Ross and Cromarty - History and Description, 1868


"ROSS AND CROMARTY, a county of Scotland. These are actually two seaside and highland counties in the N. of Scotland, but are so intimately blended as to require to be described geographically as one shire. They comprise a large tract of mountainous country, extending westward from the Moray Firth to the Atlantic Ocean, and southward from Sutherlandshire to the Beauley Firth and Inverness-shire, lying between 57° 7' 4" and 58° 7' 20" N. lat., and 3° 45' 30" and 5° 46' 20" W. long. The former county comprises the districts of Easter and Wester Ross, Ardmeanach, or the Black Isle, and the Highland districts of Ardross, Applecross, Fearndonald, Greinord, and the island of Lewis, one of the Western Isles (which see); while the latter county comprehends that part of the peninsula called the Black Isle, stretching between the Firths of Moray and Cromarty, together with ten detached portions on the eastern and north-western sides of Ross-shire, by which they are embosomed. In the earliest times of which we have any record this county was occupied by the British tribes Creones and Cantæ, and subsequently formed part of the Roman province Vespasiang. In later times it was held by the thane Macbeth, who had his chief stronghold at Calder, or Cawdor, Castle, and was an earldom under the Macdonalds till the reign of James III. It subsequently passed to the Mackenzies of Kintail, for one of which family the demesne of Cromarty was made a separate shire and earldom. The united counties are bounded on the N. by the river Oikel and the county of Sutherland, and on the E. by the Moray Firth and the North Sea, on the S. and S.W. by the county of Inverness, and on the W. by the Minch channel dividing the mainland from the Western Isles. Their area is generally estimated at 3,157 square miles, or 2,046,375 acres, but, according to Sir George S. Mackenzie, the whole district, including Ferrintoch, which belongs to Nairnshire, comprises 8,799 square miles, or 2,431,359 acres, of which 359,893 acres are in the Hebrides, 220,586 acres belong to Cromartyshire, 5,973 to Nairnshire, and 3,445 square miles, or 2,204,800 acres, form Ross-shire. The extreme length of the united counties from N. to S. is 69 miles, and their greatest breadth 67, exclusive of the Hebridean part, comprising Lewis, Rona, and Barra islands, which are described under their respective heads. The whole circuit is 255 miles, of which 55 are along the eastern coast, and 85 along the western coast. The lowland district, in the E., is in general rich and productive, comprising a champaign country of great natural fertility and beauty. It is screened by the Highland ridges of Wester Ross on the W., and indented by the Firths of Dornoch, Cromarty, and Beauley on the E., with the Gulf of Moray expanding into the North Sea. The principal points along the eastern coast are Meikleferry, in Dornoch Firth, known to Roman geographers as Abona AEstuarium, Tain and Shandwick harbours, Tarbetness Point, called by the ancients Aræ Finium, with a lighthouse, the Sutor rocks, near the entrance into Cromarty Firth, and Fortrose, in the Moray Firth, called by the ancients Varar AEstuarium, and which is skirted by cliffs 300 feet high. The Highland districts to the W. and N. comprise the greater part of Ardmeanach, or the Black Isle, much of which is occupied by the broad and cheerless table-land of Mullbuy and Wester Ross, with the peaks of Ben-Wyvis, variously estimated at from 3,426 to 3,722 feet, towering above the other hills, which are grouped in Cyclopæan masses on a basis averaging about 1,500 feet above sea-level. This region is cleft in all directions by glens, gorges, and the beds of rapid mountain streams, which scarcely partake of the character of valleys; but that portion of Wester Ross which lies on the N. side of the Conon and Orren is comparatively level, comprehending the low country between Contin and the burn of Clyne. The western coast line is rugged, and indented by a continuous series of sea-lochs, the principal of which are lochs Enard, Broom, Little Broom, Greinord, Ewe, Gair, Torridon, with its branches Ardheslag and Shieldag, Carron and Alsh, with its sub-lochs Duich and Ling. The fresh-water lakes are Maree, Tannich, Skinaskink, Valtie, Lurgan, Na-Shallag, Fuir, Monar, Luichart, Glass, and Moir, besides numerous minor lakes, all abounding in trout, and many of them frequented by wild fowl. The chief points along the western coast are the Kyle ferry to Skye, outside Loch Alsh; Applecross Bay; Ewe Loch, from which is a passage of only 45 miles to Stornoway, in Lewis; and the promontories, named Ru Rea, Ru Carnderg, and Ru More. There are numerous small islands off almost every point