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Sketch of the Civil and Traditional History of Caithness from the Tenth Century
Chapter I


Caithness is the most northern county on the mainland of Scotland. It bore originally, with Sutherland, the Gaelic name of Cattey or Cattadh. The present name is of Scandinavian origin. In the old Norse the county was called Katanes, which means the naze (Anglice, the nose) of Cattey; and this corresponds exactly with the appearance of the district, which forms a real naze, shooting out in a north-eastern direction at Duncansbayhead. Caithness extends from south to north about forty miles, and from east to west about thirty. It is divided from the Orkneys by the Pentland Firth, and from the county of Sutherland by a picturesque mountain range, stretching from the celebrated headland of the (3rd to Drumholisten on the north Atlantic. The general aspect of the county, which measures in area about 618 square miles, is flat; and this peculiarity is rendered still more striking by the almost total absence of wood. There are a few plantations, as at Castlehill, Berriedale, and one or two other places, but it requires much nursing and shelter to get them to attain to any height. The only tree that indicates congeniality with the soil is the common "bourtree," or elder, which thrives everywhere, and without any protection from the northern blast. This is the more remarkable, as the county would seem, at one period, to have been almost a complete forest. It contains a vast deal of moor or peat-moss, the well-known product of decayed vegetable matter; and, in cutting for fuel, trunks of birch, pine, hazel, and other trees have been very frequently found with the bark quite entire. Some of the roots seem charred with fire, an appearance which gives countenance to the tradition that the woods were burnt down for the purpose of expelling the wolves and other wild animals with which the county was anciently infested.

There is another tradition that the Danes wantonly set fire to the old forests, and thus caused that lack of wood which acts so injuriously on the climate. But Mr Worsaae, the learned Danish archaeologist, satisfactorily, we think, disposes of this charge against his countrymen. "Similar discoveries," says he, "are very common in other countries, as, for instance, in Denmark itself, where trunks of trees, especially firs, have been dug up as in the Scotch Highlands. They are the produce of vegitative processes in the pre-historical times; and the apparent scorching has been produced either by accidental fires, or more probably by the simple mode of felling trees in use among the aboriginal inhabitants of Europe, who, like certain savage tribes of the present day, were obliged to burn the trunks of trees which they wished to fell."

"But the most remarkable evidence of ancient woods in Caithness," says the author of the New Statistical Account of Wick, "is found in the Bay of Keiss. Between the links and the sand, and running down under the sea, are found the remains of a submarine forest. These are like peat-moss entirely composed of decayed wood. The barks of various kinds of trees are quite discernible, and even the seeds of the birch and ash are so well preserved as to appear but lately taken from the tree." But if Caithness is destitute of trees, nature has liberally supplied it with plants and flowers; and, in this respect, it offers a highly interesting field to the botanist. The native flowering plants and ferns enumerated amount to about 420. In the moors, and along the hill-sides, which are covered with the finest heather, you find, in their proper season, the bilberry, the cranberry, and the barberry. The Scotch myrtle, thyme, woodbine, and juniper, are also to be met with in several places. White and red clovers are indigenous. The different species of wild-flowers are innumerable. Amongst these may be particularised the bird's-eye primrose, the Scotch primrose, the blue-bell, the fox-glove, and the beautiful gem called the white flower of Parnassus. The following, with their Linnean names, are some of the more rare and interesting plants hitherto not regarded as natives of the county: Draba incana, Pyrus aria, Saxifraga stellaris, S. tridactylites, Valeriana dioica, Hieracium boreale, H. prenanthoides, Arctostaphylos Alpina, Anchusa semper virens, Veronica polita, Rumex sanguineus, Juncus Balticus, Carex limosa, Osmunda regalis, Isoetes lacustris, Lycopodium annotinum, etc.

Within the last forty years the appearance of the county has, by means of excellent roads [Since 1806 no less a sum than £97,000 has been expended on roads alone. See Appendix, No, 2.] and an improved system of agriculture, undergone a mighty change for the better. Indeed, no county in Scotland, or in England, considering its local disadvantages, has made such remarkable progress as Caithness. In proof of this may be adduced the following statement, drawn up by an eminent statistician:—"It is," says Dr Cleland of Glasgow, "perhaps the most extraordinary circumstance recorded in the history of political economy, that the remotest and most northern county of Great Britain should, on an accurate comparison between the two last enumerations, surpass all the other 85 districts of the kingdom in regard to that great criterion of national prosperity, when it is properly regulated and employed, increased population. It proves what would have been the prosperous state of the other districts in Great Britain, had the same zeal for improvement, by which this remote county was actuated, been extended with equal judgment over the other districts of the kingdom. This increased rate of population is certainly much owing to the establishment of a valuable herring fishery, to the erection of villages for carrying it on, and to the number of persons employed in it. But, the improvement of agriculture, and the cultivation of waste lands, have gone on progressively with the fisheries; and hence it is that, notwithstanding the great addition to the population of Caithness, there has been no occasion for importing grain from other districts at home, and far less from foreign countries. The formation of roads, accompanied by the establishment of a mail-coach to Thurso, [The mail-coach was established in 1818.] have likewise greatly contributed to the prosperity of the county." Compare this highly improved condition of Caithness with the state in which it was when visited by Pennant, the celebrated tourist, in 1769. At that time there was not a single cart, nor a mile of road, properly so called, in the county. Pennant describes the whole district as little better than an "immense morass," with here and there some fruitful spots of oats and bere, and much coarse grass, almost all natural, there being as yet very little artificial. "Here," says he, "are neither barns nor granaries; the corn is thrashed out and preserved in the chaff in bykes, which are stacks in the shape of bee-hives, thatched quite round." And he adds, "the tender sex (I blush for the Caithnessians) are the only animals of burden; they turn their patient backs to the dunghill and receive in their cassies or straw baskets as much as their lords and masters think fit to fling in with their pitchforks, and then trudge to the fields in droves. The common people are kept in great servitude, and most of their time is given to their lairds, an invincible impediment to the prosperity of the county." Such is Pennant's picture of the county in 1769. Could he have seen it at the present day, he would have been struck with the extraordinary change which has taken place since then.

I have alluded to the want of wood in Caithness. Wood, unquestionably, adds much to the warmth and beauty of a country. It is, poetically speaking, the finest feature of a landscape. There is, however, a difference of opinion, or I should rather say of taste, in this matter as in everything else. (An anecdote is told of an American tourist who visited John O'Groat's some years ago. In his progress through Caithness he continually ejaculated, "Beautiful county! very beautiful county!" Some one remarked to him that it could hardly be called a beautiful county from its want of trees. "Trees!" cried the Yankee, "all stuff; Caithness, I calculate, is the finest clearance I ever saw in my life!"/ Notwithstanding its nakedness in this respect, when the corn-fields and pastures are all green and smiling in the genial summer sunshine, the scene is in the highest degree interesting, and may even be pronounced beautiful. The richness of the scene makes up, in a great measure, for its tameness. Nor is the county destitute of interest to the lover of the "wild and wonderful." The sea-coast, which is generally lofty and rugged, presents scenery of the grandest description. The iron-bound precipices are cleft by innumerable "goes," or fissures, whose steep sides, in the breeding season, are covered with thousands of wild-fowl. At their base, gloomy caves open out; and here and there shoot up tall isolated pillars of rock called stacks, which impart a peculiar and striking feature to the scene, and have been poetically likened to so many "advanced pickets of the land standing out amid the ceaseless turmoil of the breakers." Some of them are hollowed into arches by the restless surge, which, when agitated by a gale, is ever and anon seen pouring through them with a rush of foam. One of the most remarkable of these stacks is situated at the mouth of a small haven at Hempriggs, to the south of Wick. This immense conical rock is perforated from top to bottom, and from side to side, and exhibits two huge pillars so regularly formed as almost to appear artificial. The passage is so wide that a boat can easily pass through it.

