- LATHERON, a parish, in the county of Caithness, 17 miles (S. W.) from Wick; containing, with the late quoad sacra districts of Berriedale and Lybster, and the villages of Dunbeath and Swiney, 7637 inhabitants. This place, which is situated on the south-eastern coast of Caithness, is supposed with great probability to have derived its name, signifying in the Gaelic language "the resort of seals," from the vast multitudes of those animals by which its shores were formerly frequented, and of which considerable numbers are still found in the caverns near the sea. From the numerous remains of castles and fortresses, extending along the coast from the Ord of Caithness to Bruan, it would appear to have been the scene of ancient warfare; but the only authentic record of its early history preserved, is that of the last invasion of the country by the Danes. On the landing of a large body of troops under the command of the young Prince of Denmark, near the town of Thurso, the inhabitants of that district, unable to meet them in the field, retreated before the invaders to the hill of Ben-a-gheil, in this parish, where, having taken up a favourable position, they resolved to give the enemy battle. The Danes pursued them to this post, and attempted to dislodge them; but the Scots, having in the retreat considerably increased their numbers, bore down upon them in one compact body, broke their line, and, killing their leader, put them completely to the rout.The parish is bounded on the south-east by the North Sea, and on the west by the county of Sutherland. It extends along the coast for nearly twenty-seven miles, and varies from ten to fifteen miles in breadth, comprising an area of about 140,000 acres, of which 10,000 are arable, 800 woodland and plantations, and the remainder meadow, pasture, and waste. The surface in general is boldly marked with hills and valleys; and towards the west are numerous mountains of various height and aspect, between which are deep and precipitous ravines of dangerous access. The most intricate of these ravines are, Brenahegleish, Benachielt, and one at the Ord of Caithness; the most conspicuous of the mountains are, Morven, Scaraben, and the Pap. Morven has an elevation of nearly 4000 feet above the level of the sea, and is a fine landmark for mariners; near the summit is a spring of excellent water. The prospects obtained from most of these mountains comprehend more than twelve counties. There are also numerous straths of great beauty and fertility, of which the principal are watered by the rivers of Langwell, Berriedale, and Dunbeath; the steep banks of these vales were formerly covered with wood, and there is still sufficient remaining to add greatly to the richness of the scenery. The three rivers have their rise on the western confines of the parish, and, after courses of from twelve to sixteen miles through the straths to which they give name, fall into the sea on the east; they are but small streams in the summer, but are much swollen in winter, and they all abound with trout and salmon. The only lakes of importance are those of Rangag and Stempster, in both of which are found trout and eels. The line of coast is defended by a chain of rocks, rising precipitously to heights varying from 100 to 300 feet, and in many places perforated with deep caverns, some of which extend sixty feet in length, and are, as already stated, frequented by seals, whereof great numbers are annually taken. The principal headlands are, the Ord of Caithness, on the south; Berriedale head; and Clyth Ness, to the north. There are also numerous small bays, the outlets of the several rivers which intersect the parish, affording shelter for boats employed in the fisheries off the coast.The soil, though generally shallow, is easily cultivated, and well adapted to all kinds of grain; on the lands of Langwell and Dunbeath it is of a sharp gravelly quality, and on the lands of Clyth a dry loam. The crops are, grain, potatoes, and turnips, with the usual grasses; considerable improvement has been made in the system of husbandry, and much waste land has been reclaimed and brought into cultivation. Many of the farm-buildings, also, are vastly improved; but there are still some of very inferior order. Great attention is paid to the rearing of live stock, for the conveyance of which to the best markets facilities are afforded by steam navigation. The sheep on the lands of Langwell and Dunbeath are mostly of the Cheviot breed, and frequently obtain prizes at the Inverness shows; on the other farms they are chiefly a cross between the Cheviot and the Leicestershire: 12,000 are fed on the whole. The cattle, of which about 4000 are pastured, are principally a mixture of the Teeswater and Highland breeds, and fetch good prices in the Edinburgh market. The substrata are mainly clay-flagstone, red sandstone, and mica-slate; and the rocks are partly conglomerate and granite, the latter prevailing towards the Ord. The plantations of more recent