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Glenshiel, Ross and Cromarty

Historical Description

GLENSHIEL, a parish, in the county of Ross and Cromarty, 16 miles (S. E.) from Balmacara in Lochalsh; containing 745 inhabitants. The derivation of the name of Glenshiel is involved in obscurity, the original word being equally applicable to a "glen of cattle", "of hunting", or "of rain". The history of the parish is also uncertain, till about the middle of the thirteenth century. At this time the Mc Kenzies, whose founder had been rewarded by Alexander III. for his bravery at the battle of Largs, expelled from Glenshiel several tribes known by the names of Macbheolan, Macaulay, and others, and made themselves possessors of the land. In the beginning of the next century, however, the Mc Raes, a clan supposed to be of Irish origin, settled in the parish, and shortly became almost the sole proprietors. In a later age, in 1719, the descendants of this ancient tribe, with some adherents of the Mackenzie family, and 400 Spaniards headed by William, Earl of Seaforth, engaged the royal troops in the narrow pass of Glenshiel, in the cause of the dethroned family of Stuart; but after several severe engagements, the Highlanders were repulsed, and retired, carrying with them the Earl of Seaforth, who had been dangerously wounded. The celebrated Rob Roy was concerned in this affair, against the king's troops. The Mc Raes had fought on the same side also at Sheriffmuir in 1715, but did not interfere in the rebellion of 1745. Glenshiel was formed into a separate parish, out of that of Kintail, about a century ago.

The PARISH is about twenty-six miles in length, varying in breadth from two to six miles, and containing 72,000 acres. It is bounded on the north by Loch Duich, which divides it from the parishes of Loehalsh and Kintail; on the south by the parish of Glenelg; on the east by the parishes of Kiltarlity, Urquhart, and Kilmonivaig; and on the west by the strait of Kylerea, which separates it from the Isle of Skye. The surface is formed of two divisions, the eastern and western. The eastern consists of three ranges of lofty mountains, divided by narrow valleys, and rising in a bold and precipitous manner at the western end, to an elevation of nearly 4000 feet above the level of the sea: among the many peaks by which the ranges are distinguished, Scùr-ùran is the most conspicuous. The celebrated valley of Glenshiel lies between two of these ridges. It is about fifteen miles in length, of various breadth, and narrows so much at the middle, by the approach of the mountains, as to leave only sufficient space for the stream of Shiel to pass along. In a more expanding portion it forms a bed for the waters of the lake of Cluonie; and the scenery is altogether of a bold and romantic cast. The western division of the parish, called Letterfearn, implying "the alder side", is of a different character from the other division, consisting of a verdant tract gradually rising from Loch Duich, and marked by rocky projections and headlands, diversified with well-cultivated fields and interesting copses. Good springs are numerous in the parish; and in the eastern division are two considerable rivers, of very clear water, stocked with salmon and trout, and which flow for about twelve miles, and then empty themselves into Loch Duich at the south and east extremities. One of these is the Shiel, running through the valley of Glenshiel. The principal inland lakes are Loch Cluonie, Loch Luin, and Loch Shiel, all of which abound in excellent trout.

The SOIL near the shore is gravelly, and, if well manured, produces good crops of potatoes; in several of the valleys a rich vegetable mould is found, partially mixed with sand or gravel, and admitting of superior cultivation. About 280 acres are employed in tillage, and 71,600 are under pasture: about seventy acres are wood, considerable portions of which consist of ash and alder. There are a few good farms, but the tillage is principally confined to yearly tenants who hold from one to two acres of land, which is turned with the spade, and sown with barley or oats, or planted with potatoes: the manure used is sea-weed. The houses on the superior farms are convenient and substantial buildings: those inhabited by the small tenants, however, are of a mean description, built of common stones, without cement, and containing only one apartment, with partitions. Black-cattle, which used to form the whole live stock, have been gradually yielding since the beginning of the present century to sheep. The breed of these, which has been much promoted, is the black-faced, or the Cheviot, with a cross of the two: the cattle are chiefly the native Highland, celebrated for their beauty and their hardiness, and a few Ayrshire cows are kept on some of the farms for their milk. In this parish the subsoil is a stiff and tenacious till, rendering draining difficult and expensive, and impeding the efforts of cultivation. The prevailing rock is gneiss, sometimes receiving a tinge of red from iron-ore; granite, also, is found in several parts, and there is abundance of limestone on the properties of Letterfearn and Glenshiel. The annual value of real property in the parish is £3014.

There is no village in the parish: fairs for the sale of black-cattle are held at Shielhouse at Whitsuntide, in July, and September. Communication between Glenshiel and Inverness is maintained by means of a parliamentary road that runs for eighteen miles through the parish. There is a good harbour, named Ob-inag, at the point where Loch Duich joins Loch Alsh; it is capable of sheltering the largest vessels. The bays, also, of Ardintoul and Craigan-roy, at the southern extremity of Loch Duich, afford secure anchorage. Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Lochcarron, synod of Glenelg, and the patronage is in the Crown: the minister's stipend is £158, with a manse, built in 1834, and a glebe of about twenty-four acres, valued at £16 per annum. The church was built in 1758, and is situated in the eastern part of Letterfearn; it was repaired, enlarged, and new-roofed in 1840, and accommodates 300 persons with sittings. There is a parochial school, in which Latin, Gaelic, and English are taught; the master has a salary of £28, and about £2 fees. The only relic of antiquity is a strong circular fort on the estate of Letterfearn, called a Picts' house. In the parish are some chalybeate springs; but they have not been used for medicinal purposes.

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