There are several lofty headlands along the coast, but the four most celebrated are the Ord of Caithness, Holburn-head, and the promontories of Dunnet and Duncansbay. The Ord, so well known as a formidable pass between Sutherland and Caithness, is situated at the eastern boundary of the two counties. The etymology of the name is supposed to be from the Gaelic ord, which literally signifies, we are told, a hammer. It is the Verubium promontorium of Ptolemy; and in a curious geographical fragment, entitled, "De Situ Albaniae," [By some archaeologists this work is ascribed to Geraldus Cambrensis, an ancient British author.] and generally ascribed to Andrew, Bishop of Caithness, who died in 1185, it is called "Mons Mound." The Ord forms the termination of a long mountain ridge, and is, strictly speaking, the brow of a steep hill overhanging the sea, whose strand, at the lowest state of the tide, is the perpendicular face of the rock. On the Sutherland side, the headland is cleft into a huge ravine or gorge of great depth, running a long way up into the interior among the hills. The old road, the only practicable route without making a circuit of some twelve or fourteen miles, was a mere path or rather shelf along the outer edge of the promontory, and without any protection from the precipice, so that it could not be passed with any safety in stormy weather. This terrific path, which never failed to inspire travellers with dread, was about a mile in length. Its dangers have been alluded to by several tourists. Pennant, who was accustomed to such passes, describes it as "infinitely more high and horrible than Penmaen Mawr, in Wales." The Rev. John Brand, in his " Description of Orkney, Shetland, and Caithness," in the year 1701, quaintly says, "The Ord, which divideth Caithness from Sutherland, is a high mountain down which our way from Caithness to Sutherland doth lie. The road is but narrow and the descent steep, and if any stumble thereupon, they are in danger of falling down a precipice into the sea, at the bottom of the rock, which is very terrible to behold." Travellers in carriage or on horseback, when they came to the Ord, always alighted and crossed it on foot, leading their horses, or having them led by servants. In 1802 a Government survey of the Ord was made by Mr Charles Abercrombie, an eminent engineer, who suggested a new plan of a road, by which all danger would be avoided; and the ascent, instead of being so uncommonly steep, would not exceed one foot in thirty in any part of it. It was not, however till 1811 that the new road was constructed, and a bridge thrown across the wild yawning chasm, by which means the entrance from the one county to the other is now rendered perfectly safe and easy at any time. By the traveller from Helmsdale the old path may still be seen like a sheep track winding up the steep brow of the hill, some three or four hundred feet above the rolling surge. The scene altogether is one of that wild and savage character which would have afforded a fit subject for the pencil of Salvator Rosa.

Holburn-head, which lies about three miles from Thurso, is a magnificent promontory. It runs out along the west side of the roadstead of Scrabster; and, with its bold precipitous ridge, forms, as it were, a gigantic wall to protect it from the fury of the Atlantic. At the extremity of the headland there is an immense insulated rock called the "Clett," fully 400 feet high, which adds considerably to its picturesque and striking appearance. The roadstead of Scrabster has been long famous as an anchorage. The most violent gales from the west or northwest leave it comparatively unruffled. A local writer, speaking of its natural advantages as a resort for shipping, says:— "It is large enough to contain from 200 to 300 sail at a time, is well sheltered on all sides, especially towards the south and west, has good holding ground, with no tide-way, with from eight to ten fathoms water, and sufficient room to work out with any wind that blows." This account must be received with some little deduction. It is exposed to the north-east, and a storm from this quarter raises a very heavy sea in Thurso Bay, which renders the anchorage somewhat unsafe; and vessels have, not unfrequently, been driven from their moorings, and gone ashore on the sands. Of late an excellent harbour has been erected at Scrabster, of sufficient extent and depth of water to accommodate steamers. Passengers, goods, and stock, can, with the greatest facility, be transferred to and from the vessel at the quay; and in this respect, Thurso has greatly the advantage of Wick. Formerly iron rings were kept fixed in the rocks at Scrabster, to which vessels, when it was found necessary, were attached. Every vessel that put a hawser ashore for this purpose was charged by the proprietor of Holburn-head a merk Scots of ring dues; and from this circumstance, the roadstead was frequently called the "Rings." Dunnet-head, the Cape Orcas of Diodorus Siculus, [Diodorus Siculus, the geographer, lived in the time of Julius Caesar, about 53 years before Christ; and Pinkerton says, "this (meaning Cape Orcas) is the first mention of any place in Scotland by any writer."] forms a peninsula containing about three thousand acres of uncultivated moor, with no fewer than ten small lochs, or tarns, and is protected by a huge wall of precipices, averaging two hundred feet in height. This immense rampart of " nature's masonry," with its numerous wild "goes" and caves, runs along the northern side of the Bay of Dunnet, and then following the direction of the Pentland Firth, bends towards what is called Easter-head, on which the lighthouse is erected. The entire extent of rock encompassing the neck of land from Dwarwick round to the village of Brough, is nearly eight miles. Easter-head, which is the highest point of the whole, and the most northerly on the mainland of Scotland, being situated in latitude 58° 40' N, and longitude 3° 21' W., is fully 300 feet above the level of the sea. From the summit of the contiguous eminence, of which it forms a part, the height above the sea is more than 500 feet. The scene is horribly grand; and, in looking down from the verge of the promontory on the toiling ocean beneath, one is forcibly reminded of Shakspeare's description of Dover cliff—

" How fearful and dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!
.....The murmuring surge,
That on the unnumbered idle pebbles chafes
Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more,
Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong."

The lighthouse, which was erected in 1832, is, at one part, not much more than fifty feet from the edge of the precipice.

During a heavy storm from the west, the enormous billows, as they dash against the rugged face of the cliff, throw up the spray as high as the lights of the building, often mingled with stones, which occasionally break the glass. And such is the prodigious force of the wind and the sea united upon the headland, that the very rock itself seems to tremble; while the lighthouse shakes from top to bottom, as if it were affected by an earthquake. The light which is fixed is seen at the distance of twenty-three miles. The height of the lantern above the highest spring tides is 346 feet. Easter-head and the Berry, in the opposite island of Walls, in Orkney, form the western entrance of the Pentland Firth. They nearly correspond in their geological properties; and, as is remarked by a statistical writer, various circumstances contribute to render the conjecture probable, that at a remote period the Orkneys were, by some convulsion of nature, torn from Scotland. Dunnet-head is altogether composed of freestone, and the strata dip or incline to the north-east at an angle of 45°.

But by far the most beautiful promontory on the coast of Caithness is Duncansbay-head. It is a small headland compared with that of Dunnet, but it possesses several features of greater interest. It is of a semicircular shape, and about two miles in extent, the greater part of which is surrounded by the sea, and forms a continued precipice, remarkable for its stupendous boldness, and the wild and striking appearance of the few chasms and goes by which it is indented. On the land side the surface is composed of a beautiful green, which slopes gently down towards a small rivulet which bounds it on that quarter. From the summit of the rock there is a magnificent view of the German Ocean, of the Pentland Firth, with the Skerry lighthouse, and of several of the Orkney islands. A little to the south of the head, in the direction of Freswick, are seen the Stacks of Duncansbay, two immense pillars of rock of an oval form, standing out in the sea, wholly detached from the adjacent precipices, and shooting up their fantastic summits to a great height. They are situated in a sort of recess, where in certain directions of the wind during bad weather, boats, and even vessels, can lie with safety. The term Duncansbay is from the Norse, and was originally written Dungalsbae. Near the top of the promontory stood the ancient fort of Dungalsbae, the earliest stronghold of the Scandinavian Earls of Orkney and Caithness. It was generally held by a prefect or captain under the Earl. Not a vestige of the building, which would seem to have been of a circular form, now remains.

About a mile and a-half to the west of Duncansbay-head lies the celebrated locality of John O'Groat's, situated close by the sea, and near the middle of a long strip of "links," or downs. The stranger who visits the spot is naturally disappointed, when instead of the house which his imagination had pictured, he sees nothing but a small green mound which is pointed out as the site on which it stood. The sea view, however, is! good; and the visitor, if he be a conchologist, will have an opportunity of enjoying his favourite study, and of picking up in his walk along the beach, among others, some of those beautiful little shells called "John O'Groat's buckies." The following is the tradition respecting the far-famed John and his banqueting-house. In the reign of James IV. of Scotland, three brothers, Malcolm, Gavin, and John de Groat, natives of Holland, came to the county, carrying with them a letter in Latin from that monarch, recommending them to the protection and countenance of his loving subjects in Caithness. They purchased, or obtained by royal charter, the lands of Warse and Duncansbay, in the parish of Canisbay; and in process of time, by the increase of their families, and the subdivision of the property, there came to be eight different proprietors of the name of Groat. An annual festive meeting having been established to commemorate the anniversary of their arrival in Caithness, a dispute arose on one of these occasions respecting the right of taking the door, the head of the table, etc., which increased to such a height as threatened to be attended with very disagreeable consequences, when John who was now considerably advanced in years, happily interposed. He expatiated on the comforts which they had hitherto enjoyed in the land of their adoption, and conjured them by the ties of blood and their mutual safety, to return quietly home, pledging himself that he would satisfy them on all points of precedency at their next meeting. They acquiesced and departed in peace. In due time, to fulfil his engagement, John built a house, distinct by itself, of an octagonal form, with eight doors and windows; and having placed a table of oak, of the same shape, in the middle, when the next meeting took place, he desired each of his friends to enter at his own door, and sit at the head of the table. By this happy contrivance any dispute in regard to rank was prevented, and the former harmony and good humour of the party were restored. Such was the origin of John O'Groat's House. The above interesting tradition, which furnishes an excellent moral, first appeared in the Old Statistical Account of Canisbay, drawn up by the late ingenious Dr Morison, minister of the parish. It is added in a note that John Sutherland of Wester, in the parish of Wick, had the particulars from his father, who was then advanced in life, and who had seen the letter written by James IV. in the possession of George Groat of Warse. The story, however, notwithstanding the imprimatur of Dr Morison, has been regarded by many as merely a beautiful myth. Certain it is that Mr Pennant, in his tour, says nothing about it; nor does Mr Pope of Reay, who was well acquainted with the ancient history of the county, make any mention of it in his appendix to that work. The latter merely says that "the town of Duncansbay and the ferry * of old belonged to a

