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Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland
Route IV: Branch F. Tongue to Thurso


Strath Tongue; Strathnaver; Farr Church, &c., 1.—Port Skerry; Glen Hallowdale and Melvich; Rely Village; Forss, 2.—Scrabster Roadstead; Murder of two Bishops, 3.

1. THIS line of road, from Tongue to Thurso, possesses considerable variety of surface, the ground being intersected by several cross ridges and valleys. Cheerless moors occupy the greater part of the intermediate spaces, many portions of which, however, seem susceptible of cultivation with comparatively Iittle labour and expense.

From the house and highly ornamented grounds of Tongue, the road makes a rapid ascent, and winds along the high ground above. Passing Strath Tongue and Coldbackie, a confined but fertile valley, with a birch-wooded rivulet at the base of the bold Crockreikdun (the Watch Hill), a singular rock, entirely destitute of vegetation, and presenting a lofty perpendicular front; it leads for several miles through a long and uninteresting tract of moor to the river of Borgie, whence, having gained the high ground, it proceeds down a deep ravine, alongside a mountain torrent (whose course presents a continued series of small cascades), into Strathnaver and to the ferry station on the river, which is crossed by one of the chain-boats alluded to in a preceding branch.

Through this extensive and beautiful valley an ample river winds among rich holms and meadows. Its mouth is sandy, and the hill bounding the valley to the west also appears as one great sandbank, with masses of rock protruding out at intervals. On the rising ground on the farther side of the river, a little way down the strath, we reach (twelve miles from Tongue) the inn of Bettyhill of Farr, a comfortable house, in an airy and exposed situation; and beneath are the church and manse of Farr, with its fine green downs stretching to the bay. Between the valley of the Naver and that of Hallowdale the country is, for the most part, barren and moorland. The rocky shores of the coast are the most marked objects in the scenery; the surrounding country being by no means mountainous, though sufficiently rugged and hilly. Intermediate are several small glens, as Swordle, Armadale, and Strathy. Swordle is steep and rocky; Armadale remarkable for the deep rocky shores of its bay. At Strathy, about half way between Farr and Melvich Inns, there is a populous hamlet, a government church and manse, a small neat inn, and good limestone and sandstone quarries. Strathy Head stretches far into the North Sea.

2. Approaching Glen Ballow dale, a road branches off towards the sea, which leads to the romantic and superior boat harbour of Port Skerry, one of the best and most successful fishing creeks in the North. The Hallowdale is a considerable river, entering the sea at the Bay of Melvich, and along which are seen large and extensive embankments, recently erected, at a great expense, to protect a valuable and fertile meadow. On the west side of the river is the township of Melvich, with several scattered cottages on the sloping side of the valley; and conspicuous towards its mouth, on the opposite side, close to the river and the sea, the House of Bighouse, the seat of an ancient and respectable branch of the clan Mackay, recently added by purchase to the ducal territories of Sutherland. The Hallowdale, like the other rivers we have mentioned, is at present crossed by a chain-boat.

Ascending gradually from Hallowdale towards the top of the bleak and lonesome hill of Drumholstein, the boundary between Sutherland and Caithness (no very definable line) is passed, and, traversing several tracts of moss, the road descends to the small village of Reay, four miles from Bighouse, passing the venerable mansion of Sandside (Innes, Esq.), pleasantly situated amidst wood. The bay of Sandside, flanked by dark frowning rocks, the sandy banks in front, the church detached from the village, and seated prominently on a green rising ground, with the round-headed hills which girdle in the place, form altogether a very unusual scene, and one which the stranger generally feels as peculiarly secluded.

Proceeding eastward, past Isauld (Capt. Macdonald), and the ruins of Castle Down Reay, the ancient seat of the Mackays of Reay, a tract of barren heath is crossed, when we reach (six miles from Reay), the handsome though rather heavy-looking residence of Forss (Sinclair, Esq.), romantically situated beside a meandering and rocky stream, and surrounded by several belts of young trees judiciously arranged.

Beyond Forss the country again assumes a bleak aspect, and the road conducts almost due east, parallel to, but at a distance from, the shore, passing the House of Brinns.

