Parish of Durness

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1791-99: Durness
1834-45: Durness

Durness, a coast parish of NW Sutherland, containing Durine village, 25/8 miles SSE of the northernmost point of Fair-aird, 13 ESE of Cape Wrath, 20¼ WNW of Tongue viâ Heilem, Hope, and Tongue ferries, and 55½ NNW of Lairg, under which it has a post office (Durness), with money order and savings' bank departments. At it also are Durness hotel, Durine public school, the parish church, and (in Sangomore hamlet, 5 furlongs S by E) a Free church. The parish, till 1724 forming one with Tongue and Eddrachillis as part of ' Lord Reay's country,' is bounded N by the North Sea, E by Tongue, SE by Farr, SW by Eddrachillis, and W by the Atlantic. From N to S its utmost length is 207/8 miles; its utmost breadth, from E to W, is 17 miles; and its area is 147, 323¾ acres, of which 3726½ are water and 2541 foreshore, and which includes the three islands of Choaric, Hoan, and Gorvellan, with a number of smaller islets. The western coast is very slightly indented, offering a rockbound and lofty front to the Atlantic, and terminating on the N in the huge promontory of grim Cape Wrath (523 feet). Thence 5½ miles eastward the northern coast is solely or mainly broken by Kearvaig Bay, but onward thence to the eastern boundary it is deeply intersected by the Kyle of Durness and Loch Eriboll. Everywhere almost it exhibits some of the finest rock scenery in Scotland, the cliffs about Cape Wrath, Fair-aird, and Whiten Head rising sheer from the water to a height of 200 or 700 feet, and being fringed with ' stacks,' and tunnelled by caverns, of which the most celebrated are those of Whiten and Smoo. The river Dionard or Grudie, rising on the north-eastern slope of Meall Horn at 1760 feet of altitude, and in its upper course traversing Lochan Ulabhith (1¾ x 1 furl.), An Dubh Loch (2¼ x 1 furl.), and Loch Dionard (5¼ x 1½ furl.; 1380 feet above sea-level), runs 14¼ miles northward to the Kyle of Durness, which, itself winding 5½ miles northward, with a varying width of 2½ and 6½ furlongs, is left nearly dry at low water, and itself expands into Durness or Baile na Cille Bay, 17/8 mile long, and from 1½ to 2 miles broad. The Polla, issuing from Loch Dubh (1¾ x 1/3 furl.; 631 feet), and presently traversing Loch Staonsaid (5 x 1¼ furl.; 585 feet), runs 7¾ miles north-by-westward along Strath Beg to the head of Loch Eriboll, which, penetrating the land for 10½ miles southward and south-south-westward, varies in width between 5 furlongs and 2¼ miles over its upper portion, while its entrance is 3 miles broad, from Hoan island to Whiten Head. Lastly; the river Hope, formed by three principal head-streams at an altitude of 94 feet, flows 6¼ miles along Strath More to fresh-water Loch Hope (57/8 miles x 1 to 7 furl.; 12 feet), whence issuing it continues 1¾ mile northward to Loch Eriboll, at its south-eastern side. There are besides, a multitude of lesser streams and lakes, as Lochs Borlay, Craspul, and Meadaidh (6 x 1½ furl.; 221 feet), which sends off a stream 2 miles north-north-eastward to the sea near Smoo House. The surface is everywhere mountainous, moorish mostly and rocky, with little green land except along the coast. The chief elevations from N to S, those marked with asterisks culminating on the borders of the parish, are Cnoc Ard an Tionail (603 feet), Cnoc nan Earbagan (800), Creagan na Speireig (746), *Creag Riabhach Bheag (1521), Ben Hope (3040), Cnoc na Pogaile (1169), Cnoc a' Chraois (1143), and *Ben Hee (2864), to the E of the Hope; Beinn Heilem (585), Beinn Poll (756), Meall a' Bhaid Tharsuinn (902), Creag na Faoilinn (954), An Lean Carn (1705), and Feinnebheinn Mhor (1519), to the E of Loch Eriboll and the Polla; Beinn Ceanna-beinne (1257), Meall Meadhonach (1387I), Meall nan-crath (1605), Benspenue (2537), Cran Stackie (2630), Conamheall (1587), and * Carn Dearg (2613), to the E of the Kyle of Durness and the Dionard; and, between these and the Atlantic, Cnoc a' Ghuish (982), Meall Sgribhinn (1216), Cnoc na Ba Ruaidhe (726), *Ben-derg-vore (1528), Beinn an Amair (911), Glasven (1085), Foinaven (2980), *Creag Dionard (2554), and Meall Horn (2548). The rocks are chiefly gneiss, granitic gneiss, quartzite, and mica slate, with occasional veins of porphyry and felspar; but in some parts are variously conglomerate, red sandstone, and limestone, which last is extensively wrought not far from Cambusan-down on Loch Eriboll. Although there are several good patches of mixed gravel and moss, with here and there a piece of fairish loam, it may almost be said that Durness contains no land suitable for cultivation; but it is an excellent grazing district, the limestone that underlies the surface-soil proving a valuable stimulant to its pasture. The holdings some of them are very large, Eriboll, Keoldale, and Balnakiel extending to from 30,000 to 40,000 acres, whilst Melness, lying partly in Tongue, and partly in Durness, is supposed to exceed 70,000, bei0g t0ns.the largest farm, not merely in Sutherland, but probably also in the United Kingdom. The rent of these four vast holdings is £1307, £1237, £1385, and £1257; and on the first and last there are but 150 and 90 arable acres. The sheep are all of the Cheviot breed. The fresh- and salt-water fisheries of salmon, trout, char, sea-trout, herrings, cod, haddock, and ling are highly productive; but the lobster fisheries of Loch Eriboll have greatly fallen off within the last thirty years. The chief antiquities are ten round 'duns;' and of these the most perfect is Dun Dornadilla in Strath More, which, 16 feet high, and 50 yards in circumference, consists of two concentric walls of slaty stones. At Aultnacaillch, not far from this famous ' dun,' was born the Gaelic poet, Robert Donn. Durness is in the presbytery of Tongue and synod of Sutherland and Caithness; the living is worth £205. The parish church of 1619, occupying the site of a cell of Dornoch monastery, is now a ruin; the present church contains 300 sittings. Durine public school, with accommodation for 127 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 63, and a grant of £61, 11s. Valuation (1860) £3672, (1882) £6615, 15s. 2d.-all but £139 held by the Duke of Sutherland. Pop. (1801) 1208, (1831) 1153, (1861) 1109, (1871) 1049, (1881) 987, of whom 900 were Gaelic-speaking.—Ord. Sur., shs. 114, 113, 108, 1880-82. See pp. 57-72 of Arch. Young's Sutherland (Edinb. 1880).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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