Parish of Dornoch

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: Dornoch
1834-45: Dornoch

Dornoch, a coast town and parish of SE Sutherland. The capital of the county, and a royal and parliamentary burgh, the town is 8¾ miles N by E of Tain viâ Meikle Ferry, 14½ E of Bonar- Bridge station, and 7 SSE of the Mound station, with which it communicates daily by mail gig, and which itself is 20½ miles SW of Helmsdale, 23 ENE of Bonar-Bridge, 80¾ NNE of Inverness, 272½ NNW of Edinburgh, and 289 NNE of Glasgow. 'Close outside the town,' says Worsaae, 'there stands the Earl's Cross, a stone pillar in an open field, which is simply the remains of one of those market-crosses, so often erected in pre-Reformation times. As a matter of course, the arms of the Earls of Sutherland are carved on one side of the stone, and on the other are the arms of the town-a horseshoe. Tradition, however, will have it that the pillar was reared in memory of a battle, fought towards the middle of the 13th century by an Earl of Sutherland against the Danes. In the heat of the fray, while the Earl was engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the Danish chief, his sword broke: but in this desperate strait, he was lucky enough to lay hold of a horseshoe (the whole leg of a horse, say some) that accidentally lay near him, with which he succeeded in killing his antagonist. The horseshoe is said to have been adopted in the arms of the town in memory of this feat;' and the name -Dornoch is popularly derived from the Gaelic dorn-eich, 'a horse's hoof,' though dor-n-aeh, 'field between two waters,' is a far more probable etymon- Be this as it may, Dornoch, to quote Professor J. S- Blackie, who wandered hither in the autumn of 1881, is 'an old-fashioned, outlying, outlandish grey nest, to which no stranger ever thinks of going except the sheriff of the county, and he only half a stranger; . . . an interesting old town, with a splendid beach for bathing, a fresh, breezy, and dry atmosphere, and a golfing ground second to none in Scotland.' Of the last, indeed, Sir Robert Gordon wrote in 1630 that 'about this toun, along the sea coast, there are the fairest and largest linkes or green fields of any pairt of Scotland, fitt for archery, goffing, ryding, and all other exercise; they doe surpasse the fields of Montrose or St Andrews.' The town itself-no more than a village really-consists of wide regular streets, and has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, a branch of the Caledonian Bank, 6 insurance agencies, 2 hotels, a newsroom, and a public library. The see of Caithness, first heard of about 1130, had here its principal church, dedicated to St Bar or Finbar; by Bishop Gilbert de Moravia (1222-45) this church was organised as the cathedral of the Virgin Mary, with a chapter of ten canons, a dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, and archdeacon; and, as rebuilt by him, in the First Pointed style, it consisted of an aisled nave, transept, choir, and massive central tower, topped with a dwarfish spire. The tower is all that remains of St Gilbert's work, since in 1570 the cathedral was burned by John Sinclair, Master of Caithness, and Iye Mackay of Strathnaver, who, taking advantage of the minority of Alexander, twelfth Earl of Sutherland, besieged and plundered Dornoch with a small army from Caithness. Fortunately the tower escaped, and with it some fine Gothic arches, which latter, however, fell before the terrific gale of 5 Nov. 1605-the day on which the Gunpowder Plot was discovered. In 1614 the thirteenth Earl of Sutherland partially repaired the cathedral, to make it available for parish church; and in 1835-37 it was rebuilt by the Duchess of Sutherland at a cost of £6000. The present fabric, containing 1000 sittings, is a mixture of Gothic and Vandalism, and measures 126 feet by 92 across the transepts. In the southern transept lie sixteen of the Earls of Sutherland; in the northern is a stone sarcophagus, removed from the choir, and surmounted by a cross-legged effigy of either the founder or the founder's brother, Sir Richard de Moravia; and the choir, now mansoleum of the Sutherland family, is graced by a fine marble full-length statue of the first Duke (1758-1833) by Chantrey, with a large tablet behind, recording the lineage and virtues of his Duchess Countess (1765-1839). An old tower, fronting the cathedral, represents the Bishop's Palace, which, also burned in 1570, lay in ruins till 1813, when part of it was fitted up as the county courthouse and gaol. Subsequently the whole was removed, excepting this western tower, lofty and picturesque; and on the site thus cleared were built the large and