Parish of Kildonan

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: Kildonan
1834-45: Kildonan

Kildonan (Gael. 'church of St Donnan'), a parish of E Sutherland, containing the coast village of Helmsdale, with a station on the Sutherland and Caithness railway, 46 miles SSW of Georgemas Junction, 82¾ NNE of Dingwall, and 101¼ NNE of Inverness. Containing also the stations and post offices of Kildonan and Kinbrace, 9½ miles WNW and 16¾ NW of Helmsdale, it is bounded W by Farr, N by Farr and Reay, NE by Halkirk and Latheron in Caithness, SE by the German Ocean, S by Loth, and SW by Clyne. Its utmost length, from NW to SE, is 255/8 miles; its width varies between 47/8 and 14¼ miles; its and area is 210 square miles or 138,4062/3 acres, of which 169 are foreshore and 39222/3 water. The coast, 45/8 miles in extent, is an almost unbroken line of rock or rough gravel, precipitous only towards the NE, where it rises rapidly to 652 feet at the Ord of Caithness. On or near to the western border, at an altitude of 392 feet, is a chain of three lakes-Loch nan Cuinne (3 miles x ¾ mile), Loch a' Chlair (1½ x 1 mile), and Loch Baddanloch (1½ mile x 7 furl.), out of which the Allt Ach' na h-Uai' flows 4¾ miles east-south-eastward, through Loch-na-moine (7 x 3 furl.; 377 feet), till it falls into the river Helmsdale at a point 1¼ mile SSW of Kinbrace station, and 330 feet above sea-level. The Helmsdale itself is formed by the confluence of two head-streams, of which the Allt Airidh-dhamh runs 6¾ miles south-south-eastward out of Loch Leum a' Chlamhain (15/8 x ½ mile; 770 feet), and through Loch Araich-lin (6¼ x 2½ furl.; 451 feet), whilst the other flows 25/8 miles south-by-westward out of Loch an Ruathair (1½ x ¾ mile; 415 feet). From the confluence of these two streams, at a point 3 furlongs N by W of Kinbrace station and 362 feet above sea-level, the Helmsdale or Ilie (Ptolemy's Ila) flows 20¾ miles south-eastward along the Strath of Kildonan, till it falls into the sea at Helmsdale village. 'The Helmsdale,' writes Mr Archibald Young, 'and the numerous lochs connected with its basin, afford perhaps the best trout angling in Scotland. The spring salmon fishing is excellent. In 1878, up to 1 May, five rods killed 250 fish. Among the lochs, Loch Leum a, Chlamhain, Baddanloch, and Loch an Ruathair afford the best angling. In these three lochs the writer and two friends in five days killed with the fly 600 trout, weighing over 400 lbs. The best day's sport was got in Loch Leum a' Chlamhain, at the foot of Ben Griam Mhor, whose summit commands one of the finest views in Sutherland; the eye, on a clear day, sweeping over the counties of Caithness and Sutherland, the Pentland Firth, and the Orkney Islands' (pp. 32-34, Angler's and Sketcher's Guide to Sutherland, 1880). The surface mainly consists of pastoral or moorish uplands, chief elevations to the NE of the Helmsdale and the Baddanloch chain of lakes, as one goes up the strath, being Creag an Oir-airidh (1324 feet), *Creag Scalabsdale (1819), Beinn Dubhain (1365), Auchintoul Hill (1135), the *Knockfin Heights (1442), *Ben Griam Bheag (1903), and Ben Griam Mhor (1936); to the SW, Eldrable Hill (1338), *Beinn na Meilich (1940), *Beinn na h-Urrachd (2046), Creag nam Fiadh (1273), and the *northern shoulder (2250) of Ben an Armuinn, where asterisks mark those summits that culminate on the confines of the parish. The predominant rocks are granite, syenite, gneiss, mica-slate, and porphyry. In 1868-69 the discovery of gold in the drift of the river Helmsdale 'created great commotion in the north of Scotland. The intelligence of the discovery spread at telegraphic speed all over the country; and thousands of people, from every part of the kingdom, flocked to the newly-found gold-field. A "city of tents" was erected in the centre of the auriferous district; "claims" were allotted, and "cradles" mounted; and digging was commenced with much enthusiasm. At the outset a fair return was obtained, but it soon began to fail; and, having become unremunerative, the Duke of Sutherland closed the "claims," and dispersed the diggers. The total value of the gold found was about £6000.' Round Helmsdale the soil is light but fertile, whilst up the Strath of Kildonan there are several small haughs of similar soil, with rather less sand, which yield good crops of oats and turnips. The soil on the higher banks along this strath consists of reddish gritty sand and peat-earth, in which are embedded numerous detached pieces of granite or pudding-stone. The bulk of the agricultural population was displaced by the introduction of sheep-farming between 1811 and 1831, but it was mainly removed to the coast district, which then belonged to Loth parish; and, by the annexation of that district to Kildonan prior to 1851, the balance of population for Kildonan parish was more than restored. Since 1877 the Duke of Sutherland has been reclaiming 1300 acres of moor near Kinbrace station, with the steam-plough and other machinery expressly adapted to the work, at a cost of from £15 to £20 per acre. The object in view is to provide winter feed for sheep, and the scheme hitherto has proved highly successful, inasmuch as 'the sheep from this newly-reclaimed land are the best Scotch mutton in the market, and fetch a price not touched by any others, viz. 8½d. per lb.' (pp. 40-47, Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc., 1880). Ancient tumuli are numerous; and remains of circular or Pictish towers are in several places. The Duke of Sutherland owns more than six-sevenths of the entire property, 3 others holding each an annual value of more, and 6 of less, than £50. Kildonan is in the presbytery of Dornoch and synod of Sutherland and Caithness; the living is worth £267. The old parish church, near Kildonan station, was dedicated to that St Donnan who has been noticed under Egg, and belonged in pre-Reformation days to the abbots of Scone. The present church, at Helmsdale village, is a large and substantial edifice of 1841. There are also Free churches of Helmsdale and Kildonan; and two public schools at Helmsdale, East and West, with respective accommodation for 167 and 180 children, had (1881) an average attendance of 79 and 89, and grants of £55, 5s. and £75, 13s. Valuation (1860) £4763, (1882) £9522, plus £1709 for 24 miles of railway. Pop. (1801) 1440, (1831) 237, (1861) 2132, (1871) 1916, (1881) 1942, of whom 1146 were Gaelic-speaking.—Ord. Sur., shs. 103, 109, 1878.

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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