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Auldearn, Nairnshire

Historical Description

AULDEARN, a parish, in the county of NAIRN, 2¾ miles (E. S. E.) from Nairn; containing 1466 inhabitants, of whom 351 are in the village. This place is said by some to have derived its name, in the Gaelic supposed by them to be Alt-Ern, from a brook which flows through it into the river Nairn, and the banks of which are thickly planted with alder-trees. Shaw, in his History of Moray, deduces the name of Auldearn from words signifying "the iron-coloured brook"; whilst common tradition derives it from Auld Nairn, supposing the place to have been the original Nairn, and much more ancient than the present burgh of that name. Auldearn was the head of the deanery of Moray; and up to a comparatively recent period, Nairn was only a vicarage belonging to the deans. The parish was of much greater extent till the year 1650, when parts of it were annexed to the parishes of Nairn, Cawdor, and Ardclach. In 1645, a sanguinary battle took place near the village, between the forces under the Marquess of Montrose, and a detachment of the army of the Covenanters, commanded by Hurry, and consisting of about 4000 men, when the former, after an obstinate conflict, obtained a decisive victory. About 800 of the Covenanters fell, and a considerable number of the forces of the marquess; the slain on both sides were interred in a field to the south-west of the village, and the spot, which has been since planted, is surrounded with a moat. The parish is bounded on the north by the Moray Firth, here about seven miles broad, along the coast of which it extends for four miles. It is six miles and a half in length from north to south, and about five miles in breadth from east to west, comprising 13,680 acres, of which 4778 are arable, 5111 meadow and pasture, 3603 woodland and plantations, and 198 acres under water. The surface for nearly three miles from the shore, though varying in elevation, is low; it thence rises to a considerable height for nearly two miles, where it is intersected by the valley of the Muckle brook, beyond which it attains a more abrupt and precipitous elevation. About half a mile from the shore, to the west, is an island of sand called the Bar, which is formed at high water, and is constantly changing its position westward; and opposite to it are two hills of sand, about 100 feet in height, which are continually changing their position towards the east, without any apparent alteration in their form.

In the south-eastern part of the parish the soil is luxuriantly rich; in the south-western, of very inferior quality; and in the north-east and north-west, a heavy cold loam. There are two lakes of considerable extent, one of which, called Loch Lithy, covers an area of forty acres, and produces abundance of rich marl; the other, Loch Loy, in the northern part of the parish, is about a mile in length and a quarter of a mile broad. There is also a large tract of moss called the Moss of Inshoch, in which vast quantities of roots, and sometimes entire fir-trees, are found embedded. The crops are grain of all kinds, potatoes, and turnips: the system of agriculture has been much improved; waste land has been drained and brought into profitable cultivation, and much of the inferior soil been rendered more fertile by the use of marl, lime, and bone-dust manure. The cattle are of the Highland breed, and the sheep of the white-faced kind. The annual value of real property in the parish is £6148. The plantations are chiefly Scotch fir, larch, oak, beech, elm, and ash, of which three last there are some fine specimens at Boath and Lethen; and to the east of Inshoch is a thriving plantation of birch. The substratum is principally sandstone, some of which is of excellent quality; and from a quarry on the lands of Brodie, was raised the stone for the towers of the suspension bridge over the river Findhorn near Forres. Near Boath is found a black stone which, on the application of fire, emits a flame; and at Clune, on the lands of James C. Brodie, Esq., of Lethen, are nodules of limestone, in which are fossils of various kinds of fishes.

The prevailing scenery is of pleasing character, embellished with plantations; and the views obtained from the higher grounds are extensive and richly diversified, commanding the wide expanse of the Firth, the rocky coasts and lofty mountains of Ross in combination with those of Sutherland, and numerous other deeply interesting features. Lethen, the seat of Mr. Brodie, is a spacious and handsome mansion, finely situated in the valley of the Muckle burn, and consisting of a centre and two wings, erected about the commencement of the last century; the grounds are tastefully laid out, and the house is embosomed in a plantation of venerable beech-trees, on the summit of a thickly-wooded acclivity rising from the stream. Boath, the seat of Sir Frederick William Dunbar, Bart., is an elegant mansion of freestone, erected in 1830, and beautifully situated in the valley of the Auldearn, near the junction of the two branches of that stream. The village is neatly built, and is inhabited chiefly by persons engaged in agriculture. Fairs are held annually, for cattle and horses on the first Wednesday after the 19th of June, and for agricultural produce on the first Tuesday after the Inverness fair at Martinmas; the first of these is called St. Colin's market, and the other St. John's, following which are two fairs held respectively a fortnight and a month after. The turnpike-road from Elgin to Inverness passes for four miles through the parish; and further facility of communication is afforded by good roads and bridges in almost every direction.

Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Nairn and synod of Moray: the minister's stipend is £241. 5. 4., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £12 per annum; patron, Mr. Brodie of Brodie. The church, built in 1751, and improved in 1816, is a neat structure, situated close to the village, and contains 635 sittings. There are places of worship for Free Church and United Presbyterian congregations. The parochial school affords instruction to about 130 scholars; the master has a salary of £36. 7. 2., including an allowance for a garden, and the fees average £10 per annum. On the higher grounds in the parish are some Druidical remains, of which the most perfect, near the old castle of Moyness, consists of two concentric circles, with a slightly-rocking stone weighing about four tons; and on a small eminence designated the Black Hillock has been found a kistvaen, containing a human skeleton and several urns filled with ashes. Upon a farm called Knock-na-Gillan, the Cummings -of Rait once seized thirteen of the clan of Mackintosh who were passing through the parish, and put twelve of them to death; and some time after, these hostile clans meeting at the castle of Rait, in the parish of Nairn, the Mackintoshes in retaliation put the whole clan of the Cummings to the sword, and burnt their castle. About a mile to the north of the church are the ruins of the ancient castle of Inshoch, the seat of the Hays of Loch Loy; and a mile to the east of it were till lately the remains of the house of Penick, the residence of the deans of Moray.

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