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Barvas, Ross and Cromarty

Historical Description

BARVAS, a parish, in the island of Lewis, county of Ross and Cromarty, 10 miles (N. W. by N.) from Stornoway; containing, with the former quoad sacra district of Cross, 3850 inhabitants. The name of this place, like many other names in the neighbourhood, is supposed to be of Norwegian derivation; but its signification is altogether unknown. From the memorials which still remain, the Danes appear to have had some connexion with the district. A fort, now in ruins, evidently of Danish construction, stands on the border of a loch south of Bragar, and three buildings of the same description are to be seen between Shadir and Borve, each of them, by its peculiar form, locality, and appendages, indicating the scene of the military operations of that people. On a plain of moss between Barvas and Shadir stands an immense stone, eighteen feet high, and almost as much in girth, supposed to have been raised as a triumphal memorial of the slaughter of some cruel and reckless tyrant of the Danish nation. The ruins of several old chapels and burying-grounds also remain in the parish, shewing the subsequent occupation of the soil by religious teachers. The chapels were dedicated to St. Bridget in Borve, St. Peter in Lower Shadir, St. Mary in Barvas, and St. John in Bragar.

The PARISH, which is remotely situated, in the northern extremity of the island of Lewis, is about twenty-two miles long and seven broad, containing 16,103 acres, of which number 1468 are in tillage, 489 the best kind of pasture, and 14,146 pasture of an inferior kind. It is bounded on the north-west by the Atlantic Ocean. The coast, which comprises a length of about fourteen miles, is rugged, in many parts bold and rocky, and is beaten by a violent surf when the wind blows from the west or north-west. The surface of the interior is diversified by gentle elevations, except in one or two instances, where it is broken by a deep glen traversed by rivulets, or occupied by a sweeping moor the resort of red mountain deer. There are five rivers, the Glen, the Borve, the Shadir, the Arnal, and the Torra, which rise from springs or lochs, generally six or seven miles up the country, and empty themselves into the ocean. The climate is surcharged with vapour and fog, and subject to violent storms and rains; the striking phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis is frequently seen, in all its splendour and majesty. The soil of the cultivated land, which chiefly lies along the sea-shore, is black earth, often largely mixed with gravel or sand; but as the main part of the parish is moor, the soil is mostly mossy. The arable portion is overspread with quantities of stones, and the exposure of the land to winds from the sea, without hill or mountain to protect behind, presents a formidable impediment to the labour of the farmer, and sometimes destroys his crops altogether. The rental is small. No produce is exported, the whole being required for home consumption; and but few improvements have been made in agriculture, the backwardness arising chiefly from the shortness of the leases, and the poverty of the people, who in seasons of scarcity are compelled to live upon whelks, periwinkles, limpets, and crabs, the only shell-fish to be found. About 2500 head of black-cattle are reared, which are fed in winter chiefly on sea-weed. The sheep amount to upwards of 7000, and are all of small stature, as also are the horses, which, however, are compact, active, and mettlesome, and well suited to their ordinary work of carrying the sea-weed in double-baskets, over difficult and rocky grounds. The subsoil is a stiff hard clay, which in some parts is covered with large banks of sand, twenty feet high, driven inward from the shore by the continued action of westerly winds. The annual value of real property in the parish is £1942.

The inhabitants live in numerous villages on the coast, almost entirely in an isolated state, having very little communication with others. There are two roads, one running along the coast, and another to Stornoway, the only mart in the island. The parish contains four small bays, into which boats sometimes enter; but the violence of the wind prevents the anchorage of any vessel. Salmon-fishing has been carried on for some years, with considerable success, near the mouths of the rivers; but the nature of the coast rendering other fishing impracticable, the people are generally little inclined to make the employment a steady pursuit. For ecclesiastical purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Lewis, synod of Glenelg, and in the patronage of the Crown: the minister has a stipend of £158. 6. 8., partly paid from the exchequer; with a manse, and a glebe worth about £20 per annum. The church, built about sixty years since, is a long narrow building, and contains 300 sittings. There is a parochial school, in which the classics and the common branches of education are taught; the master has a salary of £28. Two other schools are supported by the Edinburgh Gaelic School Society. The parish contains several chalybeate springs, but none of them of any note.

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