growth are chiefly around the residences of the landed proprietors, many of which, though not of modern erection, have been improved and tastefully embellished within the last few years. The only village of any importance is Lybster, which is noticed under its own head; the others are small fishing hamlets on the coast. The rateable annual value of the parish is £10,967.The principal dependence of the population is upon the fisheries, of which there are four distinct branches carried on with lucrative success, the herring, the cod, the salmon, and the lobster fisheries. The herringfishery is prosecuted with great assiduity and enterprise, affording during the season occupation to about 3200 persons, and employing during the winter and spring from 1500 to 2000 in the making of nets; the season commences in July, and ends in September. The stations along the coast in this parish, and to which are attached convenient harbours, are Dunbeath, containing seventysix boats; Latheron-Wheel, thirty-five; Forse, thirtytwo; Swiney, ten; Lybster, 101; Clyth, fifty-three; and East Clyth, eighteen boats; in the aggregate, 325 boats, each having a crew of four men, and from twenty to thirty-eight nets. The number of barrels cured at these stations annually is 40,000, to which may be added 3000 cured by the fishermen at their own dwellings; and about 1000 barrels are generally sold in a fresh state to strangers from different parts of the country. The average price of the cured fish is £1 per barrel; and of fresh nine shillings. The cod-fishery is not carried on to so great an extent, being generally abandoned when the herrings appear in sufficient numbers, for that more lucrative employment; the number of cod cured during the season averages 10,000, and they are sold at sixpence each. The salmon-fishery is pursued at Berriedale and at Dunbeath: the former, belonging to Mr. Horne, of Langwell, is rented at £275 per annum; and the latter, the property of Mr. Sinclair, of Freswick, at £27 per annum only, the number of fish being greatly diminished. The fish at both are of excellent quality, the salmon selling for one shilling, and the grilse for sixpence per pound: few are sold on the spot, they being chiefly packed in kits, and sent to London. The lobsterfishery is but little attended to, though great numbers are sometimes taken. A small pier has been erected at Clyth, for the loading of vessels in moderate weather; and there is also a harbour at Lybster; but, from the rocky nature of the coast, and the want of shelter for vessels of any considerable burthen, the navigation is attended with great danger; and applications have been consequently made to government, for the construction of commodious harbours, which would materially promote the prosperity of the district. The nearest markettown is Wick. Fairs are held at Dunbeath and at Lybster twice during the year; there are also post-offices there. Facility of communication is afforded by good roads, of which the great north road along the coast passes through the whole length of the parish to Wick, whence there is conveyance by steam to Leith and Aberdeen.The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Caithness and the synod of Sutherland and Caithness. The minister's stipend is £219, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £15 per annum; patron, Sir James Colquhoun, Bart. The parish church, situated near the coast, was erected in 1734, and enlarged and new roofed in 1822; it is a neat plain structure containing 870 sittings. Churches were erected in Berriedale in 1826, and at Lybster in 1836. There is also a missionary station connected with the Established Church, founded by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, at Bruan, the eastern extremity of the parish, bordering on Wick. Attached is a comfortable manse, erected by subscription, at an expense of £232; and a glebe of four acres of excellent land was granted to the minister by the late Sir John Sinclair, Bart., whose estates were chiefly benefited. The church contains 600 sittings; and the missionary has a stipend of £25, granted by the society, and augmented to £100 by seat-rents. Four catechists are appointed by the Kirk Session, and paid by the families whom they visit. Attempts have been made to establish a congregation of members of the United Secession, but hitherto without any permanent success. The parochial school is well conducted; the master has a salary of £34, with a house and garden, and the fees average £30. Two schools are supported by the General Assembly, and one by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge; the masters have salaries of £20 each. The poor have the interest of various bequests producing about £18 per annum. Sir John Sinclair, compiler of the Statistical Account of Scotland, resided for many years at Langwell, now the property of Donald Horne, Esq.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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