3. Approaching the safe and commodious roadstead of Scrabster, in Thurso Bay, which is protected from the swell of the stormy Northern Sea by the great promontory of Holburn Head, well-cultivated and extensive corn-fields greet the eye, occupying the remaining distance to Thurso, which lies southeast.
In the distance, and lying north of Dunnet Head, the majestic mural western termination of Hoy is in full view, while the shores of the Bay of Thurso, and their fine sandy beach, extend before us with an ample and graceful sweep.

Not far from the road stood Scrabster Castle, one of the residences of the bishops of Caithness ; but the foundations alone now remain. It was here that John, Bishop of Caithness, was cruelly put to death in the twelfth century, the prelate's tongue and eyes having been previously pulled out. A similar instance of barbarism occurred in the following century, at the neighbouring place of Halkirk, when Adam, another of the bishops, after being dragged by the hair and scourged with rods, was boiled in a large cauldron by the natives, in retaliation of his fulminations against those in arrear of tithes.

Thurso, elsewhere described in this volume, is six miles from Forss.

NOTE TO ROUTE IV.

Dunrobin Castle, 1.—Herring, Cod, and Ling Fisheries, 2.—Strathpefer, 3.—.Meikle Ferry and Dornoch; Errata and Addenda, 4.—Steam Communication to the West of Ross, and Sutherlandshire.

(1.) DUNROBIN CASTLE.

Some further details regarding the princely structure recently erected by his Grace the Duke of Sutherland, in addition to the general description, page 409, may be acceptable to public curiosity—directed naturally to the country of the "Morfhear Chatt," in the prospect of her Majesty accomplishing her long projected visit to this northerly portion of her dominions—and as now certainly the largest and most ornamented edifice in the Highlands. The building, as has been indicated, is in the French or Flemish style, which prevailed in Scotland in the latter part of the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth century, but with suitable adaptations as to light and other comforts. Types of nearly all the exterior parts may be found in the old French castles—the turrets and cornices are Scotch. The principal part of the new building consists of a solid mass of about 100 feet square and 80 feet high, of three principal storeys, besides basement and attics, and it is flanked with towers at the corners. The connexion between this mass and the old castle is, with the latter, a storey lower, and the whole presents a five-sided elevation to the sea and coastwise, while the entrance court, between the opposing extremes, faces the north, the old castle forming the western, and the great quadrangular mass the eastern portion of the edifice; and the connecting section, which contains the state apartments designed for her Majesty, directly fronting the sea. A small interior court is formed by the different structures. At each corner of the square mass there is a lofty tower—those on the seaward side round, the others square—the main tower at the north-east corner forming the porte-cocher underneath. All. the towers have high and sharp pointed roofs, excepting the main tower, the roof of which is incurved and truncated. They are covered with lead, formed to represent scales overlapping each other; and the round towers rise, at the apex, to a height of 115 feet above the terrace, while the great tower, which is twenty-eight feet square, is of the great height of 135 feet above the terrace, thus overtopping the highest main wall by two high storeys, and the round towers by one storey. It has four projecting bracketted turrets on the corners round the uppermost storey, which diminishes in girth, and is bevelled at the angles, and is encircled by a parapet wall. The fourth (the clock) tower does not project superficially, but is 125 feet high. The corner turrets of the old castle have been raised, and other alterations effected, to make it harmonize with the new buildings—especially by very well managed additions on the side to the entrance court. A small turret in this section, on one of the angles, resembles one in the Castle de Cliny, Paris, the peculiarity of which is, that the turret stands on the top of a column in a corner, with an ornamental capital.

A massive rampart wall stretches along the whole of the sea frontage, a length of 300 feet, with bastions at the ends, and opposite to the angles of the castle—enclosing a flagged terraced space, a few feet lower than the entrance front. Over the windows of the principal floor are scrolls with coronets, with the initials of the Duke and Duchess interlaced, and the ancient motto of the Sutherland family, "Sans peur;" and over the windows of the great tower are pediments and thistles, with the mottoes and initials of the different members of the family; and in front of the library window, which is in the front of the great tower, and in the boudoir rooms, which are in the round towers, are projected balconies similarly ornamented.

