Picture of Thomas Pennant

Thomas Pennant

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Appendix V: Of Caithness, Strathnavern, and Sutherland

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A P P E N D I X.



By the Rev. Mr. ALEXANDER POPE, Minister of REAY.

As the Picts possessed the Northern parts of Scotland of old, as they did the most fertile parts of the South, and were expelled in the year 839, we have very little of their history: what preserves the remembrance of that people is only the round buildings wherein they dwelt, of which there are numbers over all the North, particularly Sutherland, Cathness , and Orkney .

It is observable in these buildings, that there is no mortar of any kind, neither clay nor lime; nor had they any notion of casting an arch. They consist of the best stones they could find, well laid and joined; the wall was sometimes i4 feet thick, and the great room, which was quite round, 22 feet diameter; the perpendicular wall 12 feet high; and the roof was carried on round about with long stones, till it ended in an opening at the top; which served both for light and a vent to carry off the smoke of their fire. Where the stones were long and good, they had small rooms for sleeping in the thickness of their wall. The door or entry was low, 3 feet for ordinary, shut up by a large broad stone. There is one of them entire in the parish of Loth , which the bishop of Ossory visited and examined. It is the only one that is so, as far as I could find, excepting one at Suisgil in the parish of Kildonnan . It is to be observed that where the stones were not flat and well bedded, for fear the outer wall should fail, they built great heaps of stones to support it, so that it looks outwardly like a heap without any design, which is the case at Loth beg in the parish of Lothis . At the desire of the Bishop of Ossory I measured several of them, and saw some quite demolished. We found nothing in them but hand-mills, or what the Highlanders call Querns , which were only 18 inches diameter, and great heaps of deer bones and horns, as they lived much more by hunting than any other means.

Figure 1. in table XLVI. represents the section of an entire building. The thickness of the wall is about fourteen feet; the diameter of the area about twenty-two; the height to the spring of the arch twelve.

Figure 2. in the same plate, is the ground-plot with a view of the entrance; and of eight lodging-rooms of an oval form in the middle of the wall.

Figure 1. in plate XLVII. shews a double house of the same kind in the valley of Loth .

Figures 2. and 3. are what are styled forest or hunting houses ; for they are supposed to have been used by the antient inhabitants for retreats in the hunting countries. They consist of a gallery, with a number of small rooms on the sides, each formed of three large stones, viz. one on each side, and a third by way of covering. These are made with the vast flags this country is famous for. At the extremity is a larger apartment of an oval figure, probably the quarters of the chieftain. The passage or gallery is without a roof; a proof that they were only temporary habitations. Their length is from fifty to sixty feet. These buildings are only in places where the great flags are plentiful. In Glen-Loch are three, and are called by the country people Uags .

I beg leave to make a few more remarks on the round edifices. They were large or small, according to the size or goodness of the stones in their neighborhood. The stones that formed the roof were placed thus: the largest lay lowest, the remainder grew successively smaller and thinner to the top; so that there was no danger of its falling in by too great a pressure. The builders took great pains to bed their stones well; and where two met, they were wont to band them above by another, and to pin them tight to make them firm. The doors were always on the East side, and only three feet wide at the entrance, but grew higher within, and were closed with a great flag. They usually introduced water into these houses, where they formed a well, and covered it with a flag stone. A deep ditch surrounded the outsides of many of these buildings. The dead were interred at some distance from the houses. The cemiteries were of two kinds. In some places the deceased were placed within great circles of stones of a hundred feet diameter, and the corpses covered with gravel. In other places, they were interred in cairns of a sugarloaf form: sometimes bones have been found in them, sometimes urns with ashes, a proof that burning and the common species of interment was usual. Sometimes the remains of iron weapons have been found, but so corroded that their form could not be distinguished. In one was found a brazen head of a spear nine inches long.

If these buildings were the work of the Picts , they originally extended over many parts of Scotland south of this country. The last have been so long in a state of cultivation, that it is not surprising that we see none of these houses at present, the stones having been applied to various uses. Even in these remote parts, they are continually destroyed as farming gains ground, they offer a ready quarry to the husbandman for making inclosures, or other purposes of his business.

From the extirpation of the Picts to the year 1266, Scotland was harrassed by invasions from the Norwegians and Danes , particularly the North part; for Harold the fair, King of Norway , seized Orkney in the latter end of the 9th century. From Norway swarms came to Orkney , and the passage being so short, all the North of Scotland was continually in arms. As nothing can be expected in that period but fighting, bloodshed and rapine, we cannot look for improvements of any kind, and for that reason it is needless to attempt any particular history of it. It is true, Torfæus gives us some account of that time, which is all that we have.

As to the family of Sutherland , they have possessed that country since the expulsion of the Picts , and have continued as Thanes and Earls to this time. That they are originally of German extraction, is evident from their arms. Doctor Abercrombie , in his History of the Scots Heroes, mentions Donald Thane of Sutherland married to a niece of King Kenneth II. May that good family continue and prosper!

Lord Reay's family derive their original from Ireland , in the 12th century, when King William the Lion reigned. The occasion of their settling in the North is mentioned by Torfæus , as captains of a number of warriors to drive the Norwegians out of Cathness .

