Historical description of Ross and Cromarty, Scotland

ROSS and CROMARTY, two counties in the north of Scotland, of which the several districts, mutually interjacent, are under the jurisdiction of one sheriff; bounded on the north by Sutherlandshire, on the east by the German Ocean, on the south by Inverness-shire, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. They lie between 57° 7' 40" and 58° 5' (N. Lat.) and 3° 45' 30" and 5° 46' 20" (W. Long.); extending about sixty-seven miles in length and fifty-eight miles in breadth, and comprising an area of 3799 square miles, or 2,43 1,360 acres, of which 223,560 are in the county of Cromarty; containing 16,694 houses, whereof 16,286 are inhabited; and having a population of 78,685, of whom 36,779 are males and 41,906 females. The territory within these boundaries seems to have nominally formed part of the earldom of Orkney, and to have belonged at different periods to different proprietors; but from the peculiar situation of Ross, it appears to have retained its independence, and to have been an earldom of itself, to which some of the Western Isles were attached; and in several ancient charters William, son of Hugh, Earl of Ross, who was killed at the battle of Hallidon-Hill, is not only styled Earl of Ross, but also Lord of Skye. John, "Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles," apparently exercised a kind of regal authority, and, as an independent prince, entered into treaties with King Edward of England. It was about the year 1630 that Ross was made a sheriffdom, including the district of Cromarty, which formerly gave the title of earl to a branch of the Mackenzies, of Seaforth. Prior to the abolition of episcopacy, the counties were in the diocese of Ross; they are at present mostly in the synod of Ross, and comprise several presbyteries, and thirty-one parishes. For civil purposes they are under the superintendence of three sheriffs-substitute, one of whom holds his courts at Cromarty and Tain, another at Dingwall and Fortrose, and the third at Stornoway in the island of Lewis. They contain the royal burghs of Dingwall, Tain, and Fortrose; the market-towns of Cromarty and Stornoway, which are burghs of barony; and numerous smaller places. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV. they return one member to the imperial parliament, the election taking place at Dingwall.

Ross and Cromarty include the districts of Ardross, Easter Ross, Ardmeanach or the Black Isle, Kintail, Strathcarron, and the greater part of the island of Lewis. The general surface is wild and mountainous, diversified with numerous glens and some pleasant and fertile valleys, and enlivened with several rivers and lakes. The western coast is indented by many lochs and bays of beautifully picturesque appearance, some of which form commodious havens. Ardmeanach, or the Black Isle, so called from its bleak moorland character, is nearly surrounded by the Firths of Cromarty and Moray. The Ross-shire part of Lewis is, from deep indentations of the sea on both sides, apparently an island of itself, but in fact is joined to the Inverness-shire parish of Harris, together forming Lewis, the largest of the Western Islands: though less mountainous than Ardmeanach, it is equally dreary and barren. Of the mountains, which usually occur in groups, the highest is Ben-Wyvis, elevated 3720 feet above the level of the sea. Among the streams are the Ewe, the Carron, and the Broom, on the western, and the Conan, the East Carron, and the Alness, on the eastern coast; the Conan falls into the Cromarty Firth, the Carron into the Firth of Dornoch, and the others into the sea. They all abound with salmon. The salt-water lochs are Enard, Broom, Greinord, Ewe, Gairloch, Carron, Torridon, and Loch Alsh; there are also several fresh-water lakes, but the only one of any extent is Loch Maree, on the west. There are some small remains of the ancient forests, which were very extensive, consisting chiefly of birch and oak; the plantations are numerous, and are rapidly increasing.

A very small proportion of the land is in cultivation. The soil on the eastern coast and on the low lands is rich and fertile; in some parts a loamy clay, in others light and sandy. Of late years the system of agriculture has been greatly improved, and excellent crops of wheat are now raised, of which more than 10,000 quarters are annually exported; there are some good tracts of meadowland, and the mountainous parts afford pasturage for sheep and cattle. The chief minerals are, copper, which has been wrought; and ironstone, which at some distant period was extensively raised: some remains of furnaces for smelting the ore are still to be seen near Poolewe. There are indications of coal; and limestone is found in the eastern and in greater abundance in the western districts. Several springs are strongly impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen gas; and of the numerous chalybeate springs, the principal, at Strathpeffer, is in great repute. The seats are Brahan Castle, Tulloch Castle, Mountgerald, Fowlis Castle, Balconey, Novar House, Invergorden Castle, Balnagown Castle, Tarbat House, Shandwick House, Bayfield House, Rosehaugh, Red Castle, Cromarty House, and various others. The principal manufactures are those of biscuit and cotton bagging; the spinning of flax was introduced by the trustees for the fisheries, but was not successful. The herring-fishery is extensively pursued, and a considerable number of fish are taken in the lochs. Black-cattle, sheep, and great quantities of wool are shipped from the several ports. Facility of communication is maintained by roads that have been much improved by the commissioners appointed under act of parliament. The total annual value of real property assessed to the income-tax in Ross-shire is £136,294, whereof £120,824 are returned for lands, £6440 for houses, £3378 for fisheries, £205 for canal property, £20 for quarries, and the remainder for other species of real property not comprised in the foregoing items. The value of Cromarty is £6921, of which £5857 are for lands, £631 for houses, £345 for fisheries, and the remainder for other species of real property.

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