Ross and Cromarty - Encyclopedia

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ROSS AND CROMARTY, a northern county of Scotland. The mainland portion is bounded N. by Sutherland and Dornoch Firth, E. by the North Sea and Moray Firth, S. by Beauly Firth and Inverness-shire and W. by the strait of the Minch. The island portion, consisting of as much of the island of Lewis as lies north of a line drawn from Loch Resort to Loch Seaforth, is bounded on the W., N. and E. by the Atlantic, and S. by Harris, the southern part of Lewis. Many islands, all but eleven uninhabited, are scattered principally off the west coasts of Lewis and the mainland. The area of the mainland is 1,572,294 acres and of the islands 404,413 acres, giving a total for the county of 1,976,707 acres or 3088.6 sq. m. The inhabited islands belonging to the mainland are all situated off the west coast. They are Gillean (lighthouse) in the parish of Lochalsh, Croulin in Applecross, Horisdale, Dry and Ewe in Gairloch parish, and Martin and Tanera More, of the group of the Summer Isles in the parish of Lochbroom. On the North Sea front the chief indentations are Beauly Firth and Inner Moray Firth, marking off the Black Isle from Inverness-shire; Cromarty Firth, bounding the districts of Easter Ross and the Black Isle; Moray Firth, separating Easter Ross from Nairnshire; and Dornoch Firth, dividing north-east Ross from Sutherlandshire. On the Atlantic face - which is a coastline of more than 300 m. - the principal sea lochs and bays, from S. to N., are Loch Duich, Loch Alsh, Loch Carron, Loch Kishorn, Loch Torridon, Loch Shieldaig, Upper Loch Torridon, Gairloch, Loch Ewe, Gruinard Bay, Little Loch Broom and Enard Bay. The chief capes are Tarbat Ness on the east coast, and Coygach, Greenstone, Reidh, Red and Hamha Points on the west. Almost all the southern boundary with Inverness-shire is guarded by a rampart of peaks, among them being An Riabhachan (3696), Sgurr na Lapaich (3773), Carn Eige (3877), Mam Soul (3862), Ben Attow (3383), Scour Ouran (3505), famous for its view from the summit, Ben Mohr (3570) and the Saddle (3317). To the north of Glen Torridon occur the masses of the Liatach, with peaks of 3456 and 3358 ft., and Ben Eay with four peaks above 3000 ft. each. On the northeastern shore of Loch Maree rises Ben Slioch (3217), while the Fannich group contains at least six peaks of more than 3000 ft. The immense isolated bulk of Ben Wyvis (3429), and its subordinate peaks An Socach (3295) and An Cabar (3106), is the most noteworthy feature in the north-east, and the Challich Hills in the north-west with peaks of 3483 and 3474 ft. are equally conspicuous, though less solitary. Only a small fraction of western and southern Ross is under 1000 ft. in height. Easter Ross and the peninsula of the Black Isle are comparatively level. The longest stream is the Orrin, which rises in An Sithean and pursues a course mainly E. by N. to its confluence with the Conon after a run of about 26 m., during a small part of which it forms the boundary with Inverness-shire. At Aultgowrie the stream rushes through a narrow gorge where the drop is considerable enough to make the falls of Orrin. From its source in the mountains in Strathvaich the Blackwater flows S.E. for 19 m. till it joins the Conon, forming soon after it leaves Loch Garve the small but picturesque falls of Rogie. Within a short distance of its exit from Loch Luichart the Conon pours over a series of graceful cascades and rapids and then pursues a winding course of 12 m., mainly E. to the head of Cromarty Firth. The falls of Glomach, in the south-west, are the deepest in the United Kingdom. The stream giving rise to them drains a series of small lochs on the northern flanks of Ben Attow and, in an almost unbroken sheet about 40 ft. broad, effects a sheer leap of 370 ft., and soon afterwards ends its course in the Elchaig. The falls are usually visited from Invershiel, 7 m. to the south-west. Twelve miles south by east of Ullapool, on the estate of Braemore, are the falls of Measach, formed by the Droma, a headstream of the Broom. The cascades, three in number, are close to the gorge of Corriehalloch. The Oykell, throughout its course, forms the boundary with Sutherlandshire, to which it properly belongs. The largest and most beautiful of the many freshwater lakes is Loch Maree (q.v.), but a few of the others are interesting. In the far north-west, 243 ft. above the sea, lies Loch Skinaskink, a lake of such irregularity of outline that it has a shore-line of 17 m. It contains several islands covered with rich woods affording a shelter to deer, and drains into Enard Bay by the Polly. Lochan Fada (the "long loch"), 1005 ft. above the sea, is 34 m. in length, has a greatest breadth of 'a' m., covers an area of I-1sq. m., and is 248 ft. deep, with a mean depth of 102 ft. Once drained by the Muic, it has been tapped a little farther west by the Fhasaigh, which has lowered the level of the lake sufficiently to behead the Muic. Other lakes are, north of Loch Maree, Loch Fionn (the "white" or "clear" lake), 8 m. long by i m. wide, famous for its heronries; towards the centre of the shire, Loch Luichart (5 m. long by from a m. to nearly i m. wide), fringed with birches and having the shape of a crescent; the mountaingirt Loch Fannich (7 m. long by 1 m. wide); and the wild narrow lochs Monar (4 m. long) and Mullardoch (5 m. long), on the Inverness-shire boundary. Of the straths or valleys the more important run from the centre eastwards, such as Strathconon (12 m.), Strathbran (io m.), Strathgarve (8 m.), Strathpeffer (6 m.) and Strathcarron (14 m.). Excepting Glen Orrin (13 m.), in the east central district, the longer glens lie in the south and towards the west. In the extreme south Glen Shiel (9 m.) runs between fine mountains to its mouth on Loch Duich. General Wade's road passes down the glen. Farther north are Glen Elchaig (9 m.), Glen Carron (12 m.), in the latter of which the track of the Dingwall & Skye railway is laid, and Glen Torridon (6 m.).

