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Harris, Inverness-shire

Historical Description

HARRIS, a parish, in the county of Inverness, 44 miles (N. W.) from Portree; containing, with the islands of Bernera, Ensay, Hermitray, Killigray, Pabbay, Scalpay, Scarp, and Tarrinsay, 4429 inhabitants. The parish of Harris was till lately called Kilbride; its present name is corrupted from the Gaelic term na hardibh, signifying "the heights", this district being the highest and most mountainous of any in the large Hebridean island of Lewis. It consists chiefly of the southern part of that island, separated from the northern portion by an isthmus about six miles across, formed by the approach to each other of the two great harbours. Loch Resort and Loch Seaforth. The Atlantic Ocean bounds it on the west; on the east is the Minch, which separates it from the Isle of Skye; and on the south is the channel generally called the Sound of Harris, but sometimes Caolas Uist, or the Sound of Uist, lying between Harris and the islands of Bernera and North Uist. The parish is fifty miles in length, varies in breadth from eight to twenty-four miles, and comprises an area of upwards of 118,000 acres, of which about 107,000 are moor and pasture, 1000 subject to tillage by the plough and 7500 by the spade, 400 under plantations, and the remainder sand and rock. The shore on the west is in some parts sandy, and in others strongly marked by precipitous rocks; the eastern coast is broken with many harbours, bays, and creeks. At a small distance on the west are the inhabited islands of Tarrinsay and Scarp; on the east side is the inhabited isle of Scalpay; and in the Sound of Harris, a channel about nine miles in breadth, affording a communication for vessels between the Minch and the Atlantic, are the inhabited islands of Bernera, Pabbay, Ensay, and Killigray; with many smaller ones, uninhabited, and entirely appropriated to pasturage. The coasts abound with oysters and lobsters, and several boats are engaged in taking the latter: the sun-fish, also, is sometimes taken in the summer months, with the harpoon; and in the island of Gaasker, seals are killed in large numbers with clubs.

The mainland of the parish is divided into two distinct portions by an isthmus about a quarter of a mile in breadth, formed by an arm of the sea on each side, respectively called East and West Loch Tarbert. The northern district is prominently intersected by part of a range of mountains running longitudinally throughout the parish, and which attain an elevation of from 2000 to 3000 feet above the level of the sea. This portion is traversed by large herds of deer, which range among the hills and glens; and, though destitute of wood, is called the Forest, having at one time, as is supposed, been a royal forest. The surface of the southern portion of the parish is similar in appearance to that of the former, but marked by more moderate elevations: grouse, wild-geese, plover, and pigeons are numerous on the moors and lower grounds; and the eagle is a visitant of some of the most lofty rocks. There are fresh-water lakes and rivulets in the parish in every direction; the waters of Lacksta, Scurt, and Obbe abound with salmon and trout. Harris is chiefly pastoral, only a very small portion, on account of the intractable nature of the ground, being capable of the regular operations of husbandry. The soil of a large part of the land in cultivation is very poor; and several of the best farms, formerly possessed by small tenants, have been consolidated, and converted into sheep-walks. The crops consist principally of oats, barley, and potatoes; the live stock are mostly black-cattle and Cheviot sheep, to the breed of which particular attention is paid. The small tenants occupy cottages of unhewn stone, cemented with clay, and covered with straw thatch, the one building in some instances serving for the family and the cows and horses. On all the larger farms are steadings of a superior order. Here is a shooting-seat belonging to the Earl of Dunmore, who is proprietor of the parish, the annual value of real property in which is £4015.

About 250 families are engaged during the summer months in the manufacture of kelp, 600 tons of which are annually prepared: attempts were made by the late proprietor to establish fishing-stations in several parts of the parish, but they all proved unsuccessful. The harbour of Scalpay, on the eastern coast, is much frequented by foreign ships; and the numerous bays and creeks are convenient places of resort for small craft. Kelp, and wool and other country produce, are sent off by sea to market; and the lobsters taken here are regularly sent by smacks to London. A packet runs twice a week in summer, and once a week in winter, between Tarbert, in Harris, and Uig, in the Isle of Skye. An annual fair is held at Tarbert, in July, for the sale of cattle and horses; the sheep graziers send their stock to the Falkirk tryst. Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Uist, synod of Glenelg, and in the patronage of the Earl of Dunmore: the minister's stipend is £158. 6. 8., of which nearly two-thirds are received from the exchequer; with a manse, and a glebe valued at £45 per annum. A new church with 400 sittings has been lately built, the old edifice, accommodating only 250 persons, having become too ruinous for public worship. At Bernera is a government church, erected in 1829, to which a district is attached consisting of the islands adjacent to Bernera belonging to the parish. A missionary is supported at Tarbert by the Royal Bounty; the church and manse were provided by A. N. Macleod, Esq., the late proprietor, and the Earl of Dunmore has granted an excellent glebe to the missionary. His lordship, also, secures to the parish the services of a surgeon, who, in addition to his fees from the people, receives from Lord Dunmore a salary of about £70 a year. The parochial school affords instruction in Latin, in addition to the ordinary branches; the master has a salary of £30, with a house, and about £6 fees. Other schools are supported, and at Tarbert is a school maintained by the Education Committee of the General Assembly. The chief relic of antiquity is the ruin of a church at Rodil, once attached to the priory of St. Clement's, and, until it became too much dilapidated, used as the parochial place of worship.

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