* Robert Mackay, in his History of the House of Mackay, gives the following origin, purporting to be from tradition, of the name Groat: It is said that the ancestor of the Groats was a ferryman betwixt Caithness and Orkney, and had frequent disputes with passengers about his fares, till at length the magistrates interfered, and fixed the rates at fourpence, or a groat, for each passenger; and that the ferryman, whose name was John, was thenceforward termed Johnny Groat." There is no doubt that one of the family was proprietor of the ferry-boat that plied betwixt Caithness and Orkney; but the writer of this sketch, who lived many years near John O'Groat's, never heard the origin of the name ascribed to any such circumstance as that mentioned by Mackay.

gentleman of the name of Groat." It is a pity that the letter said to have been written by the king—if there ever was any such missive—was not religiously preserved. It would not only have been an object of great antiquarian interest, but it would have completely removed all doubts as to the authenticity of the story. But whether the tradition be true or false, there can be no question that a family of the name of Groat possessed for many ages the lands of Warse and Duncansbay. About the end of the fifteenth century, the proprietors of the latter township appear to have been the Earl of Caithness, and Oliphant of Oldwick. In 1496, [See Appendix, No. 3.] John Groat, son of Hugh, obtained by charter from William. Earl of Caithness, a portion of land in Duncansbay called One Penny land, paying yearly "tres modios Brasii" (three measures of malt); and in 1507, his son William Groat had a charter from William Oliphant, and Christian Sutherland, his spouse, of some Halfpenny land in the same locality, paying yearly 5 shillings Scots. Previous to 1496 and 1507, the family of Groat is not mentioned in any of our local records. The name afterwards frequently occurs in the parochial records of Canisbay, and other public documents. In 1609 Donald Groat of Warse was killed in a fray in Kirkwall; and in the Scottish parliament of 1702, John Groat, portioner of Duncansbay, was commissioner of supply for the county. Next to the celebrated site of John O'Groat's, and the wild and beautiful scenery about Duncansbay-head, the most interesting object to a stranger, historically speaking, is the Pentland Firth, which, in the old Norse was called "Petland Fiord." [The derivation of the term Pentland is uncertain. Blaeu, in his Geographical Atlas, gives the following tradition respecting the origin of the name. The Picts, on being defeated by the Scots, fled to Duncansbay, whence they crossed over to Orkney, but meeting with opposition from the natives, they were forced to retire; and on their way back to Caithness they all perished in the Firth, from which catastrophe it was ever after called the Pictland or Pentland Firth. Buchanan calls it "Fretum Penthlandicum," from one Penthus; but who this Penthus was he does not say. It owes its name most probably to some circumstance connected with the Picts.]

It forms a communication between the German and Atlantic Oceans, and is about fourteen miles long, and, at an average, eleven broad. It is calculated that about 10,000 vessels pass through it annually. The tide often runs in it at the rate of ten miles an hour and when a vessel is met by this impetuous current, she may be seen, even with a favourable breeze, and under a press of canvas, drifting rapidly backward after the stern. The passage through the Pentland Firth has long been accounted a dangerous one; and, although its perils have been somewhat magnified, it requires mariners who are well acquainted with its numerous eddies and currents to navigate it with safety. At St John's Head, in the district of Mey, and at Duncansbay-head, near the eastern entrance of the firth, there arises a violent agitation of the waves, locally called the "Men of Mey," and the "Boars of Duncansbay." They appear only alternately; the former with the ebb, and the latter with the flood-tide; and the roughness, which is at times much greater than at others, is produced by the collision of currents running in opposite directions. The huge breakers jet up as from a boiling cauldron, and foam, and dance, and tumble over each other in the most frantic manner. Sometimes they spread to a considerable distance from the shore, and at other times they confine themselves to a certain spot, and may be seen raging furiously, even when the surrounding firth is as smooth as a mirror. It is a fearful sight to see a vessel, especially in a storm, labouring in one of these dangerous pieces of sea— now whirling round like a ball, and now plunging down half buried amidst the white breakers. Captain Lyon, in the narrative of his expedition to the Arctic regions in 1824, mentions that the Griper, the ship in which he sailed, was twice whirled round in an eddy in the Pentland Firth, and with some difficulty got out of it. Generally, however, when the tide is with them, vessels are not long in passing through the "Men" or the "Boars."

Situated half way between Duncansbay-head and the head of Mey, and about a league from the opposite shore of Canisbay, to which it belongs, lies the small picturesque-looking island of Stroma. Its name in the old Norse was "Straumsey," which means the island in the current. It is a mile long, and half a mile in breadth, and contains about two hundred inhabitants. They are evidently of pure Norwegian descent, and like their ancestors, the male part of the population are all excellent boatmen. On its west and north-west sides the island is surrounded with very high rocks, which rise up like an iron rampart to protect it from the fury of the Atlantic surge. In a winter storm from the west, the spray is tossed up over the loftiest precipices, and drifted in showers a long | way into the interior. There is no rivulet or burn in the island; and the salt water carried inland by the storm was at one time collected in a "dam," or reservoir, and with the rain supplied from the clouds, made to turn the wheel of a small meal mill. In the west corner of Stroma there is a large round open chasm, shaped like a bowl, and about thirty yards from the precipice, to which the sea has access by an opening at the bottom. The natives call it the "glupe." It is about 100 feet in diameter, and as many in depth. The subterranean opening between it and the sea is about 30 feet high and 12 feet wide; and the waves growl and thunder through it in their constant ebb and flow. When illicit distillation was carried on in Stroma (which it was to a great extent some years ago), the smugglers used to hide in this cavern their brewing apparatus, etc., from the officers of the revenue; but these lynx-eyed gentlemen found out all their places of concealment here, and in other parts of the island, and finally put I a stop to the demoralising traffic. The officer who really suppressed smuggling in Stroma, and indeed through Caithness generally, was a Mr Terence Macmahon, a native of Ireland. So active and successful was he in the discharge of his duty, that his very name spread terror over the whole country, from the Ord to Duncansbay-head. Mr Macmahon was an excellent specimen of the better class of his countrymen; and, notwithstanding the terror inspired by his name, those who were acquainted with him, found him to possess a well-cultivated mind, and a fine taste for literature. On receiving his retiring allowance he resided for a short time in Edinburgh, and afterwards emigrated to the Cape of Good Hope. Stroma, or at least certain portions of it, would seem to have belonged to different proprietors at different times. The Sinclairs, soon after their accession to the earldom of Caithness, obtained by royal grant the property of the island. In 1574, George Sinclair of Mey, youngest son of George, Earl of Caithness, was, in addition to other lands belonging to the family in Canisbay, served heir of entail to his brother William in the lands of Stroma. [Origines Parochiales Scotiae, vol. ii., p. 813.]

In 1726 all the arable land in Stroma was delved with the spade, and it paid, says a writer of the period, "in victual and money 1300 merks in yearly rent." [Macfarlane's Geog. Collection.]

The present proprietors of Stroma are the Earl of Caithness and Mrs Thompson Sinclair of Freswick. The former draws about one-third, and the latter two-thirds of the rental of the island, which amounts to about £200 per annum. There is some excellent land in Stroma, particularly in the northern part of it, but the inhabitants may be said to depend for their livelihood chiefly upon the sea. The finest cod in the North is to be got in the Pentland Firth; and, at certain seasons of the year, the shores of the island teem with cod fish, and the young fry, provincially called sillocks. Large and excellent lobsters are also caught around the island. Accordingly the time that is not employed in the cultivation of their little crofts, the male portion of the inhabitants devote to fishing; and many among them earn a good deal in the course of the year, by piloting vessels through the firth.