The whole building is finished at top with a deep block cornice and parapet, and high ornamented dormer windows, and is wholly faced with ashler from Brora Quarry—a hard durable white oolite.

Successive broad flights of steps conduct down a wooded bank to the flower gardens, laid out in the style of French gardening, which occupy the space betwixt the site of the castle and the sea, and are lined by a massive ornamental wall.

On the landward side the ground rises immediately behind the castle, and the bank has had to be cut into, so that a portion of the effect of the great height is lost. The best point of view is from the sea shore to the eastward. Here the building has certainly a very imposing and stately appearance; and in all directions the numerous pinnacles, and variously elevated roofage, with the gigantic entrance tower looming high at one corner, forms a very striking and picturesque sky outline, gently declining from point to point to the further extremity.

The monument and colossal statue of the late Duke, on the top of Ben Vracky in the back ground, forms a peculiar feature in the landscape.

The ground-floor contains the entrance hall, vestibule, family dining-room, sub-hall, Duke's business room, and other apartments. The Duke's room is entirely panelled with sweet cedar; the entrance-hall is lined with Caen stone; and over the chimney-piece—of the same material, and sculptured by our promising young townsman, Mr. Alexander Munro—are contained, in beautiful panels, the numerous quarterings of the present Duke and Duchess, of the first Duke of Sutherland, and of Lord and Lady Stafford. The arms of the ancient Earls of Sutherland cut in panels, form a frieze, extending round the hall somewhat like the Crusaders Rooms at Versailles.

From the entrance hall, by a broad flight of steps and large archway, is the entrance to the vestibule, which is entirely built and arched with Caen stone, and enriched with a statue of Lord Stafford, and numerous coats of arms and armorial ornaments.

The grand staircase, which leads from the ground to the principal floor, is about thirty feet square and fifty feet high, and is placed in the centre of the new square mass of building, giving access to all the public rooms on the principal floor. The walls, piers, arches, and balustrade are of Caen stone. It is lighted by flat plate-glass panelling, and over the dining-room door is a Madonna and Child in white marble.

The principal floor, which is all eighteen feet high, contains the principal dining-room, drawing-rooms, billiard room, and state rooms. The dining-room toward the court is forty feet by twenty-two, and is finished with a panelled oak ceiling, ornamented with gilded stars. The walls are wainscotted, and have for panels valuable large old painted landscapes with figures in oil, and carved oak and plate-glass mirrors; and a frieze of oil-painting from Italy runs quite round the room. The chimney-piece and door architraves are of polished granite, from the Duke of Argyll's quarry in Mull, which harmonizes very well with the doors, which are of oak; and the shutters are of plate-glass, corresponding with the compartments of glass in the windows. The depth of the frieze takes away from the height of the room, which altogether is rather heavy and dull. Still the style is uncommon, and the panels and frieze fine works of art.

In the ante-room, which faces the east, and gives access to the library and drawing-rooms, is an ornamental armorial chimney-piece, by Mr. Munro, with supporters, and the ducal arms complete.

The drawing-rooms, with boudoir and ladies' closets, occupy the south-east part of the castle, toward the sea and garden; the principal drawing-room is forty-five by twenty-two feet, and the smaller one twenty-two feet square. The ceilings are ornamented with a series of square and octagonal panels, in the former of which, in gilt letters, are the initials of the Duke and Duchess, of their family, and near relatives; the cornice is highly enriched and relieved with gold; all the shutters are of plate-glass; the wood work is painted white and gold; the walls of the large drawing-room hung with rich crimson silk, and those of the smaller with flowered green silk, and over the chimneys are two noble paintings of Venice—Canaletti's, we believe.

Between the dining and drawing rooms, and forming a connexion between them, and on the west side of the staircase, with which it communicates by three plate-glass doors, is the billiard-room, with a deep oak and cedar panelled ceiling, high panelled surbase, and the walls finished with blue and gold paper. From the south corner of, and connected with the staircase, runs a long lofty groined corridor, which joins the new to the old buildings, and from which the state-rooms enter. The different compartments of the walls are filled with paintings, with marble tables, and vases for flowers, &c.

