Historical description of Argyleshire, Scotland

ARGYLLSHIRE, a maritime county, in the southwest of Scotland, bounded on the north by Inverness-shire; on the east by the counties of Inverness, Perth, and Dumbarton; and on the south and west by the Firth of Clyde and the Atlantic Ocean. It lies between 55° 21' and 57° (N. lat.), and 4° 15' and 7° 10' (W.long.), and is about 115 miles in extreme length, and about 50 or 60 miles in average breadth; comprising an area, including the various islands connected with it, of about 3800 square miles; of which, what may be considered as the continent contains about 2735 square miles, or 1,750,400 acres. There are 19,207 houses, of which 18,552 are inhabited; and a population of 97,371, of whom 47,795 are males, and 49,576 females. The county appears to have been occupied at an early period chiefly by the Scots, who, emigrating from the Irish coasts, settled in the peninsula of Cantyre, and after the subjugation of the Picts, and the union of the two kingdoms under Kenneth Mc Alpine, became identified with the general population of the country. In the legends of romance, this part of Scotland is celebrated as the principal scene of the exploits of the heroes of the race of Fingal, and as the birthplace of the bard Ossian, whose poems are still the subject of deeply-interesting research among the learned. Ossian is said to have been born in the valley of Glencoe; and the county, which abounds with numerous localities connected with the achievements of his heroes, still retains, in a very high degree, that spirit of feudal vassalage for which it was for ages pre-eminently remarkable. The family of Campbell, long distinguished as the principal of that extensive and powerful clan, and ancestors of the Dukes of Argyll, for many generations possessed an absolute and sovereign authority over their vassals, who on every occasion rallied round the standard of their chieftain, with all the fidelity of kindred attachment, and tendered the most arduous services with implicit submission to his control.

Prior to the Reformation, the county was for centuries the seat of a diocese, the bishop of which resided on the island of Lismore (between the main land and the isle of Mull), where the cathedral church was situated; and the jurisdiction extended over all the adjacent islands, including those of Bute and Arran. Since that period, it has constituted the chief part of the synod of Argyll, comprising the presbyteries of Inverary, Dunoon, Cantyre, Islay and Jura, Lorn, and Mull; and about fifty parishes. For civil purposes, the county is divided into the districts of Argyll, Cowal, Islay, Cantyre, Lorn, and Mull; and is under the jurisdiction of a sheriff-depute, by whom three sheriffs-substitute are appointed, who reside respectively at Inverary, which is the county town, at Campbelltown, and Tobermory. The courts of assize and general quarter-sessions are held at Inverary; and courts for the recovery of small debts are held four times in the year at Oban, Lochgilphead, Dunoon, and Bowmore; and twice in the year at Strontian. The royal burghs are Inverary and Campbelltown; and in addition to the other places above noticed, the county contains the small towns of Ballichulish and Tobermory, the village of Ardrissaig, &c. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV., the county returns one member to the imperial parliament; and the royal burghs of Inverary and Campbelltown, with the parliamentary burgh of Oban, unite with Ayr and Irvine, in the county of Ayr, in returning another member.

The SURFACE is generally wild and mountainous, especially towards the north, where it borders on the Grampian range; and even along the coasts, which form a line of more than 600 miles, and where the land is lowest, there are numerous hills of very considerable elevation. The most mountainous parts of the county are, however, interspersed with pleasing and fertile tracts of valley, watered by streams, on the banks of which are some productive arable lands; and in many places the slopes of the hills afford good pasture. Of the numerous Islands that are included within the limits of the county, the principal are Mull, Jura, Islay, Coll, Tiree, Colonsay, Lismore, and Oronsay, with smaller islands, all of which are noticed under their respective heads. Between these islands and the main land are several extensive sounds, the principal of which are, the Sound of Mull, between the island of that name and the main land; and the Sound of Jura, separating that island from the continent: the Sound of Islay is between the isles of Jura and Islay, and the Firth of Clyde separates part of Argyllshire on the west from the counties of Ayr and Renfrew on the east. The most prominent Mountains are, the Cruachan, rising from the north-eastern extremity of Loch Awe, to the height of 3390 feet; the Cruachlussa, in the district of Knapdale, attaining an elevation of 3000 feet; Benreisipoll, in Ardnamurchan, 2661 feet in height; Buchael-Etive, near Loch Etive, towards the north, rising 2537 feet above the sea; the Paps of Jura, in the isle of Jura, 2476 feet in height; and Beininturk, in Cantyre, which has an elevation of 2170 feet.