The island rises to a considerable altitude above the neighbouring shore of Canisbay. It is entirely destitute of anything in the shape of a tree; and as Trinculo says in the "Tempest," "Here's neither bush nor shrub to bear off any weather at all." There is a school, but no church, in the island; and when the weather is suitable, the inhabitants cross over to attend divine service in Canisbay. Near the southwest corner of the island, and in what is called Stroma Sound, an outlying reef of rock, partly visible at ebb-tide, but entirely covered with the flood, has occasioned frequent accidents to vessels. Of late a beacon has been erected on it. It consists of six strong iron columns, thoroughly joined together with tie-beams or arms, and dovetailed into the solid rock. In height it is 45 feet, and in weight about 43 tons. At the top is a cage which can be reached by a cast-iron ladder in the centre of the construction. Opposite the north corner of the island there is a remarkable eddy or whirlpool, called the "Swelchie of Stroma," which is particularly dangerous in a storm; and instances have occurred in which boats, and even vessels, have been sucked down into it and lost. Pennant and Pope of Reay both mention a singular natural curiosity which was to be seen in their time in Stroma. In this island, says the latter, "there is a vault, built by one Kennedy of Carnmuck. The coffins are laid on stools above ground; but the vault being on the sea-edge, and the rapid tides of the Pent-land running by it, there is such a saltish air continually as has converted the bodies into mummies-—insomuch that Murdo Kennedy, son of Carnmuck, is said to beat the drum on his father's belly!" A family of the name of Kennedy at one time possessed a part of Stroma. They belonged originally, it is said, to Fifeshire; and the amiable young gentleman, who amused himself in the way mentioned by Mr Pope, was the last of his race who were lairds of Stroma. Accounts differ as to how they lost their property; but, the general belief is, that it was forcibly seized upon—a mode of acquiring land very common in the north—at a period when might and not right was the leading rule of conduct. There is an amusing legend, in an old topographical work on Scotland, which says that a dispute once arose between the Earls of Orkney and Caithness as to which county Stroma belonged. Instead of deciding the quarrel by the sword, the chiefs on both sides ultimately agreed to refer the decision of the matter to an experiment in natural history. Some venomous animals—of what kind we are not told—lived in Stroma. A certain number of them were shipped, at the same time, as colonists to Orkney and Caithness. Those that were brought to Caithness took kindly to the soil as to a congenial habitat; while those that were sent to Orkney, from the unfavourable effects of the climate on their constitution, sickened and died. By this singular fact Stroma was adjudged to belong to Caithness!

During the Norwegian rule in Caithness, Stroma, from its proximity to the mainland, and other natural advantages, was regarded as a place of much importance, and a sub-deputy or governor usually resided in it. This official also acted in the capacity of what might be termed special reporter for the district, and forwarded to his superior in Orkney intelligence of every event affecting the interests of the earldom in that quarter. An instance of this is mentioned as occurring about the end of the tenth century. At this time two Highland chiefs having invaded Caithness with a large band of followers, plundered the county as far as Canisbay; and, among other acts of atrocity, killed a Norwegian nobleman who lived at Freswick. Arnliot, the governor of Stroma, as soon as he heard of it, despatched a boat to Orkney with the news of the invasion. The Earl lost no time in transporting across the firth a sufficient body of troops, attacked the two chiefs near Duncansbay-head, routed them with great slaughter, and retook all the booty which they had collected in Caithness.

In the eastern entrance of the firth, and nearly half-way between Orkney and Caithness, lie the Pentland Skerries, called in the Old Norse "Pentlandsker," and in the Danish "Petland Skjaere." They are three in number. On the largest, which is about a quarter of a mile in length, and situated 4½ miles east north-east from Duncansbay-head, a lighthouse was erected in 1794. It consists of two towers— the one considerably higher than the other—with a fixed light on each. This double beacon, with the one now on Dunnet-head, have rendered the navigation of the firth, in the night-time, much safer than it was before.

The "Stormy Pentland," as it has been well named, has proved a watery grave to thousands. The old sagas point out in strong terms its manifold dangers. On the return of Haco, king of Norway, after his disaster at Largs, one of his ships was lost in the Pentland Firth, and another escaped only with the greatest difficulty. Even in modern times, with all the advantages afforded by science, many melancholy shipwrecks have occurred on its wild shores. A few years ago, a fine schooner, belonging to the west of England, was, on her way home from the Baltic, caught in a severe gale on entering the firth, and literally swallowed up in the Boars of Duncansbay. The catastrophe, which happened during the middle of the day, was witnessed by numerous spectators on shore, who could render the hapless crew no assistance. So frightful, indeed, was the surge, that all the lifeboats in Britain could not have saved them at the time.

The three largest bays on the coast are Wick Bay, Sinclair's Bay, and Dunnet Bay. The two first are completely exposed. Sinclair's Bay, under which designation are included the bays of Keiss and Ackergill, is a magnificent inlet about six miles wide at the entrance. The shore, which every where else is bold and rocky, here subsides into a low, level, benty links, and sweeps round in the form of a semi-circle; while along the whole head of the bay extends a sand of some four miles in length. The river of Wester, issuing from the loch of the same name, intersects the links nearly in the middle, and then flows into the bay. At one spot near the beach there are two mounds covered with sand, which indicate the ruins of two old castles named Castles Linglas, and which are supposed to have been Danish or Norwegian strongholds. Tradition says they were surprised and burned down by the natives, and this seems to be confirmed by the calcined state of such stones as have been dug from the ruins. Owing to the want of a lighthouse on Nosshead, frequent shipwrecks formerly took place in Sinclair's Bay. There is now a very fine one, with a tower, 70 feet high, erected on that promontory. The light, which is revolving, was first opened in the summer of 1849. It is seen 15 miles off, and flashes out once, every half minute— alternately exhibiting a coloured red light, and one of the usual appearance, each within a certain range of the compass. A tourist from the south draws the following vivid picture of this lighthouse :—"It is one of the strongest and best in the kingdom, and will well repay inspection. It commands a magnificent and far-stretching view of land and sea. Seen through its red-stained windows, the surf breaks along the shore of Ackergill Bay in flickering flame. The coast seems one mass of still red fire, and the white gulls, wavering o'er the billows, are transformed into winged splendours." As the principal Skerry light is apt to be obscured in thick or stormy weather, and at such times cannot be seen at a distance, the light on Nosshead is of great benefit to stranger vessels, and especially to those from the south that are shaping their course for the Pentland Firth.

On the south-east side of Sinclair's Bay, and about a mile to the west of Nosshead, on a bold peninsular neck of land, are seen the picturesque ruins of the castles Sinclair and Girnigoe, the chief baronial strongholds of the ancient Earls of Caithness of the Sinclair family. The length of the rock on which they are situated, is fully three hundred feet, with a main breadth of thirty-four, and fenced on the side towards the land by a long deep creek or "goe" running up to the neck of the isthmus. Of Castle Sinclair, which was erected about the year 1606, as an appendage to Girnigoe, no part is standing except one tall chimney-stalk of the main tower. The rest of the superstructure, owing to some defect in the foundation, has fallen down, and being strongly cemented with lime, is seen lying in one solid mass in the hollow between the castle and the mainland. The sides of several of the prostrate arches are of such durable masonry, that they present to the hammer a surface nearly as hard as granite. The date of the erection of Girnigoe, apparently so named from the adjacent goe, is not known. It is, however, notwithstanding its great antiquity, comparatively entire. The main tower, which is about fifty feet in height, consists of five storeys, three of which, including the ground floor, are vaulted. Its thick massy walls are solid as iron; while that part of the edifice fronting the sea is built to the very edge of the precipice, and rises up perpendicular with it. On the land side the court was protected by a high screen wall, pierced with seven loopholes. Immediately opposite, on the side facing the bay, ran a range of low rooms, supposed to have been used as barracks for the retainers and domestics of the establishment. There were two stairs inside, both of which are now gone. The great dining-hall would seem to have been a spacious apartment, being about thirty feet long, and twenty broad, with a large bow-window in the west end. At the extremity of the tongue of land, towards the east, a stair, consisting of a flight of narrow steps cut out of the solid rock, with an arch at the top, leads to the sea. There is another archway at the west corner, betwixt the two castles, evidently for the same purpose ; but there being no trace of a stair here in the rock, it is not easy to say whether the descent was through a subterranean passage, or by a portable trap or ladder. At the foot of the precipice at this point is a small goe capable of admitting an ordinary-sized boat. There can be no doubt that the object in getting to the sea in both places was to secure to the inmates of the castle a communication with the mainland, in case of a siege, when all other means of ingress and egress were cut off.

In going over the ruins, two striking objects present themselves. The one is a large stump of wood projecting from a part of the wall in the tower, which is said to be a portion of the gibbet used in the execution of criminals, or of such unhappy wretches as had incurred the Earl's displeasure. The other is the subterranean cell in which prisoners were confined. This horrid dungeon, partly formed in the rock, had but one small aperture opening on the bay, but beyond the reach of the captive, which afforded just light enough to reveal the gloom that pervaded the interior. The view of it forcibly suggests to the mind an idea of the oppressive tyranny and cruelty of former times. No situation can be conceived more miserable than that of the unfortunate beings who were shut up, it might be said, without light or air, many of them for years, in this damp and noisome pit, where, in the words of Byron's prisoner of Chillon—

"A double dungeon wall and wave Did make—
and like a living grave."

