats sail regularly from one or more of the Elgin seaports (generally Burghhead) to London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and other parts of Scotland. The principal roads are those from Elgin, the county town, to Forres, a royal burgh; to Lossiemouth, the chief seaport for Elgin, which is 5½ miles inland; to Burghhead, the steamboat station; and to Orton; also from Burghhead to Forres, and from the last place to Granton. Besides these, many cross roads have been constructed during the last forty years, which have greatly facilitated the progress of agriculture and commerce. The assessment in 1860 for military roads was £231 19s. 8d. Besides the towns above mentioned, there are several important villages, as Fochabers, a burgh of barony, in the parish of Bellie, one of the most charmingly situated villages in the N. of Scotland; Bishopmill, a small village, separated from Elgin by the Lossie, on which are several corn-mills; Kingston, near the mouth of the Spey, a large fishing village, and the chief ship-building station on the Moray Firth. There are many ancient seats and mansions belonging to landed proprietors, as Inner, Duffus, Gordonston, Grant Lodge, Milton, Brodie, Bromoriston, Palmercross, Inverugie, Newton, and Westerton, in the vicinity of Elgin; Sanquhar House, Invererne, Lea Park, Grange Hall, and Drumduan, in the vicinity of Forres; Elchies and Orton, on the Spey; Dalvey, Brodie, Moy, and Kincorth, on the Findhorn. The whole of the county is included within the synod of Moray, and is divided into 23 parishes, without Elgin, which is a collegiate charge, and head of a presbytery, as also is Forres. The Free Church, United Presbyterian Church, Episcopalians, Independents, Baptists, and Roman Catholics have congregations and chapels. The principal manufactures are whisky and ale brewing, which are extensively carried on at Elgin and Forres, and a factory for tartans and plaids at Elgin. There are also a foundry, tannery, ropewalks, and brick and tile works; the last being situated near the loch of Spynie. The chief exports consist of corn, timber, whisky, and salmon. The constituency in 1859 was 828, returning one member to parliament conjointly with Nairnshire. There are numerous indications of the occupation of this county by the Scandinavian tribes, but few traces of the Romans. The old church of Bernie, in which the early bishops of Moray lie buried, was built before 1224; it is believed to be the oldest ecclesiastical building in the county. Another venerable pile is the abbey of Pluscarden, near Elgin, founded in 1230 for Cistercian monks. It stands in a well-wooded glen, and is now in ruins. The abbey of Kinloss, near Forres, is now a complete ruin, only the foundations and some detached portions of the walls remaining. The ruins of the cathedral, of the Grey Friars, and of the bishop's palace, are all objects of interest, the first being considered one of the finest ruins in Scotland. Darnaway Castle is interesting from its associations with the Regent Randolph, who built the spacious hall, with its oak roof, and from having been the residence for a time of Queen Mary, who held her court here in 1564. There are many other ancient buildings, as Coxton Tower, Dallas and Duffus castles, &c., which will be found under the respective places where they are situated."

Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003