The Sinclairs Earls of Cathness are only of a late date. The family of Roslin is their original in Scotland : but their coming into England is as early as the year 1066: for I find them mentioned among the commanders in the army of William the Conqueror, in the roll of Battel abbey. They were first Earls of Orkney , then Earls of Cathness , and still continue in the person of William Sinclair of Ratter , who carried the peerage before the British parliament this present year 1772.

As for the history of these parts, I shall begin with


This parish, which belongs to the family of Reay , is all forest and rocks, little arable, and scarcely any plain ground, excepting the town of Scoury . The pasture is fine, and plenty of red deer, but the country at some distance looks as if one hill was piled upon another. The firth that runs far into the land abounds with good fish, and herring in their season.

Torfæus mentions a bloody battle fought in this firth, at a place called Glen du , by two pirates; one of them he calls Odranus Gillius , the other Suenus , wherein the latter was victorious. There is likewise a tradition of some bloody engagements betwixt the Mackays and Macleods. .

Parish of DIURNESS.

This parish was of old a grass room or shealing to the Bishop of Cathness , and was disposed of to the family of Sutherland by Bp. Andrew Stuart , and the family of Sutherland gave it to Lord Reay's family. Two pieces of antiquity are to be seen in this parish: 1st. Dornadilla's tower or hunting-house, which stands in Strathmore ; a very strange kind of building, well worth the seeing.1 It is certain that the finest pasture is in the hills of Diurness , which rendered it the best forest in Scotland of old. Our antient Scots Kings hunted there frequently, and it appears that this was a custom as far back as the time of King Dornadilla . 2d. There is on the side of a hill called Rui spinunn , a square piece of building, about 3 feet high and 12 square, well levelled, called Carn nri , or King's carn, which probably was the place where his Majesty sat or stood, and saw the sport, as he had from hence an extensive prospect. Torfæus mentions that one Suenus from Orkney waited on the King of Scotland as he was diverting himself in the hunting season in the hills of Diurness . This should be in the days of Malcolm II.

At Loch-eribol , on the North side, there is a plain rock which is still called Lech vuaies , where they say that Hacon , King of Norway , slaughtered the cattle he took from the natives in his return to Orkney , after the battle of Largis in the year 1263. Torfæus gives a journal of that expedition, and mentions King Hacon's landing there. But there is a tradition that a party of Norwegians , venturing too far into that country, were cut to pieces; and that the place is called Strath urradale , from the name of the Norwegian commander: a custom very common of old.

The greatest curiosity in this parish is a cave called Smow . It is a stupendous arch or vault, and runs under ground so far that the extremity of it was never found. Donald Lord Reay , the first of that family, made an attempt, and we are told he proceeded very far, meeting with lakes, and passing through them in a boat: but, after all, was obliged to satisfy himself with seeing a part.

Here are several caves that run far under ground, but Smow is the most remarkable. I am told that of late they have discovered in the manor or mains of Diurness , a hole of great depth: it was of old covered with large stones, but these it seems have mouldered away. So that it is the conjecture of many, that there are numbers of cavities of great extent, under ground, in this parish.

This parish is all upon the lime stone, and abounds in marble; the part called strictly Diurness , is a plain, the soil good, and the grass incomparable, therefore capable of the highest improvement. The lakes are stored with the finest fish, and full of marle. The hills afford the best pasturage for sheep, and the seas are well stored with fish. But the great disadvantage to this country is, that it is exposed to the North-West storms, which drive the sand upon it, and have by that means destroyed several good farms, and threaten more harm daily.

In this parish is a firth called Loch-Eribol; Torfæus calls it Goas-fiord , or the firth of Hoan , an island opposite to it. This is one of the finest and safest roads for shipping in Europe ; the navy of Great Britain can enter into it at low water, and find good anchoring. It is a loss that this incomparable bay has not been surveyed, and the different anchoring places marked. It would be a mighty blessing to mariners, being so near Cape Wrath , one of the most stormy capes in the world. For it would be a safe retreat to vessels, in time of storm, either sailing towards the cape, or to those that had the misfortune to receive any damage off it. Cape Wrath is also in the parish of Diurness .

Parish of TONGUE.

The antiquities of this parish are few. There is an old Danish building upon the summit of a hill, called Castel varrich , or Barr castle: for the Danes or Norwegians possessed that country for some time. Tongue is the seat of Lord Reay's family. This parish is rather better for pasture than tillage, but what corn ground they have is extremely good. Of old there was a fine forest in it, and there is still plenty of deer. The ancestors of Lord Reay's family drove the Danes from these parts.

In this parish is a loch, called Loch-Hacon ; in it an island, called Illan Lochan Hacon , in which there is the ruin of a stone building with an artificial walk in it, called Grianan , because dry and exposed to the sun. From which it appears that Earl Hacon , who possessed Orkney and Cathness , had a hunting house in this island, and lodged there with his warriors, in the hunting season. The sea-coast for the greatest part is all rock, of a rough granite, or what we call whin . Here is a promontory or cape, called Whiten head , very stormy when it is a hard gale.

There was formerly a chapel in an island near Skerray ; the common people call it the Isle of Saints ; it goes by the name of Island comb .

Another island, called Illan na nroan , all a high rock, but good land, and plenty of water and moss. It might be rendered impregnable. Both these islands are in the parish of Tongue . I have been in Illan comb . If the sand had not over-run a part, it would be a charming place.