A drawbridge over a natural chasm in the rock connected the two castles, the new and the old, together. Hence, in the case of an attack, if the one stronghold was in danger of being taken, the besieged could easily retire into the other. On the land side, in addition to this goe, both were protected by a deep and broad artificial ditch, cut across the neck of the peninsula, over which was the main or principal drawbridge, which afforded access through an arched passage to the court of Castle Sinclair. The situation of this double fortress was naturally strong; and before the invention of artillery, it might, with its well-constructed defences, be considered impregnable.

The castles seem to have been inhabited till about the year 1690. As the country became more settled and civilised, the principal gentry began to desert their wild abodes on inaccessible rocks and precipices overhanging the sea, and to erect comfortable houses of modern construction in more agreeable situations. Sinclair and Girnigoe shared the fate of similar strongholds along the coast. After being abandoned, they gradually went to decay; and time and tempest did their work upon them, until they have become the striking ruins which they now exhibit, conveying a moral more impressive than a thousand homilies on the perishable nature of all earthly grandeur.

Dunnet Bay may be said to commence between Holburn-head and the opposite headland of Dunnet. It forms a deep indentation, somewhat in the shape of an oblong, and runs down towards the south-east for the space of nearly four miles. Its breadth across is about two miles and a half, and it is completely land-locked on the south side by the low rocky shore of Castlehill and Murkle, and on the north or Dunnet side, by the lofty wall of precipices formerly mentioned, amongst which the bluff bold brow of Dwarwick rises up conspicuously. It is a beautiful inlet, but still a very dangerous one, when the wind blows right down from the north-west. A gale from this quarter throws in a heavy sea from the Atlantic; and, if a vessel should unfortunately get embayed, her destruction, from the great difficulty of working out again, is almost certain. Before the erection of the present lighthouse, scarce a winter passed without one or two shipwrecks. In the darkness vessels frequently mistook the bay for the Pentland Firth, and before they were aware, they struck either on the rocks or on the sand at the bottom of the inlet. In 1811, a very melancholy case of this kind occurred. A large barque, called the Fingal, of London, with a cargo of wood from America, shaped her course by mistake down the bay. The night was dark and stormy, in the month of November, and the vessel, being heavily laden, struck far out in the sands in deep water, and went almost instantly to pieces. The crew— sixteen in number—all perished, several of them being crushed to death by the logs which were set loose and floated around when the vessel broke up.

When roused by a heavy westerly gale, the bay, from the tumultuous agitation and magnitude of the breakers, presents a sublime spectacle. The huge, long, white-crested billows, lashed into fury by the storm, seem to chase each other; and, as they hurry on towards the beach, burst with astounding force—the broken surge churned into foam rushing up along the sand with the speed of a race-horse, and then rushing back again as rapidly, as if sucked down by the raging flood. Here and there a few gulls, perhaps in quest of prey, may be seen vainly struggling with the blast, while from all sides of the bay is heard one continued roar like that of the loudest thunder.

Caithness contains a multitude of small lakes. In the parish of Halkirk alone, there are no fewer than twenty-four. The three largest in the county are the loch of Watten, the loch of Calder, and Lochmore. The first is about three miles in length, and about a mile in breadth. But the most celebrated loch in the county is that of Dunnet, or St John's, which lies a few hundred yards to the north of the church, and is little more than half a mile long, and one-fourth of a mile broad. In the olden time it was greatly famed for its supposed virtues in curing all kinds of chronic and lingering disorders; and, in consequence, people resorted to it from all parts of the county, and even from Sutherland and the Orkneys. There were particular times for visiting it, viz., the first Monday of each quarter of the year, or "raith," as it is provincially called. The summer quarter was on many accounts considered the best. The patient had to walk round the loch early in the morning; and if his strength did not permit him to do so, he was carried round it. The ceremony which he had to go through consisted in washing his face and hands in the lake, and throwing a piece of money, commonly a halfpenny, into it; and, if he would derive any permanent benefit to his health, it was absolutely necessary that he should be out of sight of it before sunrise. It is difficult to account for the origin of this superstition, for superstition it undoubtedly was. The waters of the loch do not seem to possess any healing or medicinal qualities. There was anciently on the east end a Catholic chapel dedicated to St John, and it is extremely probable that the alleged virtues of the loch may have been conferred on it by the priests, and converted by them into a source of pecuniary emolument. After the subversion of the Popish religion in the district, the practice still maintained its ground; and the money which was formerly given to the church was now thrown into the consecrated waters of St John. At present it is seldom visited except by a few valetudinarians of the lowest class from the more remote parts of the county. The people living in its immediate neighbourhood have no faith whatever in its healing virtues, and only laugh at the superstition. It is quite possible, however, that from the united influence of imagination, change of air, and exercise, several of the patients may have been not a little benefited by their jaunt to the "halie loch."

The only hilly parish in Caithness is Latheron, especially that part of it immediately bordering on Sutherland, where majestically tower up the long alpine ridge of Scaraben, and the lofty peaks of Morven and Maiden Pap. At the foot of these mountains lies Braemore, a solitary and romantic glen, shut out, like the valley of Rasselas, from the rest of the world. For wild picturesque grandeur, nothing can exceed the scene which here meets the eye. The Pap, in particular, a spur of the Scaraben range, has a striking appearance, standing up grey and weather-beaten, and looking exactly like a stupendous cone split near the top into two round eminences. Morven, which is rather more than a mile farther off, is much higher than the Pap, being upwards of 2000 feet above the level of the sea. The view from the summit is magnificent, embracing in a clear atmosphere, it is said, a great part of twelve different counties, besides a vast range of the Atlantic and German oceans. There are two circumstances connected with this mountain deserving of notice. In the case of a vessel entering the Moray Firth on her way northward, the first land descried is Morven, which appears emerging like a vast pyramid from the deep, at a distance of about fifty miles. Next, from the infallible indications which it gives of dry or wet weather, it may be called the great weather-glass of the county. When mist settles round its base, rain is sure to follow—but when it ascends to the top and disperses, leaving the majestic outline of the mountain clear and exposed to view, there will be drought. "During harvest especially," says a local writer, "all eyes are directed towards it, and it never deceives." Thus Morven serves the double purpose of a landmark to the sailor, and a barometer to the husbandman. From Braemore to Berriedale the character of the scenery partakes more of the mountainous feature of Sutherland, than of the generally tame level aspect of Caithness. Berriedale is, beyond all comparison, the sweetest spot in the county. It is the Tempe of Caithness, and has been likened to a beautiful Swiss scene in miniature. The unique and charming appearance of the romantic dell, with its steep and richly wooded banks, together with the air of profound seclusion that reigns around it, would at first sight almost make one think that he was gazing not on an actual spot of earth, but on a scene in fairy-land.

"So sweet a spot of earth, you might,
I ween, Have guessed some congregation of the elves
To sport by summer moons, had shaped it for themselves."

The two rivers of Langwell and Berriedale, the one rising in the heights beyond Braemore, and the other in the wilds of Kildonan, meet immediately below the inn, and soon after discharge their united current into the small haven, which is about a hundred yards or so from the head of the glen. This feature of the scene reminds one of Moore's beautiful poem, "The Meeting of the Waters." On a rock jutting into the sea are the ruins of the old castle of Berriedale, the original stronghold of the Sutherlands of Langwell and Berriedale, who were related to the Dunrobin family. The late ingenious Dr Macnish, who practised some time as a surgeon in the parish of Latheron, was a great admirer of the scenery in this quarter, and has even celebrated it in verse. His farewell address to this "romantic wilderness of vales and mountains," as he happily terms it, is exceedingly graphic, and at the same time full of beauty and feeling. He says :—-

"Of early reminiscence full to me
Are thy grey summits, bald with countless years,
Thy glens hung o'er with strange tranquillity,
Thy streams unruly bubbling to the sea,
And even the wild heath that thy bosom bears.
In vision I behold tall Morven stand,
And see the morning mist distilling tears
Around his shoulders, desolate and grand.
And Scaraben, that girdles round the land
With his broad giant-belt arises up;
And Berriedale and Langwell, thy twin fountains;
And Corriechoich's glen, like to a cup,
Reposing in the bosom of its mountains.
O! ever dear unto my memory
Shall thy romantic hills and fountains be.
How often have I seen the morning star
Warning the shepherd to his native dell;
And seen the thunder-cloud opaque and far
Lower heavily on Morven's citadel,
Awing the hearts that in thy valleys dwell
With the divinity of nature's God!"