handsome County Buildings, comprising courthouse, prison, record-room, and county meeting-room. The prison was discontinued in 1880, that of Dingwall taking its place; and in 1881 the ancient tower was refitted and refurbished as a quaint dwelling-place for English sportsmen. Of a monastery of Trinity Friars, alleged by Gordon to have been founded here between 1270 and 1280, not even a vestige remains. Besides the Cathedral, now used as the parish church, there is also a Free church; and a public school and a Christian Knowledge Society's school, with respective accommodation for 135 and 84 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 49 and 42, and grants of £39,5s. 6d. and £32,3s. Erected into a free royal burgh and port by Charles I. in 1628, Dornoch is governed by a provost, 2 bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and 4 councillors; with Wick, Tain, Dingwall, Cromarty, and Kirkwall it returns one member to parliament. The municipal and parliamentary constituency numbered 71 in 1882, when the annual value of real property was £901. Pop. (1831) 504, (1841) 451, (1851) 599, (1861) 647, (1871) 625, (1881) 496. The parish contains also the villages of Clashmore and Embo, 3¾ miles W, and 2½ NNE, of the town; and it comprises the Kinnauld portion which, surrounded by Rogart and Golspie, and lying, 5 furlongs N of the main body, along the left bank of the Fleet, measures 1½ by 1 mile, and adjoins Rogart station, close to its western extremity. It is bounded NW and N by Rogart, NE by Golspie, E and S by the Dornoch Firth, and SW and W by Creich; and has a varying length from E to W of 43/8 and 91/8 miles, a varying breadth from N to S of 7 furlongs and 83/8 miles, and an area of 33,931 acres, of which 3194½ are foreshore and 284 water, while 7172/3 belong to the detached portion. The Fleet flows 2 miles east-south-eastward along the Golspie border to the head of salt-water Loch Fleet, which, 3¼ miles long, and from 1¼ furlong to 1¼ mile wide, opens beyond Little Ferry to Dornoch Firth; the Cairnaig, issuing from Loch Buie, runs 6¾ miles east-by-northward to the Fleet through the north-western interior; and the Evelix winds 5½ miles east-south-eastward along the boundary with Creich, then 7½ miles east-south-eastward and west-south-westward to Dornoch Firth at Meikle Ferry. The seaboard, 12 miles long, is low and flat, fringed to the S by Cuthill and Dornoch sands and links, to the E by Embo and Coul links; inland the surface rises west-north-westward to 261 feet near Asdale, 700 at Creag Asdale, 290 near Poles, 326 near Achavandra, 700 at Creag Amaill, 930 at Creag Liath, 1000 at Meall nan Eun, 898 at Cnoc na Feadaige, 1048 at Meall A' Chaoruinn, and 1144 at Beinn Donuill- The rocks are Secondary-for the most part sandstone, which has been largely quarried; and coal occurs at Clashmore. The soil is clayey inland and sandy near the sea, with an irregular belt of black loam intervening. In Littletown, within the burgh, is the spot where in 1722 an old woman was burned for transforming her daughter into a pony and getting her shod by the devil- the last judicial execution this for witchcraft in Scotland. Modern Skibo Castle, successor to that in which the great Marquis of Montrose was temporarily confined after his capture in Assynt, is the principal mansion; and 2 proprietors hold each an annual value of more, 3 of less, than £500- Dornoch is the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Sutherland and Caithness; the living is worth £435. Balvraid, Embo, Rearquhar, and Skibo schools, all of them public but the last, with respective accommodation for 80,62,100, and 76 children, had (1880) an average attendance- of 32,33, 55, and 18, and grants of £31,16s. 6d-, £20,3s. 6d., £45,5s., and £30,1s- Valuation (1882) £7619,17s. 6d., of which £5242 belonged to the Duke of Sutherland, and £1501,13s. 6d- to E- C- Sutherland-Walker, Esq. of Skibo. Pop. (1801) 2362, (1831) 3380, (1861) 2885, (1871) 2764, (1881) 2522.—Ord. Sur., shs. 103,94,102,1878-81. The presbytery of Dornoch comprehends the old parishes of Assynt, Clyne, Creich, Dornoch, Golspie, Kildonan, Lairg, Loth, and Rogart, and the quoad sacra parish of Stoer. Pop. (1871) 16,649, (1881) 15,998, of whom 314 were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1878.-The Free Church also has a presbytery of Dornoch, with churches at Assynt, Clyne, Creich, Dornoch, Golspie, Helmsdale, Lairg, Rogart, Rosehall, and Stoer, and preaching-stations at Kildonan and Shinness, of which the nine first had together 4059 members and adherents in 1881.

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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