of the coast, and in several of the sea-lochs. The chief streams flowing eastward are the Carron and Oikell, to the head of the Dornoch Firth; and the Alness, Aultgrand, Balnagowan, and Conan, to the Cromarty Firth; and the chief flowing westward are the Broom, Carron, and Ewe, to the head of the lochs of the same name; and the Shiel to the head of Loch Duich: all these streams abound in salmon and trout, and are much frequented by anglers. On the Raney river are several waterfalls, and in the bed of the Conon pearls have been found. The geological formation of the land on both coasts belongs to the Old Red sandstone, which is the substratum for 3 to 15 miles inland, and often rises into ridges no less than 3,000 feet above the sea-level; but the Highland district of the interior is composed of igneous rocks, chiefly granite and granitic gneiss, which prevail in the Black Isle; gneiss in the central district, from Ben Wyvis, on the E., to the Sutherland border; and mica-slate in the rugged district of Gairloch; some patches of quartz rock also occur near the Sutherland border, and granular limestone in the vicinity of Loch Reeshorn. In the Sutors of Cromarty, which consist chiefly of lias intermixed with sandstone and granite, Hugh Miller discovered the Pterichthys, or winged fish, the Osteolepis, and other rare fossils. Among the principal minerals are ironstone, which abounds in the W., and was formerly worked; copper in the primary limestone near Keeshorn; traces of lead-ore near Loch Moree; and pure bitumen in the shales of Strathpeffer. The soil of the greater part of the lowlands, comprising Easter Ross, Fearndonald, and part of Wester Ross, is a stiff clay, alternating with a sharp gravelly loam, and interspersed with considerable tracts of moorish land, part of which has recently been reclaimed. In the Black Isle much of the land is a poor loam, but in other parts a good black sandy mould, yielding fair crops of wheat, barley, oats, and potatoes. The soil of the uplands in the Highland district, and part of Wester Ross, is for the most part peaty or moorish, alternating with barren rock and sandy mould in the intersecting glens. The climate is moist and changeable, especially in the western districts, where the rainfall is much above the average; but the temperature is more genial than on the eastern coast, neither being as hot in summer, nor as cold in winter, as in the lowlands. The spring is backward, and the heat in July and August often oppressive, exceeding the highest temperature experienced in the S. of England. The prevailing winds blow from the W. and S.W., and occasionally in winter from the N.W. or the N.E., when they frequently bring heavy snowstorms. The whole of the surface appears originally to have been covered by the great Caledonian forest, of which some copses of oak, birch, and Scotch firs still remain, but was almost entirely disafforested in the Middle Ages, to the great detriment of the country. The present woods have been mostly planted since the early part of the last century. The total extent of wood reported in the two counties of Ross and Cromarty in the agricultural returns for 1855 was 26,675 imperial acres. The wild deer, eagle, and hawk, are still to be seen in the mountains, and the fox, badger, and game of all kinds are abundant. Peat is used for fuel, both coals and wood being scarce and dear. The valued rental, according to the old Scotch valuation of 1674, was £75,043, but the real rental under the new valuation Act was, in 1860-1, £180,177. The estates are in general large, but the farms in the lowlands small. The landed property of Ross-shire was distributed in 1854 amongst 69 proprietors, and the total number of proprietors of all kinds on the rolls was 1,117 in Ross-shire and 7 in Cromarty. In the champaign country to the E. the farms are surrounded with gardens and hedgerows, and have good out-buildings and cottages attached; but the people in the Highland districts are still very poor, and much of the land waste. So great have been agricultural improvements in the lowlands since the commencement of the present century that Easter Ross may contrast favourably with any other agricultural district of Great Britain. The estimated gross produce of the chief crops was, in 1855, 233,018 bushels of wheat, 204,417 of barley, 493,042 of oats, 6,167 of bere, 21,834 of beans and peas, and 163,834 tons of turnips, and 20,876 tons of potatoes. A little barley, oats, and potatoes are grown in the more sheltered spots in the Highlands, but the greater portion of the surface is devoted to sheep farming, and the great farmers of the W. keep considerable numbers of black cattle on such parts of their farms as are not well adapted for sheep. The Highland