The only towns in the county are Wick and Thurso. Wick, which may be considered the capital, is situated close by the sea, at the mouth of the river which bears it name. The term Wick, which is of pure Scandinavian origin, and signifies an opening, or bay, is quite descriptive of the situation of the town. In ancient times the place was much frequented by the Northmen; and a colony of those daring adventurers would seem to have formed an early settlement in it and the neighbourhood. Indeed, with the exception of, perhaps, Canisbay, there is no parish in Caithness that indicates more clearly the impress of the Norwegian colonisation than that of Wick. The town was erected into a royal burgh by James VI. of Scotland, in the year 1589. This municipal honour, with its accompanying privileges, was conferred on it at the request of the then Earl of Caithness. Although at this period it could have been only a mean-looking village, consisting of a few thatched houses, it would appear to have been a place of some little trade; for in an inroad of the Sutherland men in 1588, it is said, that among other acts of spoliation, they plundered the ship and carried away the goods of one Andrew Wardlaw, a merchant in the town. From the date of its charter to the Union in 1707, Wick sent a commissioner to the Scottish Parliament. At the Union it was associated with Kirkwall, Dornoch, Tain, and Dingwall, in the return of one Member to the British House of Commons. In 1832, when the Reform Act was passed, Cromarty was added to this batch; and Wick, comprehending within its parliamentary bounds the suburban village of Louisburgh, and Pulteneytown, was constituted the returning burgh. The population, including that of Pulteneytown and Louisburgh, is about 7000. There are two newspapers published in Wick—the John O'Groat Journal, and the Northern Ensign. The former was started in 1836, and the latter in 1850. Both advocate liberal views in politics; both are conducted with much spirit and ability, and have each a respectable circulation. Wick derives its chief importance from being the great emporium of the herring fishery in Scotland; and a brief account of its rise and progress may not be uninteresting. Its founders were John Sutherland, of Wester, John Anderson, of Wick, and Alexander Miller, of Staxigoe. They fitted out two small sloops, on the bounty, and began to fish in 1767; but, from various causes, the speculation was not very encouraging, and comparatively little was done till 1786, when the British Fishery Society was incorporated by Act of Parliament. The first fishing station was at Staxigoe, a pretty large creek, not far from Nosshead—there being then no harbour at Wick except the mouth of the river. In 1790 there were thirty-two small sloops fishing on the bounty. The bounty allowed was fifty shillings per ton. Afterwards boats began to be used; and in 1795 no fewer than 200 small boats were fishing at Wick, but great inconvenience was suffered from the want of a harbour.

In 1808 the British Fishery Society commenced their establishment of Pulteneytown by making a harbour and granting feus in perpetuity, for building, on liberal terms. In 1810 the inner harbour was completed, at an expense of £16,000, of which £7500 were defrayed by Government. Owing to the great increase of trade, an outer harbour was planned in 1824, and in 1831 completed, at an expense of £22,000. The quantity of herrings caught, and the number of persons engaged, vary each year considerably. "On an average," says a writer on the subject, "it may be stated that the quantity caught during the season may be from 100,000 to 120,000 barrels or crans, and the number of people partially or wholly employed, including fishermen, coopers, packers, etc., about 12,000." Numbers of fishermen come from the western isles —from Orkney and Shetland, and from the counties of Sutherland, Ross, Moray, Banff, etc. The number of boats is generally about 1000, each with a crew of five or six hands. Sometimes they have amounted to 1100; and, on a fine evening in July or August, the scene presented by this large fleet of boats leaving the harbour, and spreading over the bay in full sail, is truly magnificent. The cost of each boat, with nets and appurtenances, is about £150; and the netting of the whole fleet, if lineally extended, would stretch, it is said, from the Pentland Firth to the English Channel! For the export of fish, shipping resort to the port of Wick alone to the extent of 60,000 tons a-year. The annual value of herrings exported may be estimated at £150,000.

In 1659 Wick did not possess a single vessel of any description. The number of vessels at present belonging to Wick and Pulteneytown is 56, fitted to carry 3386 tons. The harbour accommodation is still greatly inadequate, and it is, moreover, unfortunately exposed to a heavy swell from the bay when the wind blows from the east, which renders the entrance to the port extremely dangerous. Both harbours, too, have sanded up to a great extent; and there is not sufficient depth of water for the Aberdeen steamer to enter at any time. In the fall of the season, the coast is frequently visited by great and sudden outbursts of storm. The morning of the 19th August, 1848, will long be remembered in Wick. The sky on the preceding evening had a very unfavourable appearance about sunset, especially towards the east, where a mass of dark lurid cloud, streaked with fiery red, hung around the horizon, like a warning signal of the coming gale. The barometer, too, was observed to have fallen considerably. Notwithstanding these ominous prognostics, a number of boats left the harbour,

and proceeded to the fishing ground. Early in the morning the threatened storm burst forth with all the suddenness and fury of a tropical hurricane. The wind blew from the southeast with the utmost vehemence. Houses shook, and windows rattled, and families were roused from their slumbers by the unusual noise. Hundreds in the first moments of alarm ran to the harbour. The bay was fearfully agitated; and the heavy surge ever and anon broke over the bar, sweeping everything before it. Consternation was painted in every countenance. It was an appalling scene, deepened into tenfold intensity by the distress and agony of those who had relatives in the tiny crafts that were dimly seen at times tossing on the crests of the foaming billows, and making for the shore, which was surrounded with a tremendous surf. Destruction was imminent, and no power of man could avert it. On that fatal morning forty-one boats were lost, and no fewer than thirty-seven men perished, many of them within a few yards of the harbour.

Next to Wick, the most important fishing station in the county is Lybster, which contains a population of about 800. The number of boats in the fishing season is upwards of 200. The village, which is near the sea, is provided with an excellent harbour, and the inhabitants are distinguished for their public spirit and enterprise.

About two miles to the south of Wick, on a tongue of land having a steep goe on each side, stand the remains of the Castle of Auldwick. This huge unshapely ruin forms an excellent landmark to vessels approaching the coast, and is by seamen called the "Auld Man of Wick." It consists of a grim-looking tower or keep of rudest masonry, perforated here and there with small arrow-slits, and rising to the height of three storeys. It is entirely roofless, and open within from top to bottom. A deep and broad moat defended it on the land side. Behind, or rather in front of the tower—for the only door looked towards the sea in the direction of the northeast—there were two ranges of lower buildings for domestic purposes, and a small space, near the extremity of the peninsula, would seem to have been used as a garden. Traces of a wall which surrounded it are still discernible. At this point the rocks shelve down in the form of rugged terraces; and, in front of the entrance, in dangerous position, lie large black isolated lumps of rock, waiting, as it were, to destroy any boat that, without a proper knowledge of the place, might venture to enter either of the goes. The whole aspect of the scene is peculiarly wild and repulsive, without a single redeeming feature of beauty. With a gale from the east or northeast, the sea-breach is horrible, reminding one of the poet's epithet of "a hell of waters." The maddened breakers roar, and foam, and dash in fiend-like fury against the iron cliffs, while the old keep, gray and weather-beaten, scowls amid the storm, like an angry demon.

The date of the erection of Auldwick, which is believed to be one of the oldest buildings of the kind in Caithness, is not known. It was, at an early period, a stronghold of the Cheynes, a race of early chieftains who held great sway in the county, and of whom further notice will be taken in a subsequent part of this work. About the end of the fifteenth century it was inhabited by the Oliphants. In 1497, James IV. conferred by charter on George Oliphant and his spouse, Lady Duffus, the lands of Auldwick and Berriedale. A deadly feud, originating in a dispute about some property, is said to have arisen between this George, styled Lord Oliphant, and the Earl of Caithness. Oliphant, it appears, was fond of the chase; and, as he happened to be out one day hunting, in the vicinity of the hill of Yarrows, he was attacked by the Earl and some of his retainers. Oliphant was without any attendants; but, fortunately for him, he had a fleet horse. He immediately set spurs to the animal, and galloped home towards Auldwick, hotly pursued by the Earl and his dependants. On approaching the castle he found that the drawbridge was not lowered. His pursuers were close behind him, and he had not even time to wind his hunting-horn, and warn the inmates of his return. It was a critical moment, and the noble animal on which he rode, seemed fully to understand the danger. No application of spur or whip was needed. Exerting his full power, the horse leaped across the terrific chasm— clearing at one bound twenty-five feet, and landed his rider safe on the other side! Lord Oliphant's leap was long talked of in Caithness, and was a familiar saying among the people. [The Oliphants were an ancient family, and possessed of considerable property in the county. They were superiors, it is said, of one-fourth part of Caithness. The family is now quite extinct.]

Between this old tower and Wick, some geological appearances of a curious and rather puzzling kind present themselves. The cliffs in this quarter are about thirty feet in height, and their upper strata would appear to have been deranged by some extraordinary convulsion. Enormous masses of rock have been broken off from their beds, and thrown upon one another in most terrific confusion. One vast mass, apparently more than two hundred tons in weight, has been reft from its original bed and tossed up on a similar layer immediately above it. Between the masses is a smaller rock, on which the one that has been hurled up rests in a most perilous position, looking as if "an infant's touch could urge its headlong passage down the verge." Theorists keenly differ as to the cause of this singular disruption. Some ascribe it to the force of the sea during some more than usually heavy tempest from the German Ocean; others who are advocates of what is called the glacial theory, maintain that it is the result of ice action, at one of those infinitely remote eras in the geological history of the globe, which ingenious men, by the aid of a lively imagination, have described so eloquently. Icebergs driven against the cliffs with prodigious fury, in their estimation, sufficiently account for the entire phenomena.