A bloody battle was fought in this parish, of old, by one of the ancestors of Lord Reay , against one Angus Murray , a Sutherland man, wherein the Sutherland men were cut to pieces. The field of battle is called Drim na coub . And in the same place there was a skirmish betwixt Lord Reay's men, and a number of Frenchmen that were on board the Hazard sloop of war, in 1746: some of the French were killed, and the rest taken prisoners.

This parish is remarkable for an excellent ebb, where they have the finest cockles, muscles, spout fish, and flounders or floaks; which is a great blessing to the poor, and no small benefit to the rich. And in the firth of Tongue there is a fine island, abounding with rabbets, called Rabbet Isle . It has many lochs, or fresh water lakes, full of the finest trout and salmon.

Parish of FAR.

The whole of these four parishes was of old called Strathnaver , from the river Navar , which was so called, as some think, from the name of one of King Kenneth the Second's warriors. It is a noble body of water, well stored with salmon, having many fruitful and beautiful villages on the banks of it, and is so inhabited for 18 miles.

At a place called Langdale there were noble remains of a Druidical temple, being a circle of 100 feet diameter, and surrounded with a trench, so that the earth formed a bank: in the midst of it a stone was erected like a pillar, where the Druid stood and taught. The country people have now trenched or delved that ground, and sown it with corn. There was in that town a large round building, and a place where they buried of old.

This parish is of great extent, rather a country for pasture than tillage. A great battle was fought of old at a place called ——, Harald or Harald's field or plain, betwixt Reginald King of the Isles, and Harald Earl of Orkney and Cathness. Harald was well drubbed; and the field of battle is full of small cairns, where the slain are buried, and some large stones erected like pillars shew where persons of note were interred. Torfæus tells a long story about this affair; it seems that they had bloody skirmishes at ——, and near the manse of Far , as appears from the number of cairns in both these places. There is a most curious sepulchral monument in the churchyard of Far , which may be of that date; it is of hard hill granite, well cut, considering the æra of it. But what the meaning of the sculpture is, we know not. Only we may guess, that the person for whose sake it was erected, was a Christian, because of the cross upon the stone; and that he was a warrior, because we see a shield or target upon it. I have taken a draught of it.

In this parish, in old times, was a chapel at a town called Skail , upon the river Never ; another in the extremity thereof, at Moudale ; and another at Strathie , the most beautiful and fertile part of the parish.

Betwixt Far and Kirtomy , in this parish, is a most singular curiosity, well worth the pains of a traveller to view, being the remains of an old square building or tower, called Borve , standing upon a small point joined to the continent by a narrow neck of land not ten feet wide. This point or head is very high, consisting of rock, and some gravel on the top; on both sides is very deep water, and a tolerable harbour for boats. This tower seems to be built by the Norwegians ; and the tradition is, that one Thorkel , or Torquil , a warrior mentioned by Torfæus , was the person that built it. They speak likewise of a lady that was concealed there, she is said to be an Orkney woman, and Thorkel was an Orkney man. But what is most curious, is, that through the rock upon which the tower stands, there is a passage below of 200 feet in length, like a grand arch or vault, through which they row a boat. The writer has been one of a company that rowed through it. The passage is so long, that when you enter at one end, you fancy that there is no possibility to get out at the other, et vice versa . How this hard rock was thus bored or excavated, I cannot say; but it is one of the most curious natural arches, perhaps, in the known world.

In this parish there is also a promontory, called Strathy head; Ptolemy the Geographer calls it Vervadrum , as he calls Cape Wrath, Tarvedrum , and Dungsbey head, Berubium . These three promontories run in a line, from N. W. to North, and jut far out into the, sea, having most rapid tides upon them. In Strathy head is a stately cave, called Uai nei , or cave where they find driven wood or timber. The entrance into this cave is very grand, the natural rock almost forming itself like the sway of an arch: the writer hereof has admired the beauty of it. This promontory is the finest pasture for sheep and goats in the North of Scotland .

To the North-East of Strathy there is a stone erected near the highway, with a cross upon it, which shews its antiquity as a sepulchral monument. Erected stones were the distinguishing marks of the graves of persons of note in time of Paganism. And after Christianity was planted in this kingdom, the distinction of Pagan from Christian was, that a cross was cut upon the sepulchral monuments of the latter. I have seen many with this distinguishing badge.

No doubt there are mines in this country, if persons of skill examined our shores and rocks; as yet no pains have been taken, I have been told that there is at Loch-Eribol plenty of iron stone, and something like a tin mine. As I do not understand these things, I chuse to pass them over. As for sea-fish and shells, we have none extraordinary. It is true, in Cathness, John a Groat's buckies are very curious and beautiful, of which we shall take notice in the parish of Cannesbey .

Parish of REAY.

Some part of this parish lies in the shire of Sutherland , but the greatest part in that of Cathness ; that part in Sutherland is called Strath-Halladale , from Halladha Earl of Orkney , a Norwegian , slain in battle in the beginning of the 10th century. The field of battle is full of small cairns, or heaps of stone. The commander in chief, and principal warriors slain in that action, are buried in a place apart from the field of battle: I have frequently seen the place. The tradition is, that Halladha is buried in a spot enclosed with a circular trench 10 or 12 feet wide, and that his sword lies by his side. There was a stone erected in the middle of this circle, part of which still remains. Near the field of battle stands a little town, called Dal Halladha , or Halladha's field. A river runs through Strath-Halladale , which is rather pasture ground on the sides of it, for the eleven miles it is inhabited.