The state bedroom is twenty-three feet square and eighteen feet high, with a block cornice, ornamented with gilded armorial emblems and thistles, and panelled ceiling, painted blue, with stars ; the doors are of ornamented oak, relieved with gold, and the walls hung with rich flowered silk ; and the curtains are of the richest description. Between the bed-room and the small drawing-room, and connected with each, is the Queen's dressing-room, which is nearly twenty feet square, and on the opposite side Prince Albert's dressing-room, of nearly the same dimensions, both of which are finished similar, and to correspond with the state bed-room. These, with the drawing-rooms, certainly are very beautiful and splendid suites of rooms, and exhibit no less chaste elegance of taste, than prodigality of expense. There seems, however, reason to fear that the climate and sea-air may prove trying to the delicate hangings, and to the lustre of the gilding; but great attention having been paid to heating the whole edifice by means of two large apparatus in the basement storey, the risk of injury may be diminished.

The third floor is occupied by the family and other bedrooms. The Duke and Duchess' bed and dressing rooms and bath rooms occupy the sea front, and overlook the gardens. These rooms have panelled and ornamented ceilings, the doors and other wood-work are of varnished deal, relieved with gold; the walls hung with silks and papers of the choicest patterns, and the panels of the shutters of the Duchess' apartments are of mirrors which reflect the gardens and sea view.

About 130 beds can be made down in Dunrobin. Such an extent of building has been in a great degree owing to the remoteness of the situation, and from a desire, by abundant accommodation for the very numerous members of the family, to induce their prolonged stay together in the north.

The approach is to leave the public road near Golspie Church, skirt along the wooded bank, cross the ravine called Meg's Burn by an arch of from sixty to seventy feet span, and enter the centre court on the east side.

The entire plan which the Duke has in view embraces building a large keep (in which there will, in all probability, be a suitable feudal hall), an elegant chapel to the east of the castle, and connected with the library and entrance hall, and the enclosing of the whole court.

The whole of the arrangements have been made by Mr. Leslie, of .Messrs. M'Donald & Leslie, stone and marble works, Aberdeen, under the Duke's directions, and some of the ornamental parts are from sketches furnished by Mr. Barry, but all examined and approved by the Duke before being executed, and his Grace has suggested the greater part of them, and the whole has been finished under his directions.

During the recent years of distress from the potato failure, the works have been a source of very seasonable relief, in the employment of a large number of persons. Besides the labourers engaged about the building, many women and girls have been daily at work with the furniture. A marked effect has been produced on the industrial habits of the people of Sutherland-shire by the large amount of labour at all times in progress on the Sutherland estates.

(2.) HERRING, COD, AND LING FISHERIES.

In reference to the remark made (p. 16), that "it is singular that this economical article of food (herring) is still so little used in the great manufacturing towns of England," our attention has been called to a correspondence detailing the results of a trial of this fish recently made in the Staffordshire Potteries. The manufacturers would seem to disincline the use of the cured fish, from a notion that they would serve but as a fresh provocative to the further indulgence in the favourite beverage of beer. This seems not an insuperable barrier. With -due attention to the remedying of any undue saltness before being dressed, and the using them in moderation, and as only a part of the bill of fare, we apprehend all objections on this score might be met. Fresh meat is, however, the all-in-all of the English operative, and they cling to it, to the exclusion of other fare, partly from a sort of association of fish, especially salted cod, with low wages and short commons. It is surely possible to disabuse them of this prejudice. A good salted or cured herring would soon come to be esteemed as an economical and savoury occasional relish. Perseverance in any attempts to introduce their general use is, however, indispensable, and the co-operation of employers is desirable. Could it be brought about, it would open up an important market for this staple of our north seas. Yarmouth bloaters are sometimes sold in the English manufacturing counties, but so sparingly, that this is thought to augur ill for the herring. However, the bloater is comparatively dear, and cannot be retailed under a penny a-piece.

Efforts are being made to promote the use of coffee at the herring-fishing stations in Sutherlandshire, in place of whisky. It seems to require but perseverance and the use of a genuine article, to bring it into favour.