Thurso, which lies about 21 miles to the west of Wick, is also situated at the mouth of a river, close by the sea. Etymologists differ about the origin of the name. Some suppose that it is so called from Horsa, a Saxon general, who it is said landed there some time in the fifth century, and plundered the county. Others, and among them Mr Worsaae, derive the name from the Icelandic term Thorsaa. In the pagan mythology of the Scandinavians, Thor was the title of one of their principal deities; and in the old Norse, aa signifies a river. Hence Thorsaa or Thor's river. This latter derivation seems the more probable. The name of the river was afterwards extended to the town and the surrounding district. Thurso was a place of great note in ancient times; and there is frequent mention of it by Torfaeus. In one place he calls it "oppidum Cathnesiae" the town of Caithness. It has been the scene of some remarkable events; and its environs afford a number of Norwegian memorials. Thurso was, by royal charter of Charles I., constituted a free burgh of barony in 1633, in favour of John, Master of Berriedale, who frequently resided in it.

The town's seal is St Andrew, with a cross. The population, by the last census, was 2400. For nearly two centuries, Thurso was the chief seat of the Sheriff Court of Caithness, and the residence of the several legal functionaries. But at length the superior and magistrates of Wick, considering this an usurpation of the just rights of the burgh, brought the case before the Court of Session, when a decision was given in their favour, and the Sheriff Court was in 1828 removed to Wick. [The transference of the courts from Thurso to Wick took place in terms of the decree of the Court of Session in an action at the instance of Earl Gower and the magistrates of Wick, against G. Douglas and others. Wick being the royal burgh, and there being, moreover, several statutes ordaining the Sheriff to hold his courts there, the Court of Session found that the Sheriff was bound to hold his regular stated courts at Wick, without prejudice to holding courts at other places, in terms of the 20th Geo. II., c. 43. And further, that the Sheriff clerk's office must be situated at Wick. For a particular account of this case, vide Shaw and Dunlop's Decisions, vol. vi, pp. 650-657.] Thurso was, in consequence, shorn of much of its public importance; but it has survived the heavy blow and great discouragement, and is now progressing rapidly, both as respects internal improvements and increase of commerce.

In point of situation, Thurso has greatly the advantage of Wick; and the surrounding landscape has been much admired by strangers. The view, as you approach it from the eastward, is particularly striking. Immediately before you, stretching along the west side of the river, over which there is an excellent bridge of three arches, lies the town. About two miles farther west you see the celebrated roadstead of Scrabster, with the long ridge of Holburn-head; and, immediately opposite, about two leagues to the north-east, Dunnet-head, at the western entrance of the Pentland Firth. On the hill of Clairdon, some two miles from the town, in an easterly direction, appears Harold's Tower, a monument erected over the grave of Harold, Earl of Orkney and Caithness, who was slain there in battle in the twelfth century. From the point of Clairdon, near this monument, all along the shore to Holburn-head, swells in the beautiful Bay of Thurso. To the north, in the back-ground, tower up the lofty summits of the Hoy hills in Orkney. Near the mouth of the river, on the east side, is Thurso-east, the seat of Sir George Sinclair of Ulbster. The edifice, though of late considerably modernised, is said to have been erected about the year 1660, by George, the sixth Earl of Caithness of the Sinclair family. Miss Sinclair, speaking of the old castle, says:—"In stormy weather the sea spray has sometimes passed over the roof. Fish have been caught with a line from the drawing-room window, and vessels have been wrecked so close under the turrets, that the cries of the drowning sailors could be heard." Thurso contains some handsome new streets and houses; but the finest building of the whole is the new parish church, which is in a superior style of architecture, with a lofty tower and clock, and cost about £6000. In a square, opposite the east end of the church, is a statue, by Chantry, of Sir John Sinclair, in his uniform as Colonel of the Rothsay and Caithness Fencibles. Among the recent buildings is an academy, to be named the "Miller Institution," after its founder, Mr Alexander Miller, of Thurso, a benevolent gentleman who has been at the sole expense of the erection, and has set apart a fund, we believe, for the maintenance of the teachers. There is also a female school, in which young girls of the poorer class are taught gratis. This Institution, which has been productive of immense good, was, much to their honour, originally got up by the ladies of Thurso by means of voluntary contribution, and is chiefly, if not altogether, supported in this way.

It was not till the year 1800 that a bridge was thrown across the river at Thurso. Before then, people going to and coming from the town were ferried over in a small coble. The passage, although short, was in stormy weather, and especially during a "spate," not unattended with danger; and the small skiff, if crowded, as was sometimes the case on market-days, was liable to be upset. Some melancholy accidents of this nature are recorded, when all on board were swept down by the current, and lost. There were several instances, too, of persons having perished in rashly attempting to ford the stream after a heavy fall of rain, and when the tide was in. In the year 1756 a Mr Richard Sinclair, a merchant in Thurso, was drowned in crossing the water. The accident is remarkable from its having been accompanied or foreshadowed by one of those mysterious appearances, or as they would now be called, illusions of the imagination, which entered so largely into the popular creed of old, and the belief in which modern science and philosophy have not yet been able wholly to remove. The story is told in a curious old work, entitled, "A Treatise on the Second Sight, etc., by Theophilus Insulanus," [Printed by Ruddiman & Co. in 1763.] and is as follows:—"Mr Richard Sinclair returning home late at night with his servant, as they came to the river close by the town, they found it swelled by a fall of rain, and much increased by the tide which was in. The latter seemed averse to ford, which his master observing, alighted and gave him his own horse, and mounted his servant's horse with which having entered the river, he was soon carried by the flood out of his saddle, and drowned. His wife, knowing nothing then of the matter, as she was going from one room to another in her own house, saw Mr Sinclair go up the stair to his own room, and called to the servant to bring him a candle and make up a fire; but after the servant had brought the light in great haste, she found no person within. In less than an hour the report was through the town that the gentleman was drowned. This account," adds the writer, "I had from a person that came to the town next day, when the accident of the preceding night was the common subject of conversation."

The river of Thurso, which is the largest in the county, is valuable as a salmon-fishing stream, and has been long celebrated for the abundance, and the excellent quality of the fish caught in it. In the month of July, 1743, no fewer than 2560 salmon were taken in this river at one sweep of the net. The circumstance, though it looks somewhat incredible, is confirmed by the written attestation of the chief magistrate and other two respectable inhabitants of the town, who were present at the time. In this document, which still exists, it is stated that this extraordinary draught took place in the cruive pool above the town; that the net containing the salmon was carried down the water by from eighteen to twenty men, with long poles in their hands keeping down the ground rope, and that the fish were afterwards taken ashore by degrees in a smaller net." About the end of the last century, the shore dues at the river mouth, then the principal harbour, were only one shilling and sixpence, but from this charge vessels belonging to the port were exempted.

The river of Thurso has its rise in a small brook among the hills on the confines of Sutherland. At the distance of eight miles from its source it enters Lochmore. Issuing from the outlet at the north corner of this lake, it proceeds onward through a pretty wide extent of country. Some of the localities through which it passes, especially in the upper parts of the parish of Halkirk, possess features of no ordinary beauty. The scene at Dirlet is particularly romantic. Here the banks on each side are steep, and richly clothed with brushwood; and on the summit of a precipitous rock, said at one time to have been surrounded by the river, and accessible only by a drawbridge, may be seen the ruins of a castle which, about the end of the fifteenth century, was inhabited by a chief of the name of Sutherland. After a winding course of nearly thirty miles, during which it is fed by many smaller tributaries, the river finally flows into the Bay of Thurso.

In 1798 the valued rent of Caithness [See Appendix No. 4.] —exclusive of Wick and Thurso—was £34,972 8s. 6cl. Scots, or in sterling money only £2914 7s. 4½d. At present its valued rent is £86,753 18s. sterling. The extraordinary rise in the value of landed property is mainly to be ascribed to the formation, as has been already mentioned, of excellent roads, and a judicious system of improvement on the part of the proprietors and the larger tenants. One particular and striking instance of this may be given. About the year 1788, the late Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster purchased the estate of Langwell for £7000. He sold it in 1813 to the late Mr James Horne, writer in Edinburgh, for £42,000; and Mr Donald Home, who succeeded to the property on the death of his uncle, lately sold it to the Duke of Portland for £90,000. In other departments, such as the rearing of stock, the pavement trade, [In the Memoir of the late James Traill, Esq. of Rattar, some account is given of the pavement trade of Caithness.] etc., Caithness is making the same remarkable progress; and, indeed, it may be said the material resources of the county are only beginning to be developed. The present proprietors who have most distinguished themselves for their agricultural and other improvements, are the Earl of Caithness, Sir George Dunbar of Hempriggs, Sir John Sinclair of Dunbeath, Mr Sinclair of Forse, Mr Traill of Rattar, and Mr Henderson of Stemster. And here it is but proper to mention two gentlemen to whom the county of Caithness is largely indebted, namely, Mr William Darling and Mr James Purves. Mr Darling was, for a considerable time, manager at Stirkoke for the late Mr Home, Sheriff of Haddington; and Mr Purves was for several years also factor for the late James Traill, Esq. of Rattar. Possessed of great intelligence, and thoroughly acquainted with the best mode of husbandry in the south, of which they are natives, they introduced the system, as far as it was practicable, on the estates under their management, and showed in a very satisfactory manner what great improvements, superior skill, combined with a judicious outlay of capital, could effect on a soil not naturally rich, and in a changeable climate like that of Caithness. In the agricultural annals of the county their names will have a permanent place.