The coasts are deeply indented with arms of the sea, constituting salt-water lochs of considerable extent. Among these is Loch Fine, which is of very great depth, sixty miles in length, and varying from two to three miles in breadth, and on the shore of which is situated the town of Inverary: its great depth is thought to be one cause of the superior quality of its herrings. Loch Linnhe lies between the districts of Morven and Lorn, and is the source of most of the inland lakes which form the Caledonian canal; the scenery on both its shores is strikingly romantic, and the borders are thickly interspersed with the remains of ancient fortresses, and enlivened with numerous handsome residences. Loch Long extends from the Firth of Clyde, for nearly twenty-two miles, into the land, separating the county from that of Dumbarton; and from the west side of this arm of the sea branches off Loch Goil, crowned on its precipitous banks with the ruins of Castle Carrick, a royal residence, of which His Grace the Duke of Argyll is hereditary keeper. Of the inland lakes of the county, by far the most extensive is Loch Awe, about twenty-eight miles in length, and from one to two miles in breadth; it abounds with salmon, eels, and trout, and from one side of it issues a stream called the Awe, which flows through the magnificent pass of Brander into the Loch Etive, at Bunawe ferry. The pass of Brander, which was the scene of a battle between Robert Bruce and Mac Dougall of Lorn, seems to have been formed by some violent convulsion, causing the rare circumstance in nature of a lateral escape of water from a lake. Loch Etive, a lake of much smaller extent, communicates with Loch Awe by the river Awe, and on the west with the Sound of Mull, from which it forms an inlet, nearly opposite the island of Lismore: on the north shore are the ruins of the ancient priory of Ardchattan. There are several smaller lakes, but none of sufficient importance to require particular notice; also numerous streams intersecting the lands in various places, few or none of which, however, are navigable.

The quantity of land which is arable and in cultivation is little more than 100,000 acres; about 30,000 acres are in woodland and plantations, and the remainder, nearly 1,300,000 acres, with the exception of about 25,000 in inland lakes and rivers, is principally heath, and hill and mountain pasture. The soil of the arable land is extremely various. Along the coasts, it is generally a light gravelly loam, resting upon a clayey bottom, and differing in fertility in different places. On the lower grounds, in some parts, is a mixture of clayey loam; in others, a kind of black mossy earth; and on the slopes of the hills, a light gravelly soil. The system of agriculture is moderately improved, and the rotation plan of husbandry is growing into use. The chief crops are oats, bear, and potatoes, with peas and beans, and various green crops; the cultivation of turnips has been extensively introduced. Wheat of excellent quality has been raised, but though the soil in many parts is favourable to its growth, very little attention is paid to its culture. Flax, for domestic use, is raised in considerable quantities. The cattle are principally of the black West Highland breed, and, being in much demand, on account of the superior beef they afford, are reared to a great extent throughout the county, especially in the islands: next to sheep, they form the staple trade of the county. The sheep-farms are in general very extensive, and the stock is principally of the Linton or black-faced breed, though the Cheviot breed, which has been lately introduced in some places, has been found equally well adapted to the pastures, and more profitable.

The chief Substrata are, limestone, which is very abundant, and freestone of various kinds and colours, some fine specimens of which are found in Cantyre, and also in Glenorchy. Slate is abundant in the neighbourhood of Easdale, and is also wrought in the district of Appin. Near Inverary is a kind of granite which is susceptible of a high polish, resembling spotted marble; and there are quarries of marble in Lorn, on the estate of Lochiel, and in the island of Tiree, which last is of very beautiful quality. Coal is found near Campbelltown, and is wrought for the supply of that district; there are also indications of coal in Morven, and in the isle of Mull. Lead-ore has been wrought at Strontian, and found in other places; a copper-mine has been opened in the parish of Kilmalie, and there are numerous vestiges of ancient iron-works in the mountains, though no ore of sufficient quality to remunerate the expense of working it is now found. The greater portion of the county was formerly covered with woods, of which but very small remains now exist: the deficiency has been partly supplied by modern plantations, especially on the lands of the Duke of Argyll. The soil and climate are well adapted to the growth of timber of every kind: the most flourishing descriptions at present are oak, beech, elm, plane, birch, ash, chesnut, larch, and Scotch, spruce, and silver firs; and within the last few years plantations have been gradually increasing. The principal manufacture is that of wool, which has been made into carpets, under the auspices of the Duke of Argyll; but it is limited to a very small extent. The spinning of flax is carried on, for domestic use. There are several distilleries, tanneries, and some bleach-fields; and the herring-fishery in Loch Fine is on an extensive scale. Facility of intercourse has been obtained by the formation of roads in various directions, and canals; and from the inlets from the sea, every advantage of steam navigation is obtained. The annual value of real property in the county is £262,273, of which £232,441 are returned for lands, £25,362 for houses, £1430 for fisheries, and the remainder for other species of real property. There are numerous remains of ancient castles, forts, Danish encampments, monasteries and other religious houses, cairns, tumuli, Druidical remains, vitrified forts, many Fingalian relics, and other monuments of antiquity, all of which are noticed in the articles on the several localities where they occur. The county confers the title of Duke on the celebrated family of Campbell, who were created Earls of Argyll in 1457, advanced to the Marquessate in 1641, and made Dukes in 1701, and who also bear several dignities named after different divisions of the county.

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