Lochs


Lochs
   LOCHS, a parish, in the island of Lewis, county of Ross and Cromarty, 12 miles (S. by W.) from Stornoway; containing 3653 inhabitants. This parish derives its name from the great number of lochs by which it is distinguished. Its history is involved in much obscurity; but some indications of its ancient state may be obtained from the traditions of the old Shenachies, or bards, who resided in Uig and Barvas, and whose tales have been in many cases so faithfully transmitted as to entitle them to the credit of authentic history, especially when, as in the present instance, they are supported by the evidence of several interesting antiquities. The strong fort of Dun-Charloway, in the parish, is one of those circular fortifications that are generally allowed to be Danish. The tradition of the Highlanders states that this fort, which was a place of residence as well as defence, was once captured by the famous Donald Caum M'Cuil, well known in the stories of Lewis; and there is a portion of the parish which still goes by the name of "Donald Caum's Shealing." He is reported, indeed, to have resided here. A very large part of the parish was formerly uninhabited, and used, as several islands are at present, for shealings, or as summer pasturage for cattle; and the portion above mentioned, being appropriated to such a purpose by this farfamed robber and chief, came thus to be called by his name. On the island of St. Colm, at the entrance of Loch Erisort, is still the ruin of an ancient religious edifice, the ground surrounding which is the only cemetery in the parish; it is uncertain what the nature of this establishment was, but it furnishes us with evidence of the early occupation of the island by a religious fraternity.
   The extent of the parish is variously stated; the lowest estimate makes it eighteen miles long and about nine miles broad, but its irregular form renders a correct calculation extremely difficult. It is bounded on the north by the parish of Stornoway and the river Creed; on the south by Loch Seaforth; on the east by the Channel which separates Lewis from the main land of Ross-shire; and on the west by the hills of Harris and the parish of Uig. The surface is intersected by numerous friths; and a large part of it forms a peninsula, called Park, or the Forest of Lewis, from the appropriation of the ground originally to red deer by the first Earl of Seaforth, who constructed a large stone dyke across the neck of the isthmus, for the security of the property. The arms of the sea by which the peninsula is formed are Loch Seaforth and Loch Erisort. The coast is bold and rugged, rising considerably in the vicinity of the headlands called Kilbag-head and RhuRairnish; the other parts of the shore are much more equal, and abound in sea-weed, the material for the manufacture of kelp. The interior of the parish is almost a continued flat covered with heath and coarse grass, but relieved towards the south by a boundary ridge of lofty mountains, interspersed with several fruitful valleys. The climate is damp and rainy, but not unfavourable to health, though by no means beneficial to agricultural interests. The chief rivers are the Creed and the Laxay. There are also several fresh-water lakes; the principal is Loch Trialivall, which is distinguished for its sandy bottom and transparent water, the other lakes being usually highly discoloured by their mossy bed. The most celebrated of the salt-water lochs are Seaforth, Erisort, Grimshadir, and Shell, the first of which is famous for its large extent and magnificent scenery; it is about twelve miles in length, and is intersected by numerous bays, surrounded on all sides by thick, and sometimes gloomy, foliage.
   The soil throughout is mossy, being composed of decayed vegetable matter, with gravel or sand, and almost incapable of profitable cultivation. Even in the best parts it is poor; but in general it is a moss eight or ten feet deep, producing nothing but the worst heath: there are between 2000 and 3000 acres cultivated, or occasionally in tillage; and about 100,000, or more, are waste. A small copse of birch at Swordle is the only wood. There are a few cultivated tracts, but none strictly speaking arable, as no plough is used: the crooked spade, the unscientific implement so well known in the Highlands, is employed for turning the soil; and all the produce is not sufficient for the support of the inhabitants. The live-stock consists of black-cattle, sheep, and horses, all of which are small in size, being supported only on the heath of the moors. The whole of the parish is the property of the Mc Kenzie family, and its rateable annual value amounts to £2514. The cottages in which the people reside form detached hamlets, each containing from ten to forty families; the houses consist of but one apartment for the family and cattle, without any division, and are built chiefly of moss. There are, indeed, only three or four good houses; these are of stone and clay, and occupied by respectable farmers. The labour of the main part of the population is distributed in husbandry, fishing, kelp-making, and pasturing. Cod and ling are the fish that chiefly visit the waters; about sixty tons are taken annually. The herring-fishery, formerly so prosperous, has long failed, the fish having forsaken the shores since the prevailing manufacture of kelp, through the loss, as is supposed, of the beds of weed which afforded them shelter. A few salmon, and considerable quantities of small trout, are taken in the rivers and fresh-water lochs. The whole population are engaged in the season in the manufacture of kelp, which is exported to Liverpool, and the females spin yarn, and make many articles of wearing apparel. Mills abound so much in the parish, that one is to be seen on nearly every stream; they are constructed in the most simple and rude manner. No roads have been made in any part, and all communication with the market-town of Stornoway is therefore over the moors, or by sea. There are, however, several good harbours, the chief of which are, Cromore, at the entrance of Loch Erisort; and Loch Shell, and Mareg in Loch Seaforth, which have a depth of fifty feet, and afford protection to ships of the largest burthen.
   The ecclesiastical affairs are under the presbytery of Lewis and synod of Glenelg, and the patronage is in the Crown: the stipend of the minister is £158, of which about a fifth is received from the exchequer; and there is a commodious manse, built about forty years ago, and situated on the north side of Loch Erisort. The church, occupying a small peninsula on the farm of Keose, was rebuilt in 1831, and is a plain structure, containing 716 sittings. At Carloway is a preaching-station, where the clergyman of the parish officiates once a month, from April to September; but the communication with it is much impeded by morasses and rivers, and the want of roads and bridges. The members of the Free Church have a place of worship. There is a parochial school, of which the master has a salary of £28, with a slated dwelling; no fees are charged, owing to the poverty of the inhabitants. Of several other schools, one is supported by Stewart Mackenzie, Esq., of Seaforth; and the teachers of two are allowed £20 per annum each by the Gaelic School Society, and of a fourth, £15 by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. The late Angus Nicolson, of Stornoway, bequeathed £100, the interest of which is distributed among twelve of his poorest relatives. The chief relic of antiquity is the circular fortification in the district of Carloway, supposed to have been built by the Danes. The lower part, which is the more capacious, was a place of residence, having communication by a subterraneous passage with a neighbouring hill; and it was once surrounded by two walls of stone, between which was a staircase leading to the top. The height of the whole building, when complete, was about twenty feet.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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