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Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire

Historical Description

BELHELVIE, a parish, in the district and county of Aberdeen, 8 miles (N. by E.) from Aberdeen; containing 1594 inhabitants. The name of this place is derived from a word in the Gaelic language, signifying the "mouths of the rivulets", the locality being marked by the course of several small streams into the sea. Here were several Druidical temples, which have now disappeared before the operations of husbandry. Numerous tumuli and barrows are still visible, in which urns are found, made of coarse clay, and filled with dust and human bones, pointing out this spot as the scene of some extensive military operations, the particulars of which are entirely unknown; and on the sea-shore is a bed of yellow flints, where a considerable number of arrow-heads have been found at different times. A large part of the parish, known as the estate of Belhelvie, once belonged to the Earl of Panmure, but being forfeited in 1715, it was purchased by the York Buildings' Company, and again sold, in lots, in 1782, before the court of session; since which time it has been brought into a very superior state of agricultural improvement.

The parish is bounded on the east by the German Ocean, and the number of acres within its limits is 19,000, of which 5000 were recovered not long since from moorland, and 5000 still consist of sea-beech, peatbog, and wood. About 4000 acres of the cultivated land are in grain crop, and 10,000 in turnip, potatoes, hay, pasture, grass, &c. The coast consists of a fine sandy beach; but the general character of the surface, from the sea to the western extremity, is hilly and broken. The first land from the coast is a narrow belt of sand, with short grass suited for pasture: this tract, on account of its smooth surface, was selected by the government engineers appointed to measure Scotland, as the most level ground to be met with, for laying down a base line of five miles and 100 feet. The next tract is an alluvial deposit, crowded with marine stones of all sizes, covered with mould and moss. After this, the ground rises towards the western boundary, until it attains an elevation of about 800 feet above the level of the sea. The hills whereof the parish consists are formed into two general ridges, from south to north, the termination of the western extremities of which is the highest land in the district.

The soil in the parts nearest the shore is sandy, and in some places mixed to a great extent with clay and stones; some parts are rich alluvial deposits, and the interior is a deep clayey mould, mixed sometimes with peat-moss: the subsoil is usually clay and sand, with a considerable admixture of stones. The wood, which generally stands in hedge-rows, has all been recently planted; it comprises chiefly elm, plane, ash, alder, and willow. The few sheep that are kept are the black-faced; and the cattle are mostly of the improved Aberdeenshire breed, which, being small-boned and fleshy, and easily fed up, are found most profitable: the cultivation of grain, however, is the main dependence of the farmer. Considerable improvements have taken place in husbandry of late years, in the reclaiming of waste land, in draining, and the formation of inclosures; the farmhouses are also on a much better scale than formerly. Most of the changes have been made upon the best principles, and by the united efforts of the people among themselves. The annual value of real property in the parish is £7317.

The rock consists of trap, a seam of which, about half a mile broad, runs for seven miles through the parish from south-east to north-west; a rivulet flows through this bed, and small hills frequently rise above the stream to a height of some hundreds of feet, among which are found all the ordinary kinds of minerals. On the south-west side of this layer, the rocks are chiefly granite; on the opposite side they consist of coarse stone, fit only for the construction of dykes. There are large beds of peatmoss, some of which, near the shore, are covered with ten or twelve feet of sea-sand. They are supposed to extend some distance under the sea, as large masses or blocks of hard peat-moss, with the remains of trees embedded, are frequently cast upon the beach in stormy weather: in the year 1799, a block containing upwards of 1700 cubic feet was thrown upon the shore, which, with the wood contained in it, had been perforated by several large auger worms alive in their holes. A salmon-fishery is carried on along the coast, in which stakenets are employed, and the profits arising from it are very considerable. Fairs are held for the sale of cattle, in spring, summer, and autumn.

Ecclesiastically the parish is subject to the presbytery and synod of Aberdeen, and is in the patronage of the Crown: the minister's stipend is £179. 13., and there is a good manse, with a glebe of five acres. The church, which is in due repair, contains 519 sittings. There are places of worship for the Free Church and United Presbyterian Synod. A parochial school is held on the usual footing, the master having a salary of £27, a house and garden, fees to the amount of about £40, and a portion of Dick's bequest: the classics and mathematics are taught, with all the ordinary branches of education. Another school is endowed with a few acres of land. There is a savings' bank, with a stock of about £300; and bequests have been left for the relief of the poor, amounting to about £20 per annum. The antiquities are, some tumuli, and the ruins of an old chapel. There are several chalybeate springs, but none of them of particular note.

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


Online maps of Belhelvie are available from a number of sites:

Postal districtAB23
Post TownAberdeen