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Inch, Wigtownshire

Historical Description

INCH, a parish, in the county of Wigtown, 2½ miles (E.) from Stranraer; containing, with the villages of Cairnryan and Lochans, 2950 inhabitants. This place, which is of great antiquity, and distinguished for its lochs, appears to have derived its name from an island in the loch of Castle-Kennedy, which was called the Inch, an appellation corrupted from the Celtic word Inis or Ynis, signifying "an island". In very ancient times the locality was occupied by the Novantes, whose town of Rerigonium was situated on the bank of the Rerigonius simis, now called Loch Ryan, and was near the farm of Innermessan, adjacent to which is a large circular mound or moat, formerly surrounded, as is supposed, by a fosse, and measuring seventy-eight feet in height, and 336 feet round its base. Various purposes have been assigned to this work of antiquity; but whether it was intended for the administration of justice, for a rendezvous in times of danger, or for the Beltan (Bel's fire), or for all these, is uncertain. The circumstance, however, of charred wood, ashes, and bones having been found at some depth below the surface, within its line of circumscription, is strong evidence of its having been used occasionally, and perhaps regularly, as a place of sepulture. On or near the site of Rerigonium, at a later period, stood the town and castle of Innermessan. The former, till eclipsed by the town of Stranraer, was the largest place in the Rhins of Galloway; the latter belonged to Sir Andrew Agnew of Lochnaw; but no traces of either remain, except a sewer about three feet under ground.

The celebrated abbey of Soulseat, or Saulseat, was founded here in the twelfth century, by Fergus, lord of Galloway, for Præmonstratensian monks. Though its history is for the most part involved in obscurity, Chalmers is of opinion that it was the first institution of the order in Scotland; that its abbots were the superiors of the Præmonstratensian monks throughout the kingdom; and that the establishment was the parent of the more opulent priory of Whithorn, as well as of the abbey of Holywood. In an act of parliament of 1487, it is spoken of as not being subject to the authority or appointment of the Pope. In 1532, it appears that David, abbot of Soulseat, was invested with a commission from the king, to visit and reform all the houses in Scotland of his own order; and in 165S, the abbot is named in a document as uniting with others in defence of the queen. The abbey was situated on a peninsula that stretched out into a lake, to which it gave its name; and was surrounded by a burying-ground: it was called Sedes Animarum, and Monasterium viridis stagni, the latter term in allusion to the green appearance, at certain times, of the surface of the lake. Soulseat Abbey was a ruin in 1684, and but very small portions of the remains are now to be seen: part of the burying-ground is still occasionally used as a place of interment. The mansion of Castle-Kennedy, which was accidentally destroyed by fire in 1715, was a lofty and spacious structure, supposed to have been built in the reign of James VI., and was the seat of the powerful Earls of Cassilis, whose property and influence spread over so large a part of Wigtownshire. It passed with the lands, in the time of Charles II., to Sir J. Dalrymple the younger, of Stair, in whose family the estate has since continued, though the building, the remaining walls of which are seventy feet high, has not been inhabited since the fire. The structure is surrounded by grounds beautifully laid out after a military plan devised by Marshal Stair; and adjoining are flourishing plantations, containing some lofty and luxuriant ash-trees.

The PARISH formerly comprehended the parish of Portpatrick and part of that of Stranraer. Portpatrick was separated and made distinct in 1628; and about the same period, a portion of Inch, with some land in Leswalt, was allotted to form the parish of Stranraer, and the old parish of Soulseat was united to Inch. The parish has the county of Ayr on the north, the parishes of New and Old Luce on the east, and that of Stoneykirk on the south; on the west it is bounded for about eight miles by Loch Ryan. It is ten miles in length, and in one part nearly of the same breadth, comprising 30,600 acres, of which 12,600 are cultivated or occasionally in tillage, and the remainder waste or natural pasture. The northern portion is principally high land, rising in some places to an elevation of 812 feet above the level of the sea; and, with the exception of a small portion under the plough, is in general rugged, and covered with heath, about 800 acres only being considered capable of cultivation. The southern portion, which is part of an isthmus formed by Loch Ryan and the bay of Luce, is slightly undulated, but when viewed from the hills has the appearance of a continuous plain. It contains several hollows, provincially called Pots, which were produced by the action of the water when spread over this division of the parish, and one of which is 1000 feet in circumference, and 100 feet deep.

The river Luce, in which are good salmon, forms the boundary line between this parish and Luce; and the Piltanton, a smaller and slower stream, falling, like the former, into the bay of Luce, divides Inch from Stoneykirk. There are also twelve fresh-water lochs, including those of Castle-Kennedy and Soulseat, both which are celebrated for their beautiful scenery. The whole of the lakes abound in pike, perch, trout, eels, and roach; and in the frosty weather, some of them are frequented by large numbers of wild-duck, teal, widgeon, coots, and cormorants. These, with the swarms of wild-geese near the brooks and the sea-shore, and the flocks of curlews, plovers, and every kind of game on the high lands, afford ample gratification to the sportsman, and impart an air of liveliness to the district, which is sometimes increased by crowds of persons of all ranks enjoying the favourite amusements of curling and skating upon the frozen surface of the lakes. Swans, also, frequently visit the place in the winter; and in the spring the sea-mew finds a retreat among the sedge of the lochs, for bringing forth her young. Loch Ryan, at the mouth of the Clyde, has always been a secure retreat for vessels entering or leaving that river, and for vessels navigating the Irish Channel, even in the most stormy and dangerous weather, there being excellent anchorage and safe shelter off the village of Cairnryan. It is between eight and nine miles in length, from its northern extremity to the town of Stranraer at its head, and is about three miles wide at the entrance. The loch has at first from four to five fathoms' depth of water, which gradually increases to from seven to eight; and it is considered to be admirably adapted for a mail-packet station between Scotland and Ireland. Salmon are taken in its estuaries; and the produce of the fishery of Loch Ryan comprises cod, haddock, whiting, herrings, flounders, and oysters of very superior quality.

