Historical description of Inverness-shire, Scotland

INVERNESS-SHIRE, an extensive county, in the north of Scotland, bounded on the north by Ross-shire and the Moray Firth; on the east, by the counties of Nairn, Elgin, Banff, and Aberdeen; on the south, by Perthshire and the county of Argyll; and on the west, by the Atlantic Ocean. It lies between 56° 54' and 57° 50' (N. Lat.), and 4° 20' 10" and 6° 35' (W. Lon.), and is about ninety miles in length, and nearly eighty in extreme breadth; comprising an area of 7200 square miles, or 4,608,000 acres, exclusive of the several islands attached to it; and containing, according to the last census, 19,779 houses, of which 19,194 are inhabited; and a population of 97,799, of whom 45,538 are males and 52,261 females. This county, which takes its name from its chief town, originally formed the western portion of the ancient province of Moray, and, prior to the union of the Scottish and Pictish kingdoms under Kenneth II., was inhabited by the Picts, who are said to have had frequent battles with the Danes, by whom their territories were invaded. The town of Inverness is thought to have been the residence of the Pictish kings, and is so identified with the historical events of the county as to render any notice of them here superfluous. Prior to the abolition of episcopacy, the county was part of the diocese of Moray; it is now included in the synods of Moray, Ross, and Glenelg, containing several presbyteries, and about forty-five parishes. For civil purposes, it is under the superintendence of four sheriffs-substitute, appointed by the sheriff, and who hold their courts respectively at Inverness, Fort-William, Skye, and Long Island. The county contains the villages of Fort-George, Fort-Augustus, Portree, Grantown, Campbelton, Kingussie, Beauly, and several others. Under the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., it returns one member to the imperial parliament: the constituency numbers 850.

The SURFACE is strikingly diversified by wild and lofty mountains interspersed with deep and narrow glens, and by numerous ridges of hills inclosing valleys of various width and aspect. The mainland is divided into two nearly equal parts by the vale of Glenmore, which intersects it throughout in a direction from north-east to south-west, reaching from the Moray Firth to Loch Eil, and containing a succession of lakes, by the connecting of which the great Caledonian canal has been formed. On both sides of this valley are a number of straths, separated by mountainous ridges, and all watered by streams descending from the heights. The country on the west of Glenmore, between it and the Atlantic, is the more extensive and mountainous, constituting the Highland district; that on the east is the Lowland district, and, though in many parts of wild appearance, is in a better state of cultivation. The coast is indented with a variety of inlets from the sea, forming salt-water lochs, several of which, on the south-west, separate it from the county of Argyll; and in addition to the districts of Badenoch, Lochaber, Glenelg, Glengarry, Arisaig, Moydart, and Strathglass, into which the main land is naturally divided, the county contains the Isle of Skye, part of Lewis, North and South Uist, Benbecula, Barra, Eigg, Eriskay, Bernera, and others of the Hebrides. Among the mountains are, Ben-Nevis, which has an elevation of 4370 feet above the level of the sea; Mealfourvonie, which rises to the height of 3600 feet; and Scarsough, 3412 feet.

The chief rivers are the Ness and the Spey. The river Ness issues from Loch Ness, in the valley of Glenmore, and taking a north-eastern course for a few miles, falls into the Moray Firth, forming the harbour of Inverness, to which town it gives its name. The river Spey has its source in Loch Spey, in the district of Badenoch; and flowing eastward with great rapidity, and receiving numerous tributary streams in its long and winding course through the strath to which it gives name, it passes the village of Rothes, and diverting its course towards the north, falls into the Moray Firth at Garmouth. Of the smaller rivers, the Beauly, the Foyers, and the Garry only are deserving of any particular description. The Beauly has its source in the continence of the rivulets Farrar, Carrick, and Glass, which give their names to the straths they flow through: after a course of about eight miles between rocky and precipitous banks, in which it makes some beautiful falls (the chief one being at Kilmorack), it runs into Beauly Firth. The Foyers rises in the mountainous district of Badenoch, and after a course of ten miles through a tract of country abounding in romantic scenery, joins Loch Ness. In its progress it makes some highly-picturesque cascades. At one part, its waters form three successive descents together from a height of above 200 feet into a pool beneath, beyond which the stream, flowing along a narrow rocky channel, falls from an elevation of more than 212 feet in one unbroken sheet, which, after heavy rains, has an impressive grandeur of effect. The river Garry has its source in a small lake of that name, nearly in the centre of the county, and passing through the strath of Glengarry, runs into Loch Oich. The principal rivers, and also their tributaries, abound with salmon. In this county the lakes form a very important feature: the chief of them are, Loch Ness, Loch Oich, and Loch Lochy, which are situated in the valley of Glenmore, and connected with each other by the Caledonian canal; Lochs Laggan, Treag, and Ericht, in the south; Lochs Affarie, Benevian, Clunie, and some others, in the north; and Lochs Morir, Quoich, Arkaig, and Shiel, in the western part of the county. The salt-water lochs, or inlets from the sea, in the mainland, are Lochs Moidart, Nevis, Hourn, and Beauly.