The boundary betwixt Sutherland and Cathness , to the North, is called Drim Hallistin . Cathness is a flat plain country, having few hills; the soil good, and producing great quantities of corn in fruitful seasons; it lies upon quarries of a black slate kind, and perhaps no country on earth excells it, for smooth thin flags or states of great dimensions. As these flags may be seen in all parts of the country, it is needless to describe them. The soil not being deep, and the country flat, renders our highways very deep in winter, and very dry in summer. That part of the parish of Reay in the shire of Cathness , is excellent corn ground through the whole of it. It appears that many battles have been fought in it in former times, but we have no tradition concerning them. In later times some bloody skirmishes happened betwixt M'Kay of Strathnaver , and Keith Earl Mareschal ; and also betwixt the Cathness and Strathnaver people.

The following chapels stood in this parish of old; St. Mary's at Lybster ; St. Magnus's at Shebsber ; one at Shail , another at Baillie , and a third in Shurerie ; besides the parish kirk dedicated to St. Colman , at Reay . There is an old castle at Dunreay , and modern houses both at Bighouse and Sandside .

Lead mines are frequent in Cathness ; but the country is so flat, that there is no working them for water. The most promising mine is at Sandside , being in the face of a rock near the sea. It might prove of value, if proper pains were taken to work it. The highway runs near it.

It seems that the Saxons , in the 5th century, plagued this country; and it is probable that Thurso is so called from Horsa the Saxon general, who landed in the river of Thurso , or Inver-Horsa , the landing-place of Horsa . And when the Saxons plundered Cathness , it seems they had a bloody conflict with the natives. In this parish there is a place called Tout Horsa , or Horsa's grave, where they say that some great warrior was slain and buried; in the place is a great stone erected. Probably he was one of Horsa's captains. This is the tradition.

Parish of THURSO.

Thurso , or Inver-Aorsa , so called from the Saxon general, is a town of an old date; we find mention made of it as a populous place in the 11th century, and from it the parish is denominated. Formerly a strong castle stood in it, called Castrum de Thorsa ; but no vestige of it is now extant. The Earls of Cathness had a fine square at Thurso East , now demolished. The Bishop of Cathness had a strong castle at Scrabster , near Thurso , called the castle of Burnside , built in the 13th century, by Gilbert Murray , Bishop of Cathness : the ruins are still extant. Another castle stood at Ormly , near Thurso ; lately demolished. At Murkil , to the East of Thurso , there were great buildings of old; it was a seat of the late Earl of Cathness , and at Hamer he had a modern house. An old tower, still extant, stands at Brines , three miles west of Thurso .

As for chapels and places of worship, one stood at Cross Kirk , one at Brines , another at Gwic , and a small chapel stood in the parks of Thurso East , where Earl Harold the younger was buried. The walls are fallen down; but Mr. Sinclair of Ulbster , very generously is determined to enclose that spot, because that young nobleman is interred there. The church of Thurso was the Bishop's chapel; and when he resided in Cathness , he often preached there. I was told by the late Earl of Cathness , that there was a nunnery in antient times near his seat at Murkil . The country people call the place the Glosters ; but no vestige of the building is extant, excepting the remains of the garden wall, which enclosed a rich spot of ground. Torfæus says that a Queen of Norway lived sometime at Murkil . He relates that Harold the bloody, son to Harold the fair, was banished for his cruelty, with his Queen; and that his brother Hacon succeeded to the throne: but after Harold the bloody was slain in England , his Queen returned to Orkney , and resided some time at Murkil in Cathness .

The same author mentions great battles fought in this parish; one in the 11th century, on the plains of Thurso East , betwixt Thorfinnus Earl of Orkney , and one Karl or Charles ; he calls him King of Scotland , or a General of the Scots army. Another bloody battle at Clarendon , near Thurso East , betwixt the Earls Harold the elder and younger. I have already told that Earl Harold the younger is buried near the field of battle, and a chapel erected over his grave, which is now to be enclosed by Mr. Sinclair of Ulbster , a most promising youth.

The Bishop of Cathness , since the reformation, lived in a small house at Scrabster , which is still extant, and belongs to the crown. He had a grass room in the Highlands , called Dorary , where stood a chapel, called Gavin's Kirk , or Temple Gavin ; the walls are still standing. The river of Thurso abounds with salmon, ten and eleven lasts of fish have been caught.

Parish of OLRIG.

A fine corn country, two miles and a half in length, and a mile broad, or thereabouts. Nothing memorable in it.

Parish of DUNNET.

The Northerly winds have covered a great part of this parish with sand; a large tract of ground is ruined and not likely to be recovered. In this parish stands Dunnet head , or what Ptolemy calls Berubium , a large promontory, with a most terrible tide on the point of it. A hermit in antient times lived upon it, the ruins of his cell are extant. It is a fine sheep pasture. The parish itself is an excellent corn country. At Ratter is the seat of the present Earl of Cathness .