and Ayrshire cattle are the favourite breeds, and improved varieties of horses and pigs are kept. The salmon and herring fisheries on the E. coast are productive, but the fisheries of the W. have recently declined. The only manufactures of any importance are the woollen and hemp, which employ about 600 hands. The principal exports are black cattle, sheep, wool, grain, and fish; and the imports coal, lime, and general merchandise. A small number of vessels are engaged in the coasting trade, and steam-vessels regularly visit the bays and sealochs. The Inverness and Perth and Inverness and Aberdeen Junction railway has recently been continued from Inverness by way of Beauley and Dingwall to Tain, and so by Meikle Ferry to Bonar Bridge. The roads, which have recently been much improved and extended, traverse the county in various directions. The chief are the Edinburgh road, which enters the county from Inverness, and continues northward, through the Black Isle and Easter Ross, to Cromarty; another line also leads northward through Wester Ross, Fearndonald, and part of Easter Ross, by way of Dingwall and Alness, to the Dornoch Firth, and so into Sutherlandshire; while several other lines cross the county from E. to W., following the river valleys and straths. The only towns in Ross and Cromarty having a population above 1,700 are Dingwall, Cromarty, Fortrose, Tain, and Stornoway, the first four being market towns. Dingwall is the capital and election town of both shires, and a royal burgh. Cromarty is the county town of the shire to which it gives name, and was formerly a royal burgh, but resigned its charter, and is now only a municipal burgh. Tain, Fortrose, and Rosemarkie are royal burghs, but the two last are united to form one municipal burgh Stornoway is a burgh of barony. The other towns and principal villages are Invergordon, Alness, Inver, Bridgend, Barbaraville, Balintore, Drummond, Milntown, Saltburn, Jamima, Portleigh, Shandwick, Hilltown, Portmahomack, Rockfield, Balnabruach, Cononbridge, Evantown, Avoch, Charlestown, Auchterneid, Keithtown, Contin, Maryburgh, Munlochy, Jamestown, Jeantown, Redcastle, Poolewe, Plockton, Doride, Bundalloch, Shieldag, and Ullapool. The two counties return one member to parliament, the constituency in 1861 being 821 for Ross-shire, and 41 for Cromartyshire; and the population of the joint counties, in 1851, 82,707, which had decreased in 1861 to 82,301, comprising 17,230 separate families, the people being mostly Gaelic speaking. Cromarty, Dingwall, and Tain contribute to Wick, in the county of Caithness, in returning one member to parliament, and Fortrose contributes to Inverness. The two counties are governed by one sheriff, but have each their lord-lieutenant and deputy-lieutenant, assisted by 25 deputy-lieutenants in five subdivisions for the two counties. The sheriff, ordinary, and small-debt and commissary courts are held for Ross-shire at Dingwall, Tain, and Stornoway every Tuesday and Friday during session, and for Cromartyshire, at Cromarty, on the first Thursday of each month during session, but the quarter sessions and commissary court only meet when specially called; small-debt courts are held at Fortrose, Invergordon, Jeantown, and Kincardine. For ecclesiastical purposes Ross and Cromarty shires comprise the three presbyteries of Chanonry, Dingwall, and Tain, which constitute the synod of Ross, and the two presbyteries of Lochcarron and Lewis, which belong to the synod of Glenelg. The ancient diocese of Ross in the Scotch Episcopalian Church is now united to Moray. There are 27 parishes, besides parts of two others on the mainland, and 4 parishes in the island of Lewis; but the number of places of worship belonging to the Established Church in 1851 was 35. There were also 43 Free churches, 2 United Presbyterian, 5 Episcopalian, 1 Independent, 1 Baptist, and 1 Roman Catholic. There is the Easter Ross Union poorhouse for 9 parishes, with accommodation for 175 paupers, and the Black Isle poorhouse for 7 parishes. The only noblemen's seats are Applecross, of Viscount Dunblane, and Loch-Luichart Lodge, of Lord Ashburton; but there are numerous mansions belonging to the landed gentry. This county gives title to a herald in the Lord Lyon's court. The most interesting antiquities are the cathedral at Fortrose, St. Duthac's old church, Lochlin castle and abbey-, Mulvoy church, in the Isle of Lewis, and the castles of Dingwall, Craighouse, Invergordon, Donan, Kinkell, and Strome, also Druidical stones or altars at Fearn, Kincardine, and Loch-Royg, Danish pillars, and vitrified forts on the E. coast, besides cairns, duns, and Picts' houses, scattered through various parts of the county."

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