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Eddrachillis, Sutherland

Historical Description

EDDRACHILLIS, a parish, in the county of Sutherland, 15 miles (N. N. W.) from Assynt; including the islands of Handa and Scourie, and the late quoad sacra district of Keanlochbervie; and containing 1699 inhabitants. The Celtic name of this place, Eadar-da- chaolas, signifies "between two kyles or arms of the sea", and is descriptive of the situation of the main part of the parish between the kyle of Scow, which separates Eddrachillis from Assynt on the south, and the kyle of Laxford. The parish was anciently part of the barony of Skelbo, and was granted by Hugo Freskyn de Moravia, ancestor of the Duke of Sutherland, in the twelfth century, to his brother. Bishop Gilbert Moray, by whom, in 1235, it was transferred to a third brother, Richard Moray, of Culbyn. About the year 1440, it came to the family of Kinnaird of Kinnaird, by an heiress, Egidia Moray; and in 1515, Andrew Kinnaird disposed of it to John Mackay of Eddrachillis, son of Mackay of Strathnaver, the superiority remaining with the Earls of Sutherland. In 1829, it was restored to the Sutherland family by purchase. So early as 1550, another branch of the Mackays seized the territory of Scourie by displacing the Mc Leods, and located themselves here under the title of Mackays of Scourie. From this family sprang Lieutenant-General Hugh Mackay, the famous commander-in-chief in the time of William and Mary, eminent for his skill and bravery, and who fell in the year 1692, shortly after the siege of Namur, where he commanded the British division of the grand army.

The PARISH was formerly included in Durness, but was separated in 1726. Its extreme length from north to south is twenty-five miles, its mean breadth seven miles, and it contains an area of about 112,000 acres. It is situated in the angle of the county formed by the Atlantic and Northern Seas, and in its general features, like other Highland districts, is exceedingly wild, rugged, and mountainous, but in some parts highly romantic, and interesting to the tourist. The outline is altogether irregular, being indented by numerous fissures and arms of the sea, and the parish is naturally formed into three parts, namely, the Scourie division, between Loch Glendhu and Loch Laxford; Ceathramh-garbh, between Loch Laxford and Loch Inchard; and Ashare. The derivation of the first of these three names is unknown; the second signifies "a rough section of country", and the third "arable land". The principal mountains are, Beinne-Leothaid, Beinne-Stac, Beinne-Stroim, Arkle, and the south-west range of the Reay forest to the summit of Toinne-Beinne, Meal-Horn, Sabhal-mhoir, and Mille-Rinidh, with part of Beinne-Shith: several of these rise 3000 feet above the level of the sea. The Reay forest, or Diru-moir, claims particular notice, having always been reckoned one of the principal forests in Scotland. Considerable tracts of it had been allotted for sheep at the commencement of the present century, but upon the expiration of the leases, the proprietor restored the whole to its ancient character of a deer forest, and the extent of land set apart for this purpose is estimated at 60,000 acres, half in this parish and half in Durness. Thousands of red-deer roam in this territory, under the management of regularly appointed foresters. Almost every description of game visits the parish, and the black eagle occupies the highest rocks. The harbours are numerous and excellent, and are said to be capable of affording safe anchorage to the whole naval and mercantile shipping of Great Britain; those most celebrated are Lochs Laxford, Inchard, Badcall, Calva, Glendhu, and the Sound of Handa. Besides the island of Handa, there is a cluster of isles consisting of about twenty, lying between Eddrachillis and Assynt, which are uninhabited, but afford good pasturage for lambs and cattle. The most remarkable inland lakes are Loch Moir and Loch Stac, which are well stocked with different kinds of trout; the most considerable rivers are the Laxford and the Inchard, which, with numerous minor streams, discharge themselves into the Atlantic Ocean. The different districts of the parish are well supplied with water, principally from perennial springs.

Though the principal occupation, besides fishing, is the rearing and pasturing of sheep, yet some part of the laud is under tillage. The soil is generally a mixture of gravel and moss, considerably improved by the application of sea-weed for manure; the lands of Ashare are superior to the rest, and like the island of Handa consist of dark loam mixed with sand. The crops raised are potatoes, bear, and oats, the ground for which is prepared by the common garden spade and the Highland implement called the cas-chrom. On the large farms the sheep are the pure Cheviots; those of the smaller tenants are a cross between the Cheviot and the native black-faced: the cattle are of an inferior kind. The annual value of real property in the parish is £3027. The rocks comprise gneiss, hornblende, veins of granite, and quartz; limestone, also, is met with on the sides of some of the lochs. Handa is composed chiefly of the best sort of red sandstone; its rocks lie horizontally, and are considered by geologists as possessing an almost equal interest, though of another kind, with the celebrated basaltic columns in the island of Staffa.

The people are principally located on the sea-coast, in townships or hamlets, each family possessing a certain portion of land; and their occupation consists partly of tilling the ground and partly of fishing, the latter comprehending the herring, salmon, white, and lobster fisheries. Those who have commodious boats go for herrings to the Caithness coast, but large quantities are taken at home in the lochs, especially in Loch Glendhu. The salmon-fishing is good, and of the swarms of almost every description of white-fish on these shores very considerable numbers are taken; all kinds of shell-fish are abundant, and lobsters are conveyed from this place in smacks, by a London company, to the market at Billingsgate. Whales, porpoises, and seals likewise frequent the coast; but the first of these are never captured. The chief approach to the parish from the south is through a part of Assynt to the kyle of Scow, where is a ferry 380 yards broad. There is a post-office at Scourie, which communicates twice a week with the office at Golspie; and three inns have been erected at the expense of the Duke of Sutherland, by whose liberality and exertions the aspect of the district has been entirely changed. Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Tongue, synod of Sutherland and Caithness; patron, the Crown. The stipend is £158, of which £103 are paid by the exchequer; with a glebe valued at £'20 per annum, and a manse at Badcall, lately erected. Eddrachillis church is a plain edifice, built upwards of a century ago, and thoroughly repaired about twelve years since; it is a commodious edifice in very excellent condition, and contains 275 sittings. There is also a good church at Keanlochbervie, to which a quoad sacra district was annexed: it was erected in 1828-9, at the expense of government; contains 350 sittings, and is of sufficient height to be enlarged by galleries. The stipend of the minister at Keanlochbervie is £120, paid from the exchequer; and there is a manse, with a glebe of some acres. The members of the Free Church have two places of worship. There is a parochial school at Scourie; the master has the maximum salary, a house, and allowance for a garden. A school was erected and endowed for the Keanlochbervie district in 1845, and another is supported at Ashare by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge.

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