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The central portion of this county is occupied by the younger highland schists or Dalradian series. These consist of quartzites, mica-schists, garnetiferous mica-schists and gneisses, all with a gentle inclination towards the S.E. On the eastern side of the county the Dalradian schists are covered unconformably by the Old Red Sandstone; the boundary runs southward from Edderton on Dornoch Firth, by Strathpeffer, to the neighbourhood of Beauly. These rocks comprise red flags and sandstones, grey bituminous flags and shales. An anticlinal fold with a S.W.-N.E. axis brings up the basal beds of the series about the mouth of Cromarty Firth and exposes once more the schists in the Sutors guarding the entrance to the firth. The western boundary of the younger schist is formed by the great pre-Cambrian dislocation line which traverses the county in a fairly direct course from Elphin on the north by Ullapool to Glencarron. Most of the area west of the line of disturbance is covered by Torridonian Sandstone, mainly dark reddish sandstones, grits and shales, resting unconformably on the ancient Lewisian gneiss with horizontal or slightly inclined bedding. The unconformity is well exposed on the shores of Gairloch, Loch Maree and Loch Torridon. These rocks, which attain a considerable thickness and are divisible into three sub-groups, build up the mountain districts about Applecross, Coigach and elsewhere. Within the Torridonian tract the older, Lewisian gneiss occupies large areas north of Coigach, on the east of Enard Bay, between Gruinard Bay and Loch Maree; between the last named and Gairloch, on both sides of middle Loch Torridon and at many other spots smaller patches are to be found. The Lewisian gneiss is everywhere penetrated by basic dikes, generally with a N.W.-S.E. direction; some of these are of great breadth. The Torridonian rocks are succeeded unconformably by a series of Cambrian strata which is confined to a variable but, on the whole, narrow belt lying west of the line of main thrusting. This belt of Cambrian rocks has itself suffered an enormous amount of subordinate thrusting. It is composed of the following subdivisions in ascending order: falsebedded quartzite, "Pipe Rock" quartzite, fucoid beds and Olenellus band, serpulite grit, Durness dolomite and marble, Durness dolomite and limestone: but these are not always visible at any one spot. So great has been the disturbance in the region of thrusting that in some places, as in the neighbourhood of Loch Kishorn and elsewhere, the rocks have been completely overturned and the ancient gneiss has been piled upon the Torridonian. On the shore of Moray Firth at Rathie a small patch of Kimeridge shale occurs; and beneath the cliffs of Shandwick there is a little Lower Oolite with a thin seam of coal. Glacial striae are found upon the mountains up to heights of 3000 ft., and much boulder clay is found in the valleys and spread over large areas in the eastern districts. Raised beaches occur at 100, 50 and 25 ft. above the present sea-level; they are well seen in Loch Carron. Lewis, on Long Island, is made almost entirely of ancient "Lewisian gneiss," but a little Torridonian occurs about Stornoway.

