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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Tongue (Norse, tunga, 'a tongue of land '), a village and a coast parish in the N of Sutherland. The village of Tongue or Kirkiboll stands on the E side of the Kyle of Tongue, 44 miles WSW of Thurso, and 38½ N of Lairg station, with both of which it communicates thrice a week by mail coach. It has a post office under Thurso, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, a good hotel, a police station, and sheriff small debt courts in May, July, and October.

The parish, till 1724 forming one with Durness and Eddrachillis as part of `Lord Reay's country,' is bounded N by the North Sea, E and SE by Farr, and W by Durness. Its utmost length, from N to S, is 17½ miles; its utmost width, from E to W, is 11½ miles; and its area is 1364/9 square miles or 87,329¼ acres, of which 3967½ are water, 2283 foreshore, and 41½ tidal water. Loch Derry or Loch an Dithreibh (1½ mile x 5 furl.; 268 feet) sends off the Amhainn Ceann Locha 3¾ miles north-by-eastward to the head of the Kyle of Tongue, a sea loch 9¼ miles long and 2¾ broad at the entrance. Loch Loyal or Laoghal (43/8 miles x 7 furl.; 369 feet), on-the Farr boundary, sends off the river Borgie 10¾ miles north-north-eastward, through Lochs Craggie or Creagach (15/8mile x 3½ furl.) and Slaim (3 x 2 furl.), to - Torrisdale Bay (1 x ¾ mile). Loch na Meide (3¼ miles-x 5¼ furl.; 490 feet), in the extreme S, belongs mainly to Tongue, but partly to Durness and Farr, and sends off the Mudale into the latter parish to Loch Naver. Of nearly a hundred other fresh-water lakes or lakelets, the chief are Loch Cuil na Sith * (7½ x 1 furl.; 398 feet), sending off a stream 1¼ mile east-north-eastward to the head of Loch Loyal; and starshaped Loch Halm or Chaluim (5¾ x 4½ furl.; 690 feet), sending off one 1¼ mile north-westward to the head of Loch Derry. Both streams and lochs afford splendid fishing.- Measured along all its ins and outs, the coast, from the entrance of Tongue Bay, extends 71/8 miles west-north-westward to within 1 mile of Loch Eriboll, and 53/8 miles eastward and south-eastward to the middle of Torrisdale Bay. It is nearly everywhere rocky and precipitous, rising rapidly to a height of 935 feet above the sea at Whiten Head, 314 at Lamigo Bay, and 300 at Ard Torrisdale. Ellan-na-Coomb (231 feet high) and Ellan-nan-Ron (247), to the NE of the entrance to Tongue Bay, and the Rabbit Islands (100), within the bay, are all three noticed separately. The interior is everywhere hilly and often grandly mountainous, chief elevations from N to S being Meall Leathad na Craoible (1018 feet), Beinns Tomaine (1728), and Ben Loyal (2504), to the E of Loch Derry and the Kyle of Tongue; and, to the W, Ben Hutig (1340), Meallan Liath (1962), and the south-eastern shoulder (2364) of Ben Hope, whose summit (3040) is in Durness parish. Gneiss, capped with conglomerate, on some of the hills, is the predominant rock; syenite forms the main mass of Ben Loyal; mica slate has been quarried on the western border for slates and flags; and moss, partly abounding in bog iron, partly of a kind well suited for fuel, covers an extensive area. The soil of the arable lands is partly a light or a rich black loam, but chiefly a compound of moss, gravel, sand, and clay. Over 150 acres have been reclaimed at Ribigill, steam-power being employed in part of the work; but only about 1100 acres are in tillage, whilst 700 or so are under natural and planted wood. The rest of the parish is largely disposed in sheepwalks, the vast sheep - farm of Ribigill extending to 30, 000 acres, and that of Melness (which is partly in Tongue and partly in Durness) to 70, 000 acres. The House of Tongue stands 1¼ mile N of the village, at the commencement of the Tongue peninsula, its garden washed by the waves of the Kyle, and its grounds overshadowed by noble old trees. An aggregation of successive structures, the work of many generations, a grotesque collection of masonry formed and run together in defiance of all architectural rule or taste, it is now the residence of the Duke of Sutherland's factor, but it has all the associations of having been the principal seat of Lord Reay, the chief of the clan Mackay, from whom a large section of Sutherland took the name of ` Lord Reay's country.' The wizard, Sir Donald Mackay of Farr, who became first Lord Reay in 1628, figured in both the Thirty Years' War and the Great Rebellion. His fifth descendant, Eric, seventh Lord Reay (1773-1847), sold the Reay estates to the Sutherland family in 1829; and at the death of the ninth Lord Reay in 1875, the title passed to.Æneas Mackay (1806-76), eldest male descendant of the second Lord Reay, and a baron of the kingdom of the Netherlands. His son and successor, Donald James Mackay (b. 1839), was raised to the peerage of the United Kingdom in 1881 as Baron Reay of Durness, and in 1884 was appointed Governor of Bombay (See Carolside). The most striking antiquity is Castle Varrich or Caisteal Bharich, surmounting a promontory to which it gives name, and originally a strong square building of two stories, the first arched with stone, the second covered with wood. It still forms a large square shell, figuring finely in the landscape, but unknown to either history or tradition. Remains of several circular towers occur, so situated within view of one another, from the coast to the interior, that they may be supposed to have been raised as beacon-towers. Other antiquities are tumuli, cup-marked stones, and subterranean retreats. The Duke of Sutherland is sole proprietor. Tongue is the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Sutherland and Caithness; the living is worth £213. The parish church, built in 1680, and almost rebuilt in 1731, was repaired in 1862, and contains 120 sittings. There are Free churches of Melness and Tongue; and three public schools-Melness, Skerray, and Tongue-with respective accommodation for 130, 109, and 110 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 92, 56, and 44, and grants of £56, £38, and £51. Valuation (1860) £2998, (1884) £4335, 10s. 8d. Pop. (1801) 1348, (1831) 2030, (1861) 2077, (1871) 2051, (1881) 1929, of whom 1791 were Gaelic-speaking.—Ord. Sur., shs. 114, 108, 1880.

The presbytery of Tongue comprises the quoad civilia parishes of Durness, Eddrachillis, Farr, and Tongue, and the quoad sacra parishes of Kinlochbervie and Strathy. Pop. (1881) 6371, of whom 67 were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1883. The Free Church also has a presbytery of Tongue, with churches at Altnaharrow, Durness, Eddrachillis, Farr, Kinlochbervie, Melness, Strathy, and Tongue, which eight churches together had 3584 members and adherents in 1883.

* The anglicising of the Gaelic Cuil na Sith (`corner of peace') into Coolside, in the Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland, is a curious instance of phonetic corruption.

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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