Of the lands not more than the one-twelfth part is under cultivation, the remainder being either covered with heath, or in mountain pasture. The soil on the level grounds near the sea is chiefly clay alternated with loam, and in some parts a fine rich black mould. In some of the straths, also, between the mountain ridges, the soil is extremely fertile, except in those parts where, from the rapidity of the mountain streams, beds of gravel accumulate. The arable lands are in a good state of cultivation, producing excellent crops of wheat, barley, oats, &c.: great quantities of potatoes are raised. The system of agriculture has been very much improved, and considerable tracts of waste land have been drained and brought into cultivation: the farm houses and offices, also, are generally substantial and well arranged; but the cottages of the labourers are very indifferent. Many of the farms are of course in pasture, and the breed of cattle and sheep has of late been an object of considerable attention: the cattle, which may be averaged at 50,000, are principally of the Skye or the Kyloe breed; the sheep, of which from 120,000 to 130,000 are pastured on the different farms, are of the Linton and Cheviot breeds. The horses, previously to the increase of the sheep-pastures, were of the Old Highland breed; but the number has been greatly reduced, and those which are now reared, chiefly for purposes of husbandry, are of various kinds, according to the choice of the different proprietors, who breed them only for their own use. Considerable numbers of swine have been lately reared in several parts, the Highlanders having in a great measure overcome their wonted prejudices against that kind of food; and the stock has been improved by the introduction of the Chinese breed.

The whole county appears to have been at a remote period covered with woods; and in most of the mosses, some of which are very extensive, there are found trunks of trees. In Glenmore and Strathspey are not less than 15,000 acres of natural fir, exclusive of 70,000 acres of modern plantations of firs and larch; and in other parts of the county are most extensive and flourishing plantations of fir, larch, beech, plane, and oak, of which last there are some carefully-preserved woods at Lochiel and Fasfern. The substrata are principally limestone, freestone, and granite: the limestone abounds in many places, yet, from the scarcity of fuel, little of it is burnt into lime, which for agricultural purposes is chiefly imported. Slate of durable texture is quarried, and great quantities of it are shipped off: a quarry of grey slate was opened at Aultmore, but of too porous a texture for roofing. Marble of every variety of colour, and of excellent quality, is found in Ben-Nevis and in most of the islands; and common granite, of which the hills principally consist, is extensively quarried. A dark-coloured granite occurs in many places, in large blocks with scarcely any fissures, and is much esteemed for ornamental buildings; and a variegated kind of granite, with black, white, and red spots, which sparkle in the sun, is found in Badenoch. Freestone of a reddish colour, of compact texture, and susceptible of a high degree of polish, is met with on the lands of Lovatt; but no sandstone occurs in the county. There are some indications of coal; but the only mineral worked is leadore, of which there are mines in Ben-Nevis, at Inverskaddel, near Loch Arkaig, Glengarry, and other places. Black-lead, of good quality for pencils, is also found, but is not wrought: there is clay for bricks and tiles along the coast. In this county the gentlemen's seats are, Castle-Grant, Dunvegan, Castle Mc Leod, Erchless Castle, Fasfern, Lochiel, Beaufort, Belladrum, Rothiemurchus, Kinrara, Farraline, Belville, Glengarry, Dalchully, and others.

The principal manufactures are those of hemp, thread of various colours, kelp, bricks, and tiles; and some branches of the woollen manufacture, chiefly for domestic use, and confined to private families. There are several bleaching and print fields, tanneries, breweries, and distilleries; and at Inverness, and other places on the coast, a considerable trade is carried on in the exportation of cattle, sheep, wool, timber, and slates, and in the importation of coal, lime, flour, oatmeal, groceries, and other articles for home consumption. There are valuable salmon-fisheries on the rivers; the herring-fisheries, also, employ a number of the inhabitants on the western coast of the county. Facility of communication is afforded by several good roads that have been formed throughout the interior; and the great Caledonian canal, which intersects the county from north-east to south-west, passing through the valley of Glenmore for more than sixty miles, and connecting the German Ocean with the Atlantic, offers means of inland navigation for ships of considerable burthen, and facility for the conveyance of produce of all kinds. The annual value of real property in the county is £182,064, of which £161,499 are returned for lands, £17,894 for houses, £2596 for fisheries, and £75 for quarries.

Among the various remains of antiquity are the ruins of ancient fortresses consisting of stones of enormous size, placed together without cement of any kind. They are generally of circular or elliptical form, containing, between two concentric walls, a considerable interval supposed to have been used for keeping military and other stores: the area within the inner wall, which alone was pierced with windows, is thought to have been occupied by the garrison. Of these fortresses the three most perfect are at Glenelg, Castle-Spynie, in the district of Aird, and Dun-da-law, in Badenoch. On the summit of Craig-Phadric are the remains of a vitrified fort of elliptical form, of which the longer diameter is 220 feet, and the shorter little more than half that length; and near Fort-William are the remains of a similar fortress, called Dunghairdghall. Upon the east bank of the river Lochy are the remains of Inverlochy Castle, a square structure with circular towers at the angles, surrounded by a ditch inclosing an area of 7000 square yards. On the summit of a precipitous rock that divides the channel of the Lochy, are the ruins of Tor Castle; and on a projecting rock on the west side of Loch Ness, are the remains of Urquhart Castle, which was taken in 1303 by Edward I. of England, who, exasperated at the obstinate and protracted defence, put the governor and the whole of the garrison to the sword. The roads of Glenroy, consisting of three parallel lines on one side of the river, opposite to three similar lines on the other, are most probably natural, though some suppose them to have been made for the purpose of hunting. There are several Druidical remains; and in the Firth of Beauly are some ancient cairns, two of which, larger than the rest, rise above the surface of the water, and have been found to contain beams of timber, and human bones.

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