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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part III.—Natural History of Gairloch

Chapter I.—Physical Features


THE accompanying map shews the shape and general features of the parish of Gairloch. Its area is stated by the Director of the Ordnance Survey to be 217,849 acres, Le. fully 340 square miles. The three proprietors state the acreages of their estates (so far as in Gairloch) to be as follows:—

Sir Kenneth S. Mackenzie, Bart, of Gairloch, 162,680
Mrs Liot Bankes of Letterewe and Gruinard, 35,000
Mr Osgood H. Mackenzie of Inverewe, 12,800

These areas make a less total than the Ordnance Survey; the deficiency may arise from the proprietors having measured their estates on the flat without reckoning the differences for altitudes.

Fisherfield and Gruinard, in the parish of Loch Broom, adjoin Gairloch on the north, and Torridon, in the parish of Applecross, on the south.

Both sides of the sea lochs of Gairloch and Loch Ewe, and the south side of the Bay of Gruinard, often called Loch Gruinard, are in Gairloch. Between Gairloch and Loch Ewe is the promontory called the North Point, terminating in Rudha Reid, or Ru Re, and between Loch Ewe and Loch Gruinard the promontory known as the Greenstone Point. The sea-board of Gairloch parish, indented by these sea lochs and skirting these large promontories, measures about one hundred miles.

Gairloch is, roughly speaking, bisected by the glen which holds Loch Maree. This renowned loch has on its north-east side a grand range of mountains "all in a row," viz., Beinn a Mhuinidh, Slioch, Beinn Lair, Meall Mheannidh, and Beinn Aridh Charr; the line of these hills is parallel with Loch Maree.

Further to the north-east is another almost parallel range of mountains, along which the boundary of the parish of Gairloch runs, in some cases including the summits. They are Beinn nan Ramh, Meallan Chuaich, Groban, Beinn Bheag, Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair (a spur of Sgurr Ban), Beinn Tarsuinn, A' Mhaighdean, and Beinn Tarsuinn Chaol, or Craig an Dubh Loch. There is on the north side of Meallan Chuaich a little knoll called Torran nan tighearnan, or "the lairds' knoll." Here three properties—Gairloch, Dundonnell, and an estate of the Mathesons of Ardross—meet, and the several lairds could lunch together, each sitting on his own ground.

On the south-west side of the glen of Loch Maree is a cluster of still finer mountains, viz., Beinn Eigne (or Eay), with its spurs or shoulders, Sgurr Ban, Ruadh Stac and Sail Mhor, Meal a Ghuibhais, Beinn a Chearcaill, Beinn an Eoin, Bathais (or Bus) Bheinn, and Beinn Bhreac, a spur of Beinn Alligin in Torridon. One face of Beinn Dearg is also in Gairloch, the rest of it being in Torridon. These mountains are grouped in the form of a crescent, with its convex side facing towards the centre of Loch Maree. Beinn Eighe is one extremity of the crescent, and Beinn Bhreac the other, whilst Beinn Dearg lies in the hollow of it.

There are many lochs in Gairloch smaller than Loch Maree, and many lesser hills, than those I have enumerated. The visitor will best grasp the geography of Gairloch, by remembering that the long valley beginning with Glen Dochartie, continued by Loch Maree, and concluded in Loch Ewe, cuts the parish into two parts by an almost straight line; and that of the twenty mountains of Gairloch, eight are on its north-eastern boundary, five on the north-east side of Loch Maree, and seven to the south-west of the loch. For the heights of the mountains see the table, which shews Beinn Eighe (Eay) to be the monarch of the mountains of Gairloch.

There are two considerable sea islands pertaining to the parish of Gairloch, viz., Longa, in the sea loch of Gairloch, which is now uninhabited but affords pasturage for sheep, and Isle Ewe, in Loch Ewe, which is inhabited and contains a sheep and dairy farm. There are other small islands on the sea coast; the only considerable one is Foura, on the west side of the mouth of Loch Ewe. It is the largest of the smaller islands in the sea. Other islands are mentioned in their places.

