Westry


Westry
   WESTRAY, a parish, in the county of Orkney, 19 miles (N.) from Kirkwall; containing 1791 inhabitants. This parish, which includes the islands of Westray and Papa-Westray, is supposed to have derived its name from its relative position with respect to those of the Orkney Islands which are situated to the north of Pomona or the Mainland. It is undistinguished by any event of historical importance, except the erection of a strong castle by some Scandinavian chieftain. This castle, which was never fully completed, has, though without sufficient authority, been traditionally referred to a later period; and is said to have been built for the reception of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her husband Bothwell, after their marriage. From the plan of its structure, however, the castle has every appearance of a feudal fortress; it is evidently of remote antiquity, and was calculated, not only for a magnificent baronial residence, but to be an almost impregnable fortress. The building is of quadrangular form, inclosing an area into which is an entrance by an arched gateway of stone, richly ornamented; and within the court-yard is a similar entrance leading to the principal hall, a room sixty-two feet long and twenty-four feet wide, with a finely-groined roof twenty feet high. The walls are of massive thickness, and in the side wall is a narrow flight of stone steps conducting to the upper apartments. The remains, together with the adjoining lands, are the property of John Balfour, Esq., of Trenaby.
   The island of Westray is bounded on the south by the Frith of that name, which separates it from the islands of Rousay and Eagleshay; on the west by the Atlantic Ocean; on the east by a sound dividing it from the isles of Pharay and Eday; and on the north and east by a sound from three to four miles in breadth, which separates it from the island of Papa-Westray. The coast is indented with numerous bays, of which the principal are those of Tookquoy, Pierowall, Noop, and Rapness. The bay of Tookquoy, on the south-east, is about four miles broad between the two chief headlands, and penetrates into the island for nearly five miles; the bed is sandy, affording good anchorage for small vessels, but from its exposure to gales from the south and south-west, it forms a very insecure roadstead. The bay of Pierowall is only three-quarters of a mile wide at the entrance, but within constitutes a spacious circular basin, sheltered from all winds, and accessible to vessels of 200 tons. The bay of Noop, to the north of the island, is exposed to the full force of the Atlantic, and rendered still more dangerous from its intersection by a reef of rocks called the Rackwick. The bay of Rapness, on the south, is equally unshelterd, affording little security for vessels in rough weather. The headlands are bold and precipitous, and the coast generally rugged and abrupt, and, on the west, for four miles washed by the Atlantic, which has worn the rocks into numerous caverns, in some of which, in tempestuous weather, the water is forced through natural crevices to a considerable height. The surface is varied; in the centre of the island it is low and flat, but to the north and north-east the land rises abruptly to nearly 150 feet above the level of the sea. In the western portion, also, is a range of hills called respectively Skea, Fitty, and Gallo, extending for almost four miles from south to north: of these the highest, which is Fitty, has an elevation of more than 650 feet. The surface of Papa-Westray rises likewise to a good height, forming a ridge, the sides of which slope gradually to the sea-shore. The northern extremity of the ridge terminates in a bold and lofty headland called the Mull of Papa, in which is a cavern of singular formation, spreading into a spacious circular area, whereof the roof is seventy feet in height; the entrance is about fifty feet in width, and the floor, which has a gentle declivity, is perfectly smooth and flat.
   The soil of the parish is in some parts sandy, and in others a clay, loam, and gravel; the whole number of acres is estimated at 25,600, of which no more than 3000 are arable, and the remainder pasture and undivided common. The principal crops are oats and bear, with some potatoes and turnips; but little improvement has taken place in husbandry, except on the lands of the chief proprietors; and the farm houses and offices are still of a very inferior order. The breeds of cattle and sheep are both of the smaller kinds; and though some attempts have been made to introduce those of larger growth, they have always been found to degenerate in a short time. There is no timber of any kind in the parish, and every endeavour to cultivate the growth of trees has proved abortive, though in the mosses numerous trunks of trees have been found imbedded. The substratum is chiefly limestone and trap, with blue and grey flagstone; the latter is very abundant, and several quarries have been wrought for roofing. Manganese has been also found, but not wrought. The scenery, from the want of wood, is rather of dreary than of pleasing character. There are, indeed, several lakes in the parish, of which Swartmill and Tookquoy in the south, and Saintear and Burness in the north, are the most considerable; but they are not more than half a mile in breadth. Those of Burness and Saintear, however, abound with trout; and eels are found in Swartmill. There is also a fine lake which extends nearly across Papa-Westray, and in which is a small island with the ruins of a chapel dedicated to St. Tredwall. Holland, the seat of George Traill, Esq., is a handsome mansion; and there are others belonging to landed proprietors. The village of Pierowall, consisting of about twelve scattered houses, is pleasantly situated at the head of the bay of that name, and is principally inhabited by fishermen. The female part of the population of the parish are engaged in the manufacture of straw-plat, which is pursued extensively, affording employment to about 200 persons. The fishery carried on here is chiefly that of cod, lobsters, haddocks, and dog-fish; and most of the fishermen are also engaged in the herring-fishery during the season. There are about seven or eight sloops, of from twelve to thirty-five tons' burthen, engaged in the cod, and thirty in the herring, fishery; and the annual proceeds of all the fisheries is estimated at £1000.
   The ecclesiastical affairs of the parish are under the superintendence of the presbytery of North Isles and synod of Orkney. The minister's stipend is £208. 6. 8., including an allowance of £8. 6. 8. for communion elements; with a manse, and a glebe valued at £15 per annum: patron, the Earl of Zetland. There are two churches in Westray, and one in Papa-Westray, all neat buildings; the North church contains 900 sittings, the East church 700, and Papa-Westray 220 sittings. Divine service is performed at each, in rotation, every third Sunday. There are also places of worship for members of the United Secession and Baptists. The parochial school, in Westray, is well attended; the master has a salary of £28, with a house and garden, and the fees average about £3 per annum. A school in Papa-Westray is supported by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, who pay the master a salary of £16. 10.; and there are various other schools supported by the fees. An itinerating library was instituted by Thomas Balfour, Esq., which makes the circuit of the North Isles, remaining in each for one year. There are several remains of ancient chapels, of which one, called Cross Kirk, is on the south-west side of Westray, close to the sea; and on the island of Papa-Westray is another, called the Kirk of How, beautifully situated on a rising ground, and surrounded by a cemetery inclosed with a stone wall. In two fields, one on the north and the other on the south of Westray, are numerous graves which have been discovered by the removal of the sandy surface in strong gales; several have been opened, and found to contain skeletons, with some arms, chiefly swords, in a very decayed state. Doubtless, these were bodies of men slain in some sanguinary battle that took place here. Tumuli are scattered through the parish, in one of which were found an urn, a drinking cup, a quern, and some domestic utensils; and there are also several Druidical remains, and Picts' houses.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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