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Gairloch, Ross and Cromarty

Historical Description

GAIRLOCH, a parish, in the county of Ross and Cromarty, 60 miles (W. by N.) from Dingwall; including the islands of Horisdale and Longo, the former quoad sacra district of Poolewe, and part of that of Shieldag; and containing 4880 inhabitants. This place takes its name from a salt-water lake called Gairloch, from the Gaelic word gearr, signifying "short". It is not remarkable for any important historical events; but some antiquities in the parish indicate the settlement and military operations of the Danes, and the celebrated Loch Maree has an island in its centre, the tombstones and hieroglyphical figures on which support the current tradition that it was the sepulchre of Danish kings. The parish is forty miles long, and thirty miles broad, at its extreme points. It is bounded on the north by the river Gruinard, which separates it from Lochbroom parish; on the south by an arm of the sea; by a chain of hills on the east; and on the west by the Minch, which divides Lewis from the main land. The general aspect of the surface is hilly; and in some parts the elevations are of unusual height, forming grand and romantic scenery. The beautiful inland water of Loch Maree, eighteen miles long, with its thickly-wooded islands twenty-four in number, is one of the most striking features in the parish, and has long been the admiration of the traveller, not only for its own attractions, but also on account of the imposing mountain scenery by which it is encompassed. A lofty range, commencing on each side of it, runs to a distance of four miles beyond its extremity, presenting in the group the majestic Slioch, or Sliabhach, towering 3000 feet above the level of the sea. The loch is of the average breadth of one mile and a half; it is about sixty fathoms deep, and was never known to freeze. Among its islands is that of Maree, where St. Maree, one of St. Columba's followers, dwelt, and where is a consecrated well, with a burying-ground supposed by some to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and by others, as already stated, to have been the sepulchre of Danish kings. The only river of note is the Ewe, which issues from Loch Maree, and after running a mile north-westward, joins the estuary called Loch Ewe; it abounds with salmon of the finest quality, and during the season its fame draws the lovers of angling from all quarters. There are two salt-water lochs, Gairloch and Loch Ewe, the latter nine or ten miles long. The climate of the parish, though mild, is very rainy, occasioned partly by the prevalence of south-west winds, and partly by the mountainous character of the country.

Arable land lets only at from 10s. to £1 per acre, and there is much room for agricultural improvement: the more respectable families have large sheep-farms, but the lots of ground of the poorer inhabitants do not generally exceed one or two acres. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4810. Towards the sea-coast is a belt of red sandstone of the old formation, forming low barren headlands. To this there succeeds, at the head of Loch Gairloch, micaceous schist; and five miles farther eastward the sandstone again appears, in mountain ridges and eminences, some of them 3000 feet high, characterised by a rude grandeur seldom equalled. At the head of Loch Maree, quartz succeeds the sandstone; and on the estate of Letterewe, a century and a half ago, some veins of iron- ore were wrought for several years; but the wood in the neighbourhood, used for fuel, failing, the adventurers were compelled to give up the work. The ruins of two of the furnaces employed in the operations are still to be seen. A cattle-market is held in July, and cattle are also sent to Beauly; herrings and cod are forwarded to Glasgow, wool to Liverpool and Inverness, and salmon to London. In this parish the houses, generally speaking, are of the humblest description; and the people are employed about equally between agriculture and fishing: they mostly dwell in irregular hamlets, or clusters of cottages; and some of them manufacture a stout woollen-cloth and coarse stockings, but chiefly for domestic wear, a small quantity only of either being sent to market. The mail from Dingwall to Stornoway runs through the parish twice a week, but the roads are in bad condition: indeed, with the exception of ten miles of road in the centre of the parish, and ten miles leading to the eastern extremity of Loch Maree, they are little more than footpaths. There are four vessels belonging to the several ports, of about thirty-five tons' burthen each. Flowerdale, an old chateau in a vale of great beauty, is a seat of Sir Francis Mackenzie's; around it are some large forest-trees.

Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Lochcarron, synod of Glenelg; and the patronage is vested in the Crown. The stipend of the minister is £217, with a manse, erected in 1805 and enlarged in 1823, and a glebe valued at £15 per annum. Gairloch church, built in 1791, and repaired in 1834, accommodates 385 persons with sittings. There is a parochial school, in which English and Gaelic, Greek, Latin, and mathematics are taught, with the usual branches of education; the master's salary is £30, with a house, and about £4 fees. Another school is supported by a society. The ordinary language spoken is Gaelic; and William Ross, a respectable poet, who was born in the parish, and died here about half a century since, wrote in this tongue. The foundations of one or two small forts can be traced near the sea-shore; and at Cairnfield are those of a large building, supposed by some to have been a Culdee religious house.

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