There are eighty-one considerable fresh-water lochs in the parish of Gairloch, besides a vast number of smaller sheets of water which, though locally bearing the name of loch, or lochan, are but tarns.

The lochs measuring a mile and upwards in length in miles are :—

Loch Maree, 12˝
Fionn Loch, 5˝
Loch Fada, 3 3/4
Loch a Chroisg (Loch Rosque; one end only), 3 1/4
Loch a Bheallaich, 2
Loch na h' Oidhche, 1 3/4
Loch a Bhaid Luachraich, 1˝
Loch Fada, 1˝
Loch Gharbhaig, 1 1/4
Loch Kernsary, 1
Loch Tollie, 1

The principal river is the Ewe, by which Loch Maree empties itself into the sea. It is barely two miles in length. There is but one bridge across it, viz., at Poolewe, where the river joins the sea. The stream which runs past Kenlochewe into Loch Maree is called the Kenlochewe river, and is the main feeder of Loch Maree, and so of course also of the River Ewe. Above Kenlochewe it has three divisions, viz., the Garbh river, coming from Loch Clair, the small stream coming down Glen Dochartie, and the small river Bruachaig. The streams called the Grudidh Water and the Talladale Water, or Lungard burn, are also feeders of Loch Maree, and are sometimes termed rivers, but they are scarcely worthy of the name.

There are two small rivers that flow into Gairloch (the sea loch), viz., the Kerry and the Badachro river. The Little Gruinard river, flowing out of Fionn Loch, forms part of the boundary of the parish towards the east or north-east. The Kenlochewe and Garbh rivers, and the Ewe, the Kerry, the Badachro, and the Little Gruinard river, are all more or less salmon streams.

The most extensive wood in the parish is that of Glas Leitire, near the head of Loch Maree. Another considerable wood is at Talladale, and there are woods on most of the islands of Loch Maree. These are all natural woods, except those on one or two of the islands, one of which is called " the planted island." At Shieldaig, Kerrisdale, and Flowerdale there are woods more or less natural, but many of the fine trees about Flowerdale House have been planted. There are small natural woods about Tollie and Inveran, at the foot of Loch Maree, and at Kernsary, as well as at Loch a Druing. There is also a natural wood between Kernsary and Tournaig, called Coille Aigeascaig. The woods about Inverewe House are entirely planted. There are some natural woods on the north-east shore of Loch Maree, especially between Letterewe and Ardlair, at which latter place there are also plantations. The principal larch plantations are the one between Slatadale and Talladale, and that in Kerrisdale, both containing good poles. The old fir trees about Loch Clair and the bridge of Grudidh, as well as some particularly fine specimens of pine in the woods at Glas Leitire, are remarkable for their picturesque character, and testify to the superiority of nature's planting as compared with man's handiwork.

There are two caves in Gairloch parish, one at Cove and the other at Sand of Udrigil, used as places of meeting for public worship. There is a cave or cavern at North Erradale, described in Part IV., chap. x. There is also a fine cave at South Erradale, described in the same chapter. Many other caves occur on the sea-shore and in other places. Of smaller caves, the Cave of the King's Son at Ardlair, and the Cave of Gold between Ardlair and Letterewe, are separately described in these pages.

There are several waterfalls in the parish, but they are not of the grandest type, and are only really good after a heavy downpour. There is a fine one on the crag called Bonaid Donn, overlooking the farm of Tagan, at the head of Loch Maree. This crag is a shoulder of Beinn a' Mhuinidh, and the fall is called Steall a' Mhuinidh, a name almost synonymous with that of the celebrated continental Piss-vache. In dry weather it is little more than a black stain on the face of the cliff, but in heavy rain it becomes an interesting feature in the landscape. If a strong wind be blowing, clouds of spray are driven from this fall, producing a curious effect.

Note: Pages 222, 223 and 224 are missing from this book


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