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Deskford, Banffshire

Historical Description

DESKFORD, a parish, in the county of Banff, 4 miles (S. by E.) from Cullen, on the road to Keith; containing 860 inhabitants. This parish derives its name, signifying a cold place to the south, from the comparative temperature of its climate, and its situation with respect to Cullen. It is rather more than five miles in length, and about three miles in its average breadth, comprising a quadrilateral area of 8500 acres, of which 2800 are arable land in good cultivation, 4850 waste or partly in pasture, and 850 woodland. The surface is hilly, and between the high grounds is a beautiful valley watered by a stream called the burn of Deskford, which rises in the adjoining parish of Grange, and receives in its course many tributary streams, descending from the heights on both sides. In the valley and lower lands the soil is a rich black loam, and in an improved state of cultivation. The high land on the east side of the valley is called the Green Hill, and in several places is planted with larch and common fir; that on the west side is chiefly covered with heath, with the exception of a small portion that is cultivated. Considerable improvement has been made in draining, and there is a quarry of excellent limestone, extensively worked both for building and for agricultural purposes. A large tract of moss supplies the inhabitants with peat and turf, which are also sent to Cullen and several villages on the coast. The substratum of the parish is mostly mica-slate, in which fragments of quartz are frequently found, and, beneath the surface of the higher grounds, gravel, or clay and gravel mixed. The principal manure is lime; but bone-manure is also used with considerable benefit, and in the upper part of the parish fish manure is applied. The annual value of real property in the parish is £2154.

The scenery, especially in the valley, is pleasing and picturesque. The burn affords much variety in its progress through the parish; and the numerous streams that fall into it from the high grounds on both sides, issue from narrow glens whose sides are fringed with wood, and in their descent form cascades of singular beauty. Of these the most interesting is one called the Linn; the stream rushes with great impetuosity from a deep cleft in the rock, which it has worn into fanciful cavities, and after repeated obstructions precipitates itself from a height of thirty feet. A tract of hilly and moorish ground, called the Cotton Hill, comprising about 250 acres, has within the last few years been inclosed for plantations: the drains made for preparing the ground for the purpose, extend nineteen miles, and the dykes for its inclosure nearly six miles. The woodlands of the parish now comprise 850 acres. There was formerly a bleachfield, and during the prevalence of the linen manufacture the female population were engaged in spinning; since the discontinuance of that trade the bleachfield has been converted into arable land, and there are now only two meal-mills (to one of which is attached a kiln) and a barley-mill. The most important improvement that has lately taken place is the construction of a line of turnpike-road through the parish, opening a communication between Keith and Cullen, and which, from the formation of a harbour at the latter town, affords a facility of forwarding the agricultural produce. Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Fordyce, synod of Aberdeen, and in the patronage of the Earl of Seafield; the minister's stipend is about £193, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £8 per annum. Deskford church, built before the Reformation, is in good repair, and capable of receiving a congregation of 357 persons. The members of the Free Church have a place of worship. The parochial school affords instruction to about forty boys; the master's salary is £32, with £2 in lieu of a garden, £12 fees, and about £30 from the bequest of Mr. Dick. There is the interest of a sum of money, amounting to £10. 12. a year, distributed among the poor.

On the borders of a farm called Liechestown there was found within the last twenty or thirty years, at the depth of six feet, in a mossy piece of ground, the head of a swine in brass, of the ordinary size, with a tongue of wood moveable by means of springs: it is now in the museum of the Banff Institution. Upon an adjoining farm, called Inalterie, supposed to signify the place of "the altar", are the remains of an ancient massive building, in one part of which is a deep circular hole of the size of a well, inclosed with a stone wall rising to a considerable height. The origin and purpose of the building are equally obscure. Close to it is a vault, on exploring which a staircase was found leading down to the interior; but the search was interrupted by continued heavy rains, and has not been resumed. It is supposed to be the remains of some baronial castle or ecclesiastical building. In the immediate vicinity was formerly an artificial mount of stones, called the Law Hillock, thought to have been a place for administering justice, for which it was well adapted; but it has been removed for the purpose of employing the materials in building. On the other side of the burn of Deskford, and within view of the former, is another mount, rising to an elevation of twenty feet, and sloping gradually on the sides. It is level on the summit, which is of elliptical form; and is surrounded at the base by a ditch, part of which forms the bed of a stream called the Ha' burn. This mount is termed the Ha' Hillock, and is supposed to have been also an ancient tribunal. Adjoining the church are the ruins of a tower formerly belonging to a castle, the residence of the chief proprietor of the parish. It is said that there was originally a communication from this tower to the church, the walls of which are contiguous: and the latter is thought to have been originally the domestic chapel of the castle. The tower formed a very conspicuous object, rising considerably above the roof of the church; but being in a very ruinous state, it was taken down some years since, from an apprehension of danger. Close to the church is St. John's well, supplied by a spring that appears to issue from beneath the church, which was originally dedicated to St. John; and near it is a small fragment of a very stately tree dedicated to the same patron.

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