From the Report of the British Fishery Society for 1849, which has appeared since the preceding pages were thrown off, we gather the following particulars:-

The exports of herring to the continent of Europe have risen, we are glad to learn, within twelve years, from 64,870 barrels, to 257,108 barrels, notwithstanding the commercial restrictions in most countries where this fish is much in use, and to the modification of which the Fishery Board have anxiously directed the attention of the Board of Trade, as the opening of markets for disposal has not kept pace with the increasing quantities being taken—thus causing a paralysing depreciation in price. The consumption of herrings abroad is enormous; and were foreign markets fully open, there can be no doubt that there are around our shores almost unlimited undeveloped resources of production. It may interest the reader to know, that the tonnage employed in 1849 in carrying salt to the fisheries, amounts to 39,061 tons, and the number of hands, to 2834; tonnage employed in exporting, to 42,730 tons, and number of hands, 3267; tonnage of fishing boats, to 126,520 tons. The number of square yards of netting employed in the fisheries amounts to 94,916,584; the number of yards of lines amounts to 36,313,706; and the total value of boats, nets, and lines, amounts to 1,189,090.

(3.) STRATHPEFFER.

It escaped us, in our notice of this watering-place, to allude to the very unsuitable condition of many of the lodging-houses. Some of the more respectable—hut they are comparatively few —are very comfortable; but, generally speaking, there is a sad want of tidiness and thorough cleanliness, an absence of such pieces of furniture as sofas, and easy-chairs, and similar accessories to the lounging habits of a watering-place, or they are so hard and comfortless, as to be anything but inviting; while most of the houses are most disgraceful—a century behind in the first essentials of health and decency. The furniture altogether is not at all what it ought to be, and even the very beds are too frequently objectionable. On the other hand, charges are very high for the accommodation. The supplies of provisions, too, are most inadequate, and troublesome to be had, more especially of groceries, at least excepting some of the most indispensable articles; fish, excepting occasionally grilse and salmon ; vegetables, especially in the commencement of the season; liquors, and coals. These are hardly to be procured at all, unless carried, at much inconvenience and cost, from a distance. There is good bread to be had, and a tolerable supply of butchermeat—that is, of mutton, lamb, and veal; but even for dairy produce. one has to trust to chance calls, or to nr ake arrangements which a stranger is at first not up to. Were a well-conducted general provision store, for all sorts of commodities, to be opened during the season, it could not fail to prove a good speculation, as the visitors would not grudge, and those who have had experience of the present state of things would gladly acquiesce in, a remunerating profit. The proprietor is called upon not only to give facilities for building accommodation for the numbers of all classes who now resort to this valuable mineral, but to do everything to stimulate and encourage a better order of things in all respects. By a little mutual arrangement and co-operation, water could easily be introduced into all the houses. At present the cisterns—and there are none such excepting in the best lodging-houses—are merely of rain water. Even for drinking purposes it is troublesome sending for water. A tolerable number of vehicles on hire would also, we think, meet with demand where there is so much fine scenery at hand. There is a coach three times a-day to and from Dingwall, at very reasonable fares.

(4.) MEIKLE FERRY AND DORNOCH - ERRATA AND ADDENDA.

(P. 400.) The distance from Tain to the Meikle Ferry is four miles; the width of the ferry three quarters of a mile; and there is no pier as yet on the south side. The accident there happened in 1809. The road to Dornoch, from the Bonar Bridge road, strikes of about a mile north from Clashmore, and the town is rather more than two miles from the main road. Though the soil about Dornoch is light, there are well cultivated fields near the town. Its population is about 800. There were aisles to the nave of the old cathedral. These have not been restored. It requires but the removal of one or two houses and gardens, which obstruct the area of the large square space round which are ranged the Cathedral, the tower of the Bishop's Palace, the County Buildings, and the Prison, to display this assemblage of imposing public edifices to a degree of advantage which would place Dornoch on a footing, in point of architectural embellishment, little expected in the somewhat out-of-the-way county town of Sutherlandshire. There are extensive portions of the parish of Dornoch under young plantations, and there is a considerable rural population comfortably settled.

(5.) STEAM COMMUNICATION TO THE WEST OF ROSS, AND SUTHERLANDSHIRE.

The Skye steamer calls once a-fortnight at Gairloch, and the Tobermory steamer once a-fortnight at Loch Inver, during the summer months.


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