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Assynt, Sutherland

Historical Description

ASSYNT, a parish, in the county of SUTHERLAND, 30 miles (N. W. by W.) from Dornoch; containing, with the former quoad sacra district of Stoer, and the village of Lochinver, 3178 inhabitants. This place is supposed to take its name from its irregular boundary line, the Gaelic term, as agus innte, signifying "out and in". It was once a forest of the ancient Thanes of Sutherland, one of whom gave it in vassalage to Mac-Kry-Cul, who held that part of the coast of Coigach afterwards called the village of Ullapool, as a reward for his having recovered a great number of cattle that had been carried off from the county of Sutherland by the Scandinavians, who had also burnt the great fir forests on this and the neighbouring coast. Mac-Kry-Cul's family being reduced by the disasters of war to one heir female, she was given in marriage to a younger son of McLeod, laird of Lewis, with the consent of the Thane of Sutherland, who made this parish over to the newly-married couple, with its superiority. After this event, there were fourteen successive lairds of the name of McLeod. About 1660, the parish and its superiority became the property of the Earl of Seaforth, from whom it passed to a younger son of his family, whose successors possessed it for three or four generations; and it was afterwards purchased by Lady Strathnaver, who presented it to her grandson, William, Earl of Sutherland, from whom it has descended to the present Duke of Sutherland.

The extreme length of the parish is about thirty-six miles, and its greatest breadth eighteen; containing an area of 97,000 acres. It is situated in the north-west part of the county, and divided on the north from the parish of Eddrachillis, in the Reay country, by an arm of the sea called the Kyle: on the west it is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean. The coast, which is about thirty miles in extent, is bold, rocky, and dangerous, and has several extensive and interesting caves; but in some places there is a fine sandy bottom, with safe landing. Attached to the parish are numerous islands, some of which are merely bare rocks affording neither pasture nor shelter: the most considerable is Oldney, which is about a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide, and is used for the pasturage of sheep; the other islands are Crona, Soya, and Klett. The appearance of the district is altogether wild and mountainous, and its scenery romantic; the most remarkable heights are Benmore, Cuniack, Suilvhen, and Cannish, of which Benmore, the highest mountain, rises about 3230 feet above the level of the sea. The hills, also, are very numerous, and most of them abound with springs of excellent water. There are several fine lakes, among which that of Assynt is pre-eminent: it is seven miles and a half long, and about a mile broad, with banks in most places covered with brushwood; it abounds in trout, and is distinguished for its striking and singularly picturesque scenery.

The principal part of the parish is employed in sheep-farming, to which much attention is paid. The larger number of the population dwell along the shores, and avail themselves of the advantages offered for fishing, from which, together with their small allotments of land, they draw their subsistence. Game is plentiful. There is some sandstone rock, but limestone is the prevailing formation, of which an immense ridge on the Strouchrubie farm extends about a mile and a half, overhanging the public road, being mantled in many places with ivy, and forming a covert for birds of prey. The annual value of real property in the parish is £1212. The village of Lochinver has several good houses and shops, and near it is a manufactory for preserving butcher's meat, fish, and vegetables, fresh, for the purpose of being carried out to sea; there is a post-office here, and another near the church. Excellent roads have been formed, to the extent of forty miles, as well as numerous roads for local use. At Lochinver is a small harbour with a pier, and several creeks afford shelter and anchorage. There are two small fisheries let at a moderate rent, and one or two vessels belong to Assynt, besides which, several come in the herring season to fish on the coasts, and a few to take away the disposable produce of the parish, which consists chiefly of wool. An annual cattle-fair has been established at Inchnadaff.

Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Dornoch and synod of Sutherland and Caithness; the Duke of Sutherland is patron, and the stipend of the minister is £158. 6. 8., with a glebe worth about £36 per annum, and a manse. The church, a small building seating about 280 persons, is inconveniently situated nine miles from the southern boundary of the parish, the great bulk of the population residing at distances of from twelve to eighteen miles; it was built about sixty or seventy years since, and has been extensively repaired. There are two preaching stations, one at Lochinver, fourteen miles from the church, and the other at Kyle side, nearly the same distance, the services of which are performed by the parochial minister. At Stoer is a government church, built in 1829. A place of worship has been erected in the parish in connexion with the Free Church. Here is a parochial school, the master of which receives a salary of £34; and several other schools are supported by general societies for promoting education. Among the antiquities are, Ardvrack Castle, built by the Mc Leods about the year 1590, and now in ruins; Calda House, erected by the Mc Kenzies; and a large Druidical temple.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis