Strath, or Strath-Swordale

Strath, or Strath-Swordale
   STRATH, or STRATH-SWORDALE, a parish, in the Isle of Skye, county of Inverness, 25 miles (S. S. E.) from Portree; containing, with the village of Kyleakin, and the isles of Scalpa and Pabay, 3150 inhabitants, of whom 231 are in the village. This place derives the former of its names from a Gaelic term signifying "a valley," and the latter from some lands nearly in the centre of the parish, which anciently gave to the whole neighbourhood their name as a distinguishing appellation. The lands of this district appear to have been the property of the family of the Mackinnons in the 14th century, and to have continued in their possession till about the middle of the 18th century, when they were purchased by the ancestor of the present Lord Macdonald, who, with the exception of the lands of Strathaird, since bought by Mr. Macalister, is the sole proprietor of Strath. In 1746, Prince Charles Stuart, the Young Pretender, remained for some time in concealment in one of the caves of Strathaird, in this parish, after his retreat from the battle of Culloden, and was eventually conveyed to Arisaig, on the main land of Inverness-shire, accompanied by the chief of the Mackinnons, who saw him safely embarked for France. The parish is bounded on the east by an arm of the sea, which separates it from the main land; and is nearly twenty-six miles in extreme length and about six miles in breadth, comprising 70,700 acres, of which 2100 are arable, 400 woodland and plantations, and the remainder meadow, pasture, and waste. The surface towards the centre of the parish is tolerably level, but in all other parts hilly and mountainous. In the western portion the hills are of almost every variety of form and elevation, some clothed with rich verdure, and others covered with heath, thus presenting a singular combination of picturesque beauty and rugged grandeur. In the northern district the hills rise to a mountainous height, and are chiefly of conical form, terminating in lofty peaks, and constituting a succession of naked and barren rocks of dreary aspect. There are numerous inland lakes, though none of very great extent; most of them abound with trout of good quality, and in several salmon are occasionally obtained. Here are no large rivers; but many copious springs are found, affording an ample supply of excellent water, and also some of which the water is strongly impregnated with iron.
   The coast is bold and rocky, in some parts precipitous, and is indented with several bays having safe anchorage for vessels of any burthen. The principal are, Broadford bay, on the north; the sound of Scalpa, also on the north; Loch Eynart, on the north-west; and Loch Slapan, on the south; in all of which are good harbours. The fish taken off the coast are, cod, haddock, whiting, ling, lythe, skate, coal-fish, sand-eels, conger-eels, thornback, flounders, soles, grey and red gournard, mullet, and cuttle-fish. In the sound of Scalpa is an extensive bed of oysters, of small size, but of very superior flavour. Shell-fish of various other kinds, including lobsters, crabs, cockles, muscles, limpets, razor-fish, and welks, are also found on the shores; all of which are taken in abundance, forming an ample supply of food for the poor during the summer months. The herring-fishery was once very extensive, and gave employment to sixty or seventy vessels; but though still carried on during the season, it has greatly diminished, and the number of vessels engaged in it is now rather inconsiderable. The islands of Scalpa and Pabay, included in the parish, are described under their respective heads: the small island of Longa, which is also within its limits, and situated to the east of Scalpa, is about a mile and a half in circumference, uninhabited, and affording only pasturage for a few sheep.
   The soil is various; in some parts clay, in others a rich black loam, but on much the greater portion of the lands mossy. The chief crops are oats and potatoes: wheat has been tried on some farms, but without success; turnips have been also introduced, and found to answer well, especially since the use of bone-dust for manure. The system of husbandry has been rapidly improving, and is now in a satisfactory state; considerable tracts of waste land have been reclaimed, and brought into profitable cultivation; and the facility of obtaining lime, marl, shell-sand, and sea-weed, for manure, affords ample encouragement for further advance. Part of the lands have been well drained, and neatly inclosed with hedges of thorn, which are kept in good order. The hills and moorlands are appropriated as pasturage for sheep and cattle, of which numbers are reared. The sheep are principally of the Cheviot breed, with a few of the black-faced; and to the improvement of both kinds the greatest attention is paid. The cattle are of the Highland black breed, and of extraordinary symmetry and beauty on the principal farms, the late Mr. Macdonald, of Scalpa, having bestowed much care and expense in selecting his breeding-stock: even the cattle of the smaller tenants are superior to those bred in many other parts of the country. The plantations, which consist of the usual varieties of firs, interspersed with forest-trees, are generally in a thriving state, and there are some remains of ancient wood; the ash, birch, and hazel appear to be indigenous to the soil. The rocks comprise trap and sienite, and the substrata are principally limestone and sandstone: there are also indications of coal on some of the lands, but no mines of any kind have hitherto been opened. The rateable annual value of the parish is £3026. There are no gentlemen's seats; but many of the houses of the principal tenants are substantial buildings, and several of them elegant. The village of Kyleakin, on the ferry, is separately described; there is also a small village at Broadford, on the bay of that name. In both are good inns; in the latter are two shops for the sale of various wares, a smithy, and a corn-mill; and a post-office has been established, which has three deliveries in the week. Fairs for black-cattle, sheep, and horses, are held annually, at Broadford, about the end of May and July, and the middle of September. Facility of communication is maintained by parliamentary roads, thirty miles of which pass through the parish; by statute roads, which intersect it in various directions, and are kept in good repair; and by steamboats to Glasgow, which ply weekly during the summer, and every alternate week during the winter.
   The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Skye and synod of Glenelg. The minister's stipend is £271. 2. 6., with an allowance of £60 in lieu of a manse, and a glebe valued at £20 per annum; patron, the Crown. The old church, a very ancient structure, being greatly dilapidated, and not safe, a church has been recently erected in the village of Broadford; it is a substantial and neat structure containing 600 sittings. There is also a missionary station for Scottish Baptists in the parish. The parochial school affords instruction to about 130 children; the master has a salary of £30, with a house, an allowance of £2. 2. in lieu of garden, and the fees, averaging £10 annually. Two schools are supported by the Assembly, and the Gaelic Society, respectively; the master of the former receives a salary of £25, with fees averaging £5, and the master of the latter a salary of £20 without any fees. There are remains of numerous places of worship erected by the Culdees, who lived in religious seclusion in many of the islands of the Hebrides; of these, one, at Ashig, is supposed to have been dedicated to St. Asaph, and near another, situated at Kilbride, is a rude obelisk of granite. On the western border of the parish are the ruins of seven Danish forts, forming a chain of stations for the communication of intelligence by fires lighted on the approach of an enemy; and at the eastern border of the parish are numerous tumuli, on opening which were found stone coffins rudely formed, containing urns in which were ashes, and human bones partly burnt, with some small copper coins. Near the village of Broadford is a barrow, in which has been discovered an arched vault, of stone without cement, and about six or seven feet in height: in this vault were found, a polished stone of a dark green colour, four inches in length and two inches and a half in breadth, perforated with holes in the angles, and a buckle of rude workmanship. Great numbers of ancient coins have been dug up at various times, but so defaced as to be altogether illegible; and upon the glebe was recently found a coin of Henry VIII., in a state of high preservation.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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