Harris


Harris
   HARRIS, a parish, comprising the southern division of the island of Lewis, in the county of Inverness, 44 miles (N. W.) from Portree; and containing, with the islands designated Bernera, Ensay, Hermitray, Killigray, Pabbay, Scalpay, Scarp, and Tarrinsay, 4429 inhabitants. The parish of Harris was till lately called Kilbride; its present name is corrupted from the Gaelic term na hardibh, signifying "the heights," this district of the Hebrides being the highest and most mountainous of any in the island of Lewis. It consists chiefly of the southern part of that island, separated from the northern portion by an isthmus about six miles across, formed by the approach to each other of the two great harbours, Loch Resort and Loch Seaforth. The Atlantic Ocean bounds it on the west; on the east is the Minch, which separates it from the island of Skye; and on the south is the channel generally called the Sound of Harris, but sometimes Caolas Uist, or the Sound of Uist, lying between Harris and the islands of Bernera and North Uist. The parish is fifty miles in length, varies in breadth from eight to twenty-four miles, and comprises 94,000 Scotch acres, of which 85,000 are moor and pasture, 800 subject to tillage by the plough, and 6000 by the spade, 300 under plantations, and the remainder sand and rock. The shore on the west is in some parts sandy, and in others strongly marked by precipitous rocks; the eastern coast is broken with many harbours, bays, and creeks. At a small distance on the west are the inhabited islands denominated Tarrinsay and Scarp; and in the Sound of Harris, a channel about nine miles across, affording a communication for vessels between the Minch and the Atlantic, are the inhabited islands of Bernera, Pabbay, Ensay, and Killigray, with many smaller ones, uninhabited, and entirely appropriated to pasturage. The coasts abound with oysters and lobsters, and several boats are engaged in taking the latter: the sun-fish, also, is sometimes taken in the summer months, with the harpoon; and in the island of Gaasker, seals are killed in large numbers with clubs.
   The main land of the parish is divided into two distinct portions by an isthmus about a quarter of a miles in breadth, formed by an arm of the sea on each side, respectively called East and West Loch Tarbert. The northern district is prominently intersected by part of a range of mountains running longitudinally throughout the parish, and which attain an elevation of from 2000 to 3000 feet above the level of the sea, and are here at their greatest height. This portion is traversed by large herds of deer, which range among the hills and glens; and, though destitute of wood, is called the Forest, having, as is supposed, been once a royal forest. The surface of the southern portion of the parish is similar in appearance to the former, but marked by more moderate elevations: grouse, wild-geese, plover, and pigeons, are numerous on the moors and lower grounds; and the eagle is a visitant of some of the most lofty rocks. There are fresh-water lakes and rivulets in every direction; the waters of Lacksta, Scurt, and Obbe abound with salmon and trout. The district is chiefly pastoral, only a very small portion, on account of the intractable nature of the ground, being capable of the regular operations of husbandry. The soil of a large part of the land in cultivation is very poor; and several of the best farms, formerly possessed by small tenants, have been consolidated, and converted into sheep-walks. The crops consist principally of oats, barley, and potatoes; the live stock are mostly Cheviot sheep and black-cattle, to the breed of which particular attention is paid. The small tenants occupy cottages of unhewn stone, with clay cement, and covered with straw thatch, the one building often serving for the family and the cows and horses: on the larger farms are respectable steadings. The Earl of Dunmore is proprietor of the parish, and has a shooting-seat here. The rocks are partly of the primitive formation; but that which most prevails is gneiss. The rateable annual value of Harris is £4015.
   About 250 families are engaged, during the summer months, in the manufacture of kelp, 600 tons of which are annually prepared: attempts were made by the late proprietor to establish fishing-stations in several parts of the parish, but they all proved unsuccessful. The harbour of Scalpay, on the eastern coast, is much frequented by foreign ships; and the numerous bays and creeks are convenient places of resort for small craft. Many boats belong to the parish, and are employed in conveying kelp to market: the lobsters taken here are regularly sent by smacks to London. A packet runs twice in each week in summer, and once in winter, between Tarbert, in Harris, and Uig, in the Isle of Skye. An annual fair is held in July, at Tarbert, for the sale of cattle and horses; the sheep graziers send their stock to the Falkirk tryst. The parish is in the presbytery of Uist and synod of Glenelg, and in the patronage of the Earl of Dunmore: the minister's stipend is £158, of which nearly two-thirds are received from the exchequer, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £45 per annum. A new church, with 400 sittings, has just been built, the old edifice, situated nearly in the centre of the parish, and accommodating only 250 persons, having become too ruinous for public worship. At Bernera is a government church, erected in 1829, to which is attached a district consisting of some islands belonging to the parish; and a missionary is supported at Tarbert by the Royal Bounty, a church and manse having been provided by A. N. Macleod, Esq., the late proprietor. The parochial school affords instruction in Latin, in addition to the ordinary branches; the master has a salary of £30, with a house, and about £6 fees. There are also three schools supported by the Gaelic School Society, Gaelic being the prevailing language of the place; but these will soon be superseded by English schools. The chief relic of antiquity is the ruin of a church at Rodil, once attached to the priory of St. Clement's, and used, until it became too much dilapidated, as the parochial place of worship.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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