The SOIL, varying almost as much as the surface, is in the high grounds partly loam, but chiefly clay, with a considerable portion of moss, and large tracts of peat, from which the inhabitants are plentifully supplied with good fuel. In the lower parts it is light and fertile, resting on gravel or sand, and produces good crops of all kinds of grain, with potatoes, turnips, and hay. The cultivation of the turnip was introduced into the parish, about a century since, by Marshal Stair, and though practised only to a very inconsiderable extent till within the last few years, has now become a favourite branch of husbandry, the lightness of the soil being remarkably suited to the root. The turnip crops are eaten off the ground by sheep, to the great advantage of the land. In this parish the cattle are still partly of the Galloway kind; but the great regard formerly paid to this stock has lately much diminished, and the farmers, turning their attention more to the dairy, have introduced the Ayrshire cow; and cheese now forms a considerable part of the disposable produce. Numerous improvements in agriculture have taken place within the present century: many acres of bog have been reclaimed, and converted into good arable land, now yielding fine crops; and most of the farm-houses have been rendered comfortable dwellings. The present Earl of Stair resides at Culborn House, in the parish, and has given a fresh stimulus to agricultural improvements by his encouragement and example. The fences on the lower grounds are occasionally formed of thorn-hedges, but are generally turf dykes, sown with whins; on the higher lands they are entirely of stone. The annual value of real property in Inch is £10,986. The geology of the parish has no striking features, the hills consisting chiefly of stratified transition rocks, the principal of which is greywacke: detached blocks of granite are occasionally to be seen; and near Loch Ryan is an excellent slate-quarry. Several attempts have been made to discover coal, but without effect. There is a little natural wood, principally in the glens of the higher district; the plantations cover 655 acres of land, all inclosed. The oldest of the plantations are those made by Marshal Stair, and consist chiefly of beech, a wood supposed at that time to be the only one suited to the soil and climate, but which has since been equalled, if not surpassed, in growth and value by the ash and plane. These latter, with oak, elm, and larch, are now to be found, in a thriving condition, in most of the plantations, and serve very beneficially as a protection to the arable grounds.

The chief village is Cairnryan, which contains 196 persons, and is distant seven miles from the parish church about 100 persons reside in another village, and a few in a suburb of Stranraer, lately built in the parish. The high road from London to Portpatrick, and that from Glasgow to the same place, pass through the parish; and the steam-packet plying between Glasgow and Stranraer, and that from Belfast to Stranraer, touch at Cairnryan for passengers and goods. A monthly market, called "the Stranraer cattle-market", is held from April to October. Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Stranraer, synod of Galloway, and in the patronage of the Crown. The stipend is £264; and there is a manse, rebuilt in 1838, with a glebe containing eighteen acres, valued at £15. 15. per annum, and four acres, lately added by the draining of a loch. Inch church, built in 1770, and capable of accommodating 400 persons, occupies a beautiful situation adjoining the picturesque woods and lake of Castle-Kennedy. A chapel was built at Cairnryan some years ago, in connexion with the Establishment; and there are two places of worship for members of the Free Church, one of them situated at Cairnryan, and the other in another part of the parish. The parochial school affords instruction in the classics, practical mathematics, and the various branches of a good education; the master receives the minimum salary, about £23 in fees, and has a house and garden.

At Glenterra is a relic of antiquity called the Standing Stones, situated near the road to New Luce, consisting of four large upright stones, and conjectured to have been originally a Druidical temple: near these is a single stone, also erect. There is likewise a series of stones called the Stepping-Stones of Glenterra, disposed like stairs, extending for about a quarter of a mile along a peaty moss, and supposed to have been placed there for the convenience of transit. Stone axes are occasionally discovered; and there are numerous cairns in the upper, and tumuli in the lower, part of the parish, which are generally thought to have been raised by the Novantes for sepulchral purposes. The cairns are usually called the Auld Grey Cairns, and are formed of a circular heap of stories, from fifty to seventy feet in diameter, and rising from six to eight feet in the centre: in the interior is a cavity formed by large flat stones, in which an urn is generally found, containing bony fragments, ashes, &c. At the farm of Larg, near the river Luce, are the remains of a castle, once the residence of the Lyns of Larg. The castle of Craig-Caffie was the property of the Nelsons, a family now extinct, and is a moderate-sized ancient structure, surrounded by a fosse, and still in good condition, but converted into a farmhouse. In that part of the parish which, with a portion of Leswalt, was detached to form the parish of Stranraer, was a chapel dedicated to St. John; and near this stood a castle, which Symson, in his description of Galloway, written in 1684, calls "a good house pertaining to Sir John Dalrymple, younger, of Stair," but which is now a jail for the town of Stranraer. There are several chalybeate springs, and some partially sulphureous. Marshal Stair, celebrated in military and political history, was a native of the parish of Inch. North-west Castle is the seat of Sir John Ross, the well-known navigator of the Arctic, who was born here in 1777, during the incumbency of his father, the Rev. Andrew Ross; and General Sir J. Alexander Agnew Wallace, distinguished as a military officer in Egypt, India, and the Peninsula, resides at Lochryan House, in the parish.

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