Parish of CANNESBEY.

Is a fine corn country. Here was the antient residence of one of the Governors of Cathness , under the Norwegian Lords that held Orkney and Cathness . They dwelt at Dungsbey , and their office was called the Praefectura de Dungalsb&aeis. Torfæus mentions bloody battles fought betwixt the Scots and Norwegians , near Dungisby , in the 10th century. And Edwin , King of Scotland , fought an army of Orkney men, at Huna in this parish, and destroyed their King and his army. Here was, formerly, besides the parish church, a chapel at St. John's head , near Mey , and another at Freswick .

At Mey there is a beautiful, strong castle, belonging to Sir John Sinclair . Here a kind of coal is found, like the Lanstaffen coal in Wales . At Freswick stands a large modern house, the seat of Mr. John Sinclair . And there is a strong old castle, built on a high rock joined to the continent by a narrow neck of land to the South of Freswick. Torfæus calls it Lambaburgum five castrum agnorum . It sustained a memorable siege in the 12th century. In later times it was possessed by Mouat of Bucholly . The common people call it Buccle's castle, a corruption of Bucchollie's castle. In Dungisby , the rapid tides of the Pentland throw up vast quantities of most beautiful sea shells, abundance of which are carried South for shell work. They are called John a Groat's buckies. The town and ferry belonged of old to a gentleman of the name of Groat .

An island belongs to this parish, called Stroma , in which there is a vault where they bury, built by one Kennedy of Carnmuch . The coffins are laid on stools above ground. But the vault being on the sea edge, and the rapid tides of the Pentland firth running by it, there is such a saltish air continually, as has converted the bodies into mummies; insomuch, that one Murdo Kennedy , son of Carumuch , is said to beat the drum on his father's belly.

Parish of WICK.

An excellent corn country, and a fruitful sea; 2000 barrels of herrings were caught here in the year 1771. There was a chapel near Castle Sinclair , called St. Tay , another at Ulbster , and a third at Kilmister . The castle of Girnigo is the oldest building in this parish. I cannot find out by whom it was erected. It is probable some strong building stood here before the present ruinous house was erected. It stands on a rock in the sea. Near it stood Castle Sinclair , built by George Earl of Cathness ; a grand house in those days. Not far from it stood the castle of Akergil , built by Keith Earl Mareschal : but this place is now rendered a most beautiful and convenient seat, by Sir William Dunbar of Hemprigs , the proprietor. In the old tower is the largest vault in the North of Scotland , beautified with elegant lights and plaistering, by Sir William ; so that it is now the grandest room in all this part of the country.

The town of Wick is a royal burgh, now rising since the herring fishery has prospered. To the South of it stands an old tower, called Lord Olifant's castle. A copper ore was discovered there, and wrought for some time, but I do not find they have proceeded in it.

In this parish there is a haven for fishing boats, called Whaligo , which is a creek betwixt two high rocks. Though the height of one of these rocks is surprizing, yet the country people have made steps by which they go up and down, carrying heavy burdens on their back; which a stranger, without seeing, would scarcely believe. This is a fine fishing coast.

There was a battle fought at Old Namerluch , in 1680, betwixt the Earl of Cathness , and Lord Glenurchy .

Parish of LATHRONE.

Eighteen miles long; partly pasture, partly corn ground. It has a chapel at Easter Clyth , and another at the water of Dunbeath , besides the parish kirk.

At the loch of Stemster , in this parish, stands a famous Druidical temple. I have viewed the place: the circle is large, above 100 feet diameter; the stones are large and erect; and to shew that the planetary system was observed by them, they are set up in this manner, 1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6: 7. Then the same course begins again; 1: 2: 3: 4: &c. Few of the stones are now fallen. Near the temple there is a ruin, where the Arch-Druid , it seems, resided. I find no such large Druid temples in the country; as for small ones, they are generally found in many places.

Upon a rock in the edge of the sea, in Easter Clyth , there is an old building, called Cruner Gunn's castle. This gentleman of the name of Gunn , was Coronator or Justiciary of Cathness : he was basely murthered, with several gentlemen of the name, and of other names, in the kirk of St. Teay , near Castle Sinclair , by Keith Earl Mareschal . The story is told at full length in the history of the family of Sutherland . This happened in the 15th century. At Mid Clyth there was a large house, built by Sir George Sinclair of Clyth . At Nottingham there is an elegant new house, built by Capt. Sutherland of Parse : near this is the parish kirk. There is a strong old castle at Dunbeath ; and near Langwall is a strong old ruin, said to be Ronald Cheir's castle; he lived in the 14th century, and was a great hunter of deer, as will be told when we come to speak of the parish of Halkirk . He had a third part of Cathness in property: his great estate was divided betwixt his two daughters; one of which became a nun, the other married the ancestor of the Lord Duffus .

There is an old building at Lathrone , called Harold tower, said to have been built by wicked Earl Harold , in the 12th century.

We read of bloody encounters in this parish, betwixt the Cathness men, and Hugo Freskin Earl of Sutherland ; and likewise many conflicts betwixt the two countries in after-times. Torfæus says that King William the Lion marched into Cathness with a great army, and encamped at Ousdales , or Eiskensdale . This expedition of his Majesty's, was to drive out wicked Earl Harold the elder, who had slain Harold the younger. The King seized Cathness as a conquest, then Earl Harold submitted himself to him.