Caithness is divided into ten parishes, quoad civilia, and composed of highlands and lowlands. In the former the Gaelic language is spoken, and in the latter the English, or rather a dialect of the Scotch, with some provincial peculiarities. The Gaelic, which is said to be not of the purest school, is fast disappearing before the march of education; and Caithness may in truth be called a lowland county. The population in 1851 was 38,709. It may now be reckoned about 40,000.

The natives are an intermixture or amalgamation of two originally distinct races—the Celts and Scandinavians; and in personal qualities they yield to the inhabitants of no county in Scotland. The men are hardy, active, and well-made, and the women are in general exceedingly good-looking. Finer figures and more attractive countenances than are to be seen among the latter will not be found anywhere. As a people the Caithnessians are acute, shrewd, and practical, with a decided turn for business. Their imagination seldom gets the upper hand of their judgment; and they are, consequently, not very apt to indulge in matters of speculation, or to suffer themselves to be carried away with any untried or fanciful theories. There is also a strong clanish feeling among Caithness men, and wherever any number of them are located, they usually form themselves into clubs and societies. The Glasgow Caithness Association, the parent of the Edinburgh Caithness Association, [In Chapter xiii. will be found some account of the origin and progress of the Edinburgh Caithness Association.] of the London Caithness Association, and of one in Australia, merits particular notice. This excellent society was instituted in the month of January, 1837. The objects contemplated by its founders were the promotion of friendly intercourse among the natives of Caithness residing in Glasgow, and the relief of any of them who might be in necessitous circumstances. At its first meeting, the late Mr Alexander Coghill was elected chairman, Mr Daniel Macadie was appointed treasurer, and Mr William Levack secretary. James Traill, Esq. of Rattar, was chosen patron, and laid the foundation of the society by a donation of ten guineas. After his death, his son, George Traill, Esq. of Rattar, the present M.P. for the county, became patron, and with the same liberality continued for many years to assist the society. The succeeding patrons have also contributed liberally, among whom may be mentioned Alexander Miller, Esq., a native of Thurso. The amount of money expended by the society in its legitimate sphere is about fifteen pounds per annum; but various sums, amounting to about one hundred pounds, have been sent to Caithness to relieve destitution there. The number of members is about sixty, and the principal source of revenue arises from a small sum payable by each of them at the quarterly meetings. The association has been greatly indebted to Mr William Levack, who presided and directed its movements for the last twelve years, and also to Mr Alexander Andrew, for his successful exertions on its behalf while he acted as secretary. The present office-bearers are Henry Budge, Esq. of Melbourne, patron; vice-patron, Captain Tudor, R.N., Wick; president, Mr Robert Bruce; treasurer, Mr Daniel Macadie; and secretary, Mr William Manson: with twelve directors.

Formerly Caithness was particularly distinguished for its military spirit. At the time of the Irish rebellion, the county furnished no fewer than three battalions of fencibles, two of which did duty in Ireland for several years. At a later period it had its volunteer and local militia corps stationed within the bounds, and ready to defend life and property in the event of a hostile invasion. During the Peninsular War, about ten recruits a month were sent south from the Thurso district alone. They commonly enlisted into the Highland regiments; and at one time, it is said, nearly one-tenth of the 79th regiment was composed of Caithness men. Soldiering was then a recognised and ordinary profession, to which young men took as naturally as they did to the plough. All this, however, has changed; and the great reason why the youth do not enlist for the regular service as formerly, is the increased value of labour, and the more comfortable position of the labourer. I may observe, however, that in coming forward to aid the recent grand embodiment of a national volunteer force, Caithness was not behind the rest of Scotland. The old martial spirit of the county was seen once more to revive; and stirred by the patriotic movement that was everywhere going on throughout the length and breadth of the land, the young men of Wick and Thurso speedily enrolled themselves as volunteers; and in point of appearance and proficiency in drill, they can stand a comparison with any of their brethren in the south.

Within the last few years the county has been very much infested by tinkers, and their number seems to be greatly on the increase. There are, between young and old, it is said, nearly a hundred and forty of them in Caithness, composed of different bands or tribes, named the Macfees, the Newlands, the Johnstones, and the Williamsons. They have no particular place of abode, but roam about through the several parishes following the profession of tinsmiths, but subsisting in a great measure by begging and stealing. They lie out all the year round, even in the roughest weather. A frequent haunt of theirs in the winter season is the links of Dunnet, which abounds with sand hillocks covered with long bent. Another place to which they betake themselves for shelter from the storm, is a cave near the village of Brough, in the same parish. What money they acquire by the disposal of their tinware they commonly spend in drink; and their orgies never terminate without a quarrel, and a regular fight by both sexes. In this respect, when inflamed by liquor, they very much resemble the lower orders of the Irish. From their personal appearance, they would seem to be of a mixed race. Some of them have all the characteristics of the genuine gipsy, viz., very brown complexions, dark hair and eyes; while others have fair complexions, with red hair and blue eyes, indicative of a Saxon or Gothic origin. They have a patois of their own, which they use when they find it convenient to do so, but they all speak the English with a whining tone, which is particularly marked when they beg; and so importunate are they as beggars, that they will not leave any house they enter until they get either food or money. They are a regular pest and scourge to the community; and what with begging, thieving, and occasional maintenance in prison, they cost the county a very considerable sum annually.

Besides the tinkers, there is during the herring fishing at Wick an influx of the very worst characters of both sexes from the south; some pretending to be shipwrecked sailors, some going about with baskets in the guise of hawkers, but all expert thieves and beggars. To check this enormous evil, a stringent vagrancy Act of the legislature is imperatively required. At present the police have no powers to suppress it. Charles Lamb, in a paper entitled "Complaint of the Decay of Beggars," whimsically argues that charitable people suffer deeply from the paucity of such objects of benevolence. Caithness would afford them an ample field for the exercise of this virtue.

Chambers, in his "Gazetteer of Scotland," (published, we believe, in 1831,) draws a dismal picture of the county. "To the eyes of a Lowlander," says he, "or one accustomed to see fertile enclosed fields, or warm woody valleys, the appearance of Caithness is frightful, and productive of melancholy feelings. When this is enhanced by the consideration that the climate is of a very unfavourable kind, ideas of all that is comfortless are conveyed. Wood there is none, and the few enclosures are of a very rude quality. It may sound like a reproach; but it is a well-known fact that the improvements and modern comforts of Caithness have been brought about entirely by wealth drawn from the seas."

If Chambers, otherwise an excellent and popular writer, visited Caithness at the period in question, and in the summer season, he must have surveyed the county with a jaundiced eye. It is true it has no wood, properly speaking; but though wood adds vastly to the beauty of a landscape, there is a difference of opinion as to its advantages in a purely agricultural district. There, as our transatlantic friends would say, "a good clearance" is the main desideratum. I once heard a Berwickshire farmer affirm that trees were a "positive nuisance, and served only to collect vermin!" But did Chambers see no beauty in the rich corn fields of Caithness. There is a Scotch song which says the "corn rigs are bonny," and they are so to the vulgar as well as to the poetical eye, independently of their affording us the "staff of life." Caithness has, from the earliest period of which we have any record, been celebrated as a corn-producing county, and now, so far as grain, stock, and several other commodities are concerned, it can compete with any county in Scotland. "At this moment," says the Northern Ensign, (March 15, 1860,) "we are exporting large quantities of superior oats; our cattle and sheep are carrying off the top price in the southern markets, and our wool frequently fetches the highest price at the public sales of Leith and Edinburgh." Moreover, if it were the case, which it is not, that "the improvements and modern comforts of Caithness have been brought about almost entirely by wealth drawn from the seas," this, instead of "sounding like a reproach," says very much for the intelligence, public spirit, and industry of the inhabitants. Let Mr Chambers visit Caithness now, in the month of July or August, and we can assure him that the aspect of the county will not inspire him with any "melancholy feelings."


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