Climate and Agriculture

On the west coast the rainfall is excessive, averaging for the year 50.42 in. at Loch Broom and 62 in. at Strome Ferry (autumn and winter being the wettest seasons), but on the east coast the annual is only mean 27 in. The temperature for the year is 46.5° F., for January 38° F. and for July 57° F. The most fertile tracts lie on the eastern coast, especially in Easter Ross and the Black Isle, where the soil varies from a light sandy gravel to a rich deep loam. Among grain crops oats is that most generally cultivated, but barley and wheat are also raised. Turnips and potatoes are the chief green crops. On the higher grounds there is a large extent of good pasturage which carries heavy flocks of sheep, blackfaced being the principal breed. Most of the horses, principally half-breds between the old garrons (hardy, serviceable, small animals) and Clydesdales, are maintained for the purposes of agriculture. The herds of cattle, mainly native Highland or crosses, are large, many of them supplying the London market. Pigs are reared, though in smaller numbers than formerly, most generally by the crofters. Owing partly to the overcrowding of the island of Lewis and partly to the unkindly nature of the bulk of the surface - which offers no opportunity for other than patchwork tillage - the number of small holdings is enormous, Sutherlandshire alone amongst Scottish counties showing an even larger proportion of holdings under 5 acres; while the average size of all the holdings throughout the shire does not exceed 20 acres. About 800,000 acres are devoted to deer forests, a greater area than in any other county in Scotland, among the largest being Achnashellach (50,000 acres), Fannich (20,000), Kinlochluichart (20,600), Braemore (40,000), Inchbae (21,000) and Dundonnell (23,000). At one time the area under wood must have been remarkable, if we accept the common derivation of the word "Ross" as from the Irish ros, " a wood," and there is still a considerable extent of native woodland, principally fir, oak, ash and alder. The fauna is noteworthy. Red and roe deer abound, and foxes and alpine hares are common, while badgers and wild cats are occasionally trapped. Winged game are plentiful, and amongst birds of prey the golden eagle and osprey occur. Waterfowl of all kinds frequent the sea lochs; many rivers and lakes are rich in salmon and trout, and the pearl mussel is found in the bed of the Conon.

Other Industries

Apart from agriculture, the fisheries are the only considerable industry, the county containing two fishery districts - Stornoway and Cromarty - and portions of two others - Loch Broom (the remainder belonging to Sutherlandshire) and Loch Carron (which includes part of Inverness-shire) Herring, cod and ling form the principal catch, while salmon are taken in large quantities in the bays and at the mouth of rivers. Distilleries are found near Dingwall, Tain and some other places, and there are manufactures, on a very limited scale, of woollens, chemical manures and aerated waters, besides some sandstone quarrying and flour mills. At Muir of Ord, in the parish of Urray, are held great horse, cattle and sheep markets.

The Highland railway entering the county to the north of Beauly runs northwards to Dingwall, and then strikes off to the north-east by Invergordon and Tain, where it bends to the west by north, leaving the shire at Culrain, having largely followed the coast throughout. At Muir of Ord it sends off the Black Isle branch and at Dingwall a branch to Strathpeffer, as well as a line to Strome Ferry and Kyle of Lochalsh on the south-western shore. Coaches connect various districts with stations on the Dingwall & Skye railway.

Population and Administration

The population of the county in 1891 was 78,727, and in 1901 that of the mainland was 47,501, and of the islands 28,949, an aggregate of 76,450 or 25 to the sq. m. Thus Ross and Cromarty, though the third largest in size, is the least populated county in Scotland, excepting Sutherland, Inverness and Argyll. In Igor there were 12,171 persons who spoke Gaelic only (of whom 9928 belonged to the islands) and 39,392 speaking Gaelic and English (of whom 15,990 were insular). The chief towns and villages are Stornoway (pop. 2854), Dingwall (2485), Fortrose (1322), Tain (2067), Cromarty (1242), Invergordon (1085). Ullapool is a small fishing port near the mouth of Loch Broom. For administrative purposes the county is divided into six districts, namely, Black Isle (pop. 6271), Easter Ross (12,192), Lewis (28,760), Mid Ross (12,953), South-Western Ross (4103) and Western Ross (5394). The county returns one member to parliament, and Cromarty, Dingwall and Tain belong to the Wick group of parliamentary burghs, and Fortrose to the Inverness group. Excepting Cromarty, these are royal burghs, and Dingwall is the county town. Ross and Cromarty forms a sheriffdom with Sutherlandshire, and there are resident sheriffs-substitute at Dingwall and Stornoway, the former also sitting at Tain and Cromarty. The shire is under schoolboard control, and there are academies at Tain, Dingwall and Fortrose, while several schools earn grants for higher education. The county council gives the "residue" grant to the committee on secondary education, which subsidizes science and art classes in various schools and higher grade science schools at Dingwall, Tain and Stornoway.