Parish of LOTH.

A fine corn country; much harrassed of old by the Danes , or Norwegians . In it are St. Ninian's chapel at Navidale, John the Baptist's at the river Helmsdale , St. Inan's at Easter Gartie , and St. Trullen's at Kintradwel , besides the parish kirk. The castle of Helmisdale was built by Lady Margaret Baillie , Countess of Sutherland : and there was a square or court of building at Craiag , erected, by Lady Jane Gordon , Countess of Sutherland ; no vestige of it now extant.

There is fine fishing in the rivers of Helmisdale and Loth . The latter has a very high cataract, where the water pours from a high rock, and falls into a terrible gulph below. If this could be removed, this river would afford excellent salmon fishing. The hills in this parish were of old famous for hunting. At —— there is a hunting house, probably built by the Picts , consisting of a great number of small rooms, each composed of three large stones. These buildings prove that a tribe lived here in the hunting season. Near it stands a large Pictish castle, called Cam Bran . It seems that this Bran , or Brian , was some great man in those days, and that all these accommodations were of his building. The quarry from whence the stones were carried to build this castle, is still to be seen, and the road for their carriage visible, being like a spiral line along the side of the hill.

I read of no battles in this parish: some bloody conflicts are told us, and these are to be seen in the history of the family of Sutherland . Near the miln of Loth beg is the entire Pitt's house, which the Bishop of Ossory entered. There is a fine cascade as you travel along the shore under Loth beg , which makes a charming appearance when there is any fall of rain, or in time of a keen frost.

Parish of CLYNE.

Partly corn ground, and partly fit for pasture. There was a chapel at Dol , called St. Mahon . No considerable buildings in this parish. Sutherland of Clyne had a good house; and Nicolas Earl of Sutherland had a hunting seat in the Highlands, called Castle Uain , but now demolished.

There is a tradition that a battle was fought at Kilalmkill , in this parish, wherein the country people routed the Danes . The common marks of a battle are visible there, viz. a number of small cairns. Another bloody battle was fought at Clyne Milton , betwixt the Sutherland and Cathness men; the slaughter was great, and the cairns, still to be seen there, cover heaps of slain.

The river of Brora affords a fine salmon fishery: it falls into the sea at Brora . Within two large miles is the loch of that name, which abounds with salmon. From the loch the river lies to the West; and at a place called Achir-na-hyl , is a most charming cascade: here also they fish for pearls. On the top of a small hill, near the house of Clyne , is a limestone quarry; and in the heart of the stone, all sorts of sea shells known in these parts are found. They are fresh and entire, and the lime-stone within the shell resembles the fish. The Bishop of Ossory employed men to hew out masses of the rock, which he broke, and carried away a large quantity of shells. Near the bridge of Brora there is a fine large cave, called Uai na Calman . The Bishop of Ossory admired it, and said there were such caves about Bethlehem in Palestine . The coal work and salt work are obvious here. But at Strathleven , near the sea, there is a hermit's apartment, cut artificially in the natural rock, well worth a visit from any curious traveller.

I need not mention the artificial island in the loch of Brora , made by the old Thanes of Sutherland , as a place of refuge in dangerous times. Near that loch stands a high hill or rock, called Creig baw ir , on the summit of which there is great space. This rock is fortified round; and as the neck that joins it to another rock is small, it seems that when they were invaded by enemies, they fled to this strong hold, and drove their cattle likewise into it for safety. Others say it was a place for keeping of a watch.

Parish of GOLSPIE.

This is a fine corn country. The parish kirk was of old at Culmalie ; and at Golspie the family of Sutherland had a chapel of ease, dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle. In this parish stands the seat of the Earls of Sutherland , at Dunrobin ; but during the Danish wars, they lived at a greater distance from the sea. This parish affords no other great buildings; nor is there any tradition concerning any battles fought in it: small skirmishes have happened here; particularly in the year 1746, when the Earl of Cromarty was taken prisoner. Most remarkable is the devastation done by sand; large tracts of corn ground have been quite spoiled thereby, and more mischief is threatened yearly.

Parish of DORNOCH.

In this parish stands the cathedral church of Cathness . The Norwegians having murthered Bishop John at Scrabster , and Bishop Adam at Halkirk , in the year 1222; Gilbert Murray , the succeeding Bishop, built the cathedral at Dornoch , which was, when entire, a neat compact building. It was burnt in troublesome times, and never fully repaired. The Bishop had a summer residence at Skibo ; but in winter he lived in his castle at Dornoch , the ruins of which are to be seen. There was a stately fabrick of a church, built in that town, in the 11th century, by St. Bar , Bishop of Cathness ; but Bp. Murray thought it too small: it stood where the council house now stands. We are told that the diocese of Cathness was not divided into parishes till the days of Bp. Murray ; and that he translated the Psalms and Gospels into the Irish language, or Scots Gaelic . The dignified clergy had houses and glebes in Dornoch ; these made up his chapter when there was occasion to call one. It is a loss that we have none of their records; nor indeed is it a great wonder, considering the daily invasions of the Danes , which ended not till 1266.