It may be doubted whether the Romans ever effected even a temporary settlement in the area of the modern county. At that period, and for long afterwards, the land was occupied by Gaelic Picts, who, in the 6th and 7th centuries, were converted to Christianity by followers of St Columba. Throughout the next three centuries the natives were continually harassed by Norse pirates, of whose presence tokens have survived in several place-names (Dingwall, Tain, &c.). At this time the country formed part of the great province of Moray, which then extended as far north as Dornoch Firth and the Oykell, and practically comprised the whole of Ross and Cromarty, excepting a comparatively narrow strip on the Atlantic seaboard. When the rule of the Celtic maormors or earls ceased in the 12th century, consequent on the plantation of the district with settlers from other parts (including a body of Flemings), by order of David I., who was anxious to break the power of the Celts, the bounds of Moravia were contracted and the earldom of Ross arose. At first Ross proper only included the territory adjoining Moray and Dornoch Firths. The first earl was Malcolm MacHeth, who received the title from Malcolm IV. After his rebellion in 1179 chronic insurrection ensued, which was quelled by Alexander II., who bestowed the earldom on Farquhar Macintaggart (Farquhar, son of the priest), then abbot of Applecross, and in that capacity lord of the western district. William, 4th earl, was present with his clan at the battle of Bannockburn (1314), and almost a century later (1412) the castle of Dingwall, the chief seat on the mainland of Donald, lord of the Isles, was captured after the disastrous fight at Harlaw in Aberdeenshire, which Donald had provoked when his claim to the earldom was rejected. The earldom reverted to the crown in 1424, but James I. soon afterwards restored it to the heiress of the line, the mother of Alexander MacDonald, 3rd lord of the Isles, who thus became nth earl. In consequence, however, of the treason of John Macdonald, 4th and last lord of the Isles and 12th earl of Ross, the earldom was again vested in the crown (1476). Five years later James III. bestowed it on his second son, James Stewart, whom he also created duke of Ross in 1488. By the 16th century the whole area of the county was occupied by different clans. The Rosses held what is now Easter Ross; the Munroes the small tract around Ben Wyvis, including Dingwall; the Macleods Lewis, and, in the mainland, the district between Loch Maree and Loch Torridon; the MacDonalds of Glengarry, Coygach, and the district between Strome Ferry and Kyle of Lochalsh, and the Mackenzies the remainder. The county of Ross was constituted in 1661, and Cromarty in 1685 and 1698, both being consolidated into the present county in 1889 (see Cromarty, county). Apart from occasional conflicts between rival clans, the only battles in the shire were those of Invercarron, at the head of Dornoch Firth, when Montrose was crushed by Colonel Strachan on the 27th of April 1650, and Glenshiel, when the Jacobites, under the earl of Seaforth, aided by Spaniards, were defeated, at the pass of Strachel, near Bridge of Shiel, by General Wightman on the 11th of June 1719.


The principal relics of antiquity - mainly stone circles, cairns and forts - are found in the eastern district. A vitrified fort crowns the hill of Knockfarrel in the parish of Fodderty, and there is a circular dun near the village of Lochcarron. Some fine examples of sculptured stones occur, especially those which, according to tradition, mark the burial-place of the three sons of a Danish king who were shipwrecked off the coast of Nigg. The largest and handsomest of these three crosses - the clach-a-charridh, or Stone of Lamentation - stands at Shandwick. It is about 9 ft. high and contains representations of the martyrdom of St Andrew and figures of an elephant and dog. It fell during a storm in 1847 and was broken in three pieces. On the top of the cross in Nigg churchyard are two figures with outstretched arms in the act of supplication; the dove descends between them, and below are two dogs. The cross was knocked down by the fall of the belfry in 1725, but has been riveted together. The third stone formerly stood at Cadboll of Hilltown, but was removed for security to the grounds of Invergordon Castle. Among old castles are those of Lochslin, in the parish of Fearn, said to date from the 13th century, which, though ruinous, possesses two square towers in good preservation; Balone, in the parish of Tarbat, once a stronghold of the earls of Ross; the remains of Dingwell Castle, their original seat; and Eilean Donain in Loch Alsh, which was blown up by English warships during the abortive Jacobite rising in 1719.

See R. Bain, History of the Ancient Province of Ross (Dingwall, 1899); J. H. Dixon, Gairloch (Edinburgh, 1888); F. N. Reid, The Earls of Ross (Edinburgh, 1894); W. C. Mackenzie, History of the Outer Hebrides (Paisley, 1904).

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