In Bp. Murray's time, there was a bloody battle fought at Hilton , near Embo ; he and William Earl of Sutherland fought there against the Danes , and cut them to pieces. The Danish General was killed, and lies buried in Hilton . There was a stone erected over his grave, which the common people called Ree cross, or cross in Ri , or King's cross, fancying that the King of Norway was there buried. A brother of the Bishop was also killed in this battle; his body lies in a stone coffin in the East isle of the cathedral, above ground, near the font. The hewn stone erected to the East of Dornoch , is a trophy of this victory. It has the Earl of Sutherland's arms on the North side, still very visible, and the Bishop of Cathness's arms on the South side, but the heat of the sun has quite destroyed the sculpture.

The driving of sand is very hurtful to this parish, and threatens still more harm. The only old buildings in it, excepting those already mentioned, is Skibo . Hugo Freskin , Earl of Sutherland , gave these lands to Bp. Gilbert Murray , then Archdeacon of Murray , in 1186. It passed through several hands, till at last it came to Lord Duffus's , and now it returns to the family of Sutherland . It was a great pile of building, surrounded with a rampart. The present modern house is still habitable. The situation is most beautiful, and a fine house there would have a noble effect. Cyder hall is only a modern house. The plantations here, and at Skibo , are the most thriving in this parish. At the latter place a house was lately built in a very elegant taste. Embo is an old building, the seat of the Knights of Embo . It is a pity that it has neither plantations nor policy about it.

Parish of CREICH.

Has no great buildings in it. Pulcrossi is the best. The great cataract at Invershin is a grand sight. Such a large body of water pouring down from a high rock, cannot miss affording entertainment. The river of Shin abounds with large salmon, and sturgeons are often seen there. In the 11th or 12th century lived a great man in this parish, called Paul Meutier . This warrior routed an army of Danes near Creich . Tradition says that he gave his daughter in marriage to one Hulver , or Leander , a Dane ; and with her, the lands of Strabobee ; and that from that marriage are descended the the Clan Landris , a brave people, in Rossshire . The gentlemen of the name of Gray possessed Mertil-Creich , of an old date; and at Mrydol there was a good house and orchard, which I believe are still extant. I find no other memorabilia in the parish of Creich .

Parish of LARG.

The most remarkable thing in it is Loca-Shin , which is computed to be 18 miles long, with fine pasture ground on each side of it. What skirmishes have happened in this parish are mentioned in the history of the family of Sutherland .

Parish of ROGART.

Consists of good pasture and good corn land. A bloody battle was fought here, near Knochartol , in the days of Countess Elizabeth . Tradition says, that upon the field of battle such a number of swords were found, that they threw numbers of them into a loch; and that in dry summers, they still find some of them. There is a place in this parish called Moriness , and Ptolemy the Geographer places there a people called the Morini . He also calls the river Helmisdale, Ileas ; and the natives call it in the Galic, Illie, Avin Illie, Bun Illie, Stra Illie .

Parish of KILDONNAN.

Consists of a valley, divided into two parts by the river Helmisdale , or Illie , only fit for pasture. The parish kirk is dedicated to St. Donan . A tribe lived here called Gunns , of Norwegian extraction: they have continued here upwards of 500 years, and contributed to extirpate the Danes out of Sutherland . They were in all times Satellites to the Earls of Sutherland . Their chieftain is lately dead, and represented by two boys; it were to be wished that some generous person would take care of their education. The most remarkable piece of history relating to this parish, is what Torfæus mentions, viz, That Helga Countess of Orkney , and her sister Frauhaurk , lived at Kinbrass , and supported a grand family there. This lady had a daughter called Margaret , who was educated in these desarts, and there married Maddadius Earl of Athole , uncle's son to King David I. of Scotland . These buildings were burnt, and reduced to heaps, so that we cannot discern what their model has been; at present, they are called Carn shuin . And Torfæus says that one Suenus burnt and demolished them.

What small skirmishes have happened in this parish, are not worth mentioning, excepting what Torfæus mentions relative to Kinbrass , betwixt Suenus an Orkney man, and Aulver Rosta , captain of a guard, which an old wicked lady, called Frauhaurk , kept to defend her. This lady, we are told, had ordered a party to go and murder Olafus , the father of Suenus , at Dungsbey , which party Aulver commanded. They came to Dungsbey , and burnt that brave man, and six more with him, in his own house. Luckily the lady of the house was absent, being invited to an entertainment in the days of Christmas . Her son Gunnius , the ancestor of the Gunns , was with her, and Suenus was also absent. After many years Suenus comes with a party, attacks Aulver , and after a smart engagement defeats him, so that he fled, and as many as could made their escape with him. Suenus , after this, burns Frauhark , and all her family, and made a heap of the buildings. And though the ruins are great, yet no man can tell of what kind they were; that is, whether round like the Pictish houses, or not. This happened in the 12th century.

Parish of HALKIRK.

Partly corn land, partly pasture. Many places of worship have been in this parish; such as the parish kirk of Skinnan , the hospital of St. Magnus at Spittal , the walls of the church belonging to it being still extant. The chapel of Olgrim beg . The chapel of St. Trostin , at Westfield . The chapel of St. Queran , at Strathmore . Another chapel at Dilred . And as the Bishop of Cathness lived of old at Halkirk , his chapel was called St. Kathrin , of which there is no vestige left but a heap of rubbish.

The Norwegian Lords that were superiors of Cathness , built the castle of Braal . Here lived Earl John , who is said to have caused the burning of the Bishop of Cathness . This Bishop, whose name was Adam , lived near the place where the minister's house stands, too near the bloody Earl. It is said he was severe in exacting tithes, which made the country people complain: whereupon the Earl told them that they should take the Bishop and boil him. Accordingly they went on furiously, and boiled the Bishop in his own house, together with one Serlo a monk, his companion, in the year 1222. King Alexander II. came in person to Cathness , and, it is said, executed near 80 persons concerned in that murder. The Earl fled, but was afterwards pardoned by the King. However, some time after, he was killed in the town of Thurso , by some persons whom he designed to murder. At Braal there was a fine garden, beside which they catch the first salmon from the month of November to the month of August . The situation is most beautiful, very well adapted for the seat of a great man. The castle of Dilred was built by Sutherland of Dilred , descended from the family of Sutherland . It is a small building on the top of a rock. His son, Alexander Sutherland , forfeited his estate; and these lands were given to the ancestor of Lord Reay , but now belong to Mr. Sinclair of Ulbster .

Up the river stands an old ruin, called Lord Chein's , or Ronald Chein's , hunting house. He was the Nimrod of that age, spending a great part of his time in that exercise. The house stood at the outlet of a loch, called Loch-more , the source of the river of Thurso , which abounds with salmon. Ronald Chein had a cruive on this river, with a bell so constructed, that when a fish tumbled in the cruive the bell rang. The tradition is, that all these highlands were then forest and wood, but now there is scarcely any wood. This loch is about half a mile long, and near that in breadth, and is the best fish pond in Britain ; many lasts are caught every year on the shore of this loch, by the country people. Sixty nets are for ordinary shot on it in a night, and fish in every one. Many gentlemen clame a property in it, for which cause it is a common good to the country in general.

There is in the town of North Calder an old ruin, called Tulloch boogie. Torfæus says that Ronald Earl of Orkney was treacherously murdered there by a ruffian he calls Thiorbiornus Klerkus , and a smart skirmish ensued. Thiorbiornus fled, and being hotly pursued, was was burnt in a house where he took shelter, and eight more with him. This was in the 12th century. Two battles were fought by the Danes in the dales of the parish of Halkirk . One at Tostin-gale , the grave of the foreigners. A Scots nobleman, whom Torfæus calls Comes Magbragdus , commanded on one side; and a Norwegian , called Liotus , on the other. Liotus was mortally wounded, and buried at Sten hou , near the kirk of Watten . The other battle was fought at Halsary . The large stones erected at Rangag and thereabout, are sepulchral monuments, where persons of note are buried. There was a battle fought in the 16th century, by the Gunns and others,> at a place called Blarnandoss , near Harpisdale , wherein the Gunns were routed. The beautiful river of Thurso runs through this parish, and numbers of salmon are caught in it. Pictish houses are very numerous along the shore, but all fallen down. It is a most beautiful parish, and must have of old abounded with game and fish, which invited people to settle in it. Mr. Sinclair of Ulbster , is proprietor of one half of it.

Parish of BOWAR.

Here the Archdeacon of Cathness resided. The Pope of Rome , was, of old, patron. I have in my possession, two presentations from his Holiness to the Archdeacon of Bowar . It was antiently a very extensive parish, but now Watten is part of it. I know of no other place of worship, besides the parish kirk, excepting the chapel of Dun , where a clergyman officiated, before the erection of the parish of Watten . I know of nothing memorable concerning it. If there ever were any grand buildings in it, no vestiges of them now remain. Torfæus mentions a great man that lived here in the 12th century, named Madden : one of whose sons was stiled Magnus the Generous, the other Count Ottar of Thurso . His daughter Helga married Harold the Orator, Earl of Orkney . Another married Liotus , a noble Dane , that lived in Sutherland . And the third was married to a Dane that lived in —— in Orkney .

Parish of WATTEN.

A country fit for both tillage and pasture. The chapel of Dun stands now in it. Here are no buildings but of modern date. The only memorable thing in this parish is the grave of Liotus , Earl of Orkney . At Sten-hou , near the kirk of Watten , stands a great rock upon a green spot of ground, which is said to be the sepulchral monument of this Earl. The Monkish tradition is, that St. Magnus converted a dragon into this stone. This is as true as what they relate of his crossing the Pentland firth upon a stone, and that the print of the Saint's feet is visible on the same stone in the kirk of Burrich , in South Ronaldshaw in Orkney .

N.B. In the history of the family of Sutherland , mention is made of one Sir Paul Menzies , Provost of Aberdeen , who discovered a silver mine in Sutherland , and found it to be rich, but death prevented his working it. It seems he covered the place where he found it, and no person of skill has observed it since that time. It is probable that Creig margod is the place where this mine may be, and that this discovery was the cause of this appellation: for I can see no other reason for that name or designation. Persons of skill ought to examine these bounds. Creign airgid , or the silver hill, is above Cullmalie .

1 A farther account of this tower will be given in the Tour and Voyage of 1772.

Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland 1769 (London: Benjamin White, 1776)

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