Olrick

   OLRICK, or Olrig, a parish, within the county of Caithness, 5 miles (E. by S.) from Thurso; containing, with the village of Castletown, 1584 inhabitants, of whom 1107 are in the rural districts. This place, which is of remote antiquity, seems to have derived its name, signifying the "son of Erick," from one of the Norwegian chieftains, who is supposed to have made himself master of it during the general invasion of Caithness by the King of Norway, about the commencement of the 9th century. There are not many events of historical importance. It appears, however, that an inconsiderable descent of the Danes took place here at a distant period, on which occasion the force landed at the bay of Murkle, but was totally defeated by the inhabitants in a sanguinary conflict on a height called, from the slain, Morthill, of which the present name of the bay is supposed to be a corruption. The parish is bounded on the north by the bays of Murkle, Dunnet, and Castlehill, and is about five miles in length and three miles in average breadth; comprising 10,000 acres, of which nearly 6000 are arable, and the remainder meadow and pasture, with the exception of about 500 of links and moss, and twenty acres of plantations. The surface is diversified with hills of moderate elevation, interspersed with pleasing and fertile valleys; and most of the hills and high grounds are clothed with verdure, affording pasturage for sheep and cattle. The hill of Olrick commands from its summit an extensive view of the coast and the adjacent country. The view embraces the bays of Sandside, Scrabster, Dunnet, Freswick, and Reiss, the heights of Canisbay and Nosshead, and several of the islands of Orkney, with the mountains of Sutherland, Moray, Banff, and Aberdeenshire; forming together one of the finest and most comprehensive prospects in the north of Scotland. The only lake in the parish, Loch Durran, from which issued a rivulet flowing by the village of Castletown into the bay of Dunnet, was formerly about three miles in circumference, but has within the last few years been drained for the sake of its marl, and laid down in pasture. The coast is not more than two miles in extent, from east to west, and is generally shelvy and rugged, but not precipitous. It is indented on the east by the bay of Castlehill, forming a commodious harbour at the village of Castletown; and on the west by Murkle bay, which, from its superior shelter and depth of water, might at a moderate cost be improved into one of the best harbours on this part of the coast. In both these bays are stations for the salmon-fishery; and formerly vast numbers of cod, ling, and other white-fish, were taken here; but this fishery has for some years been gradually decreasing, and is now almost discontinued.
   The soil along the coast generally, and in some of the other low lands, is a deep rich clay alternated with sand and till; towards the interior, mostly of lighter quality, but fertile; and the higher grounds, and such other portions as are not arable, afford excellent pasture. The crops are oats, bear, potatoes, and turnips, with the usual grasses; and on the lands of Murkle, a species of black oats, which almost every where else degenerate by repeated sowing, thrive luxuriantly without any change of quality, and are consequently in great demand as seed in the surrounding country. The system of husbandry has for many years been gradually advancing, and is now in a highly improved state; furrow-draining, originally introduced by Mr. Traill on his estate of Ratter, in the adjoining parish of Dunnet, with great success, has been extensively practised; and large tracts of waste land have been brought into profitable cultivation. On most of the farms a due regard is paid to a regular rotation of crops; and on the larger farms the buildings are substantial and well arranged. The lands are well inclosed, partly with hedges of thorn and partly with stone dykes; and all the more recent improvements in the construction of agricultural implements have been adopted. Great attention is paid to live-stock; the cattle are generally of a cross breed between the Highland and the Teeswater. The dairyfarms, whereof the produce is sent to Wick or Thurso, are under good management; and the sheep, of which the number reared in the pastures is rapidly increasing, are of the Leicestershire breed, and appear to improve both in weight and in the quality of their wool. Considerable quantities of grain are sent to the Edinburgh market; and large numbers of cattle and sheep are shipped for London and the southern markets, for which steam navigation affords abundant opportunities. The plantations, chiefly on the lands of Castlehill and Olrick, consist of ash, for which the soil seems peculiarly favourable, plane, elm, oak, mountain-ash, and larch; all in a thriving condition. The rateable annual value of the parish is £4122.
   The principal substrata are limestone and freestone; and slates and flags are every where found, and are in extensive operation. There are large quarries of what is called Caithness paving-stone, of very hard and durable texture, and varying from grey to blue in colour. In these quarries more than 100 persons are constantly employed; and at Castlehill is machinery for sawing, and polishing the surface of, the stone, which is used for paving streets, or formed into slabs, mantel-pieces, and other ornamental parts of buildings, of which great quantities are sent to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, and London. Olrick House, the seat of James Smith, Esq., a neat modern mansion near the base of Olrick hill, and Castlehill, one of the seats of Mr. Traill, of Ratter, an elegant mansion beautifully situated near the shore of the bay of Castlehill, in a tastefully-embellished and richly-planted demesne, are the only houses of any importance. The village of Castletown is described under its own head. Fairs are held on the second Tuesday in March, and the third Tuesdays in June and November; and facility of communication is maintained by the turnpike-road from Wick to Thurso, which passes through the parish, and by cross-roads kept in excellent repair. The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Caithness and synod of Sutherland and Caithness. The minister's stipend is £191. 8. 8., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £10 per annum; patron, Sir James Colquhoun, Bart. The old church, erected in 1633, and containing 403 sittings, having become ruinous, and inadequate to the increased population, has been deserted, and a handsome structure erected at the eastern extremity of Castletown, affording ample accommodation for all the parishioners. The members of the Free Church have a place of worship. The parochial school, also situated in the village, affords instruction to about eighty children; the teacher has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with a house and garden, and the fees average £15 per annum. There are numerous Pictish houses; and on the lands of Murkle, it is said, was a nunnery, of which the site is supposed to be indicated by a small burn called Closters, thought to be a corruption of Cloisters. On the summit of the hill of Olrick are some remains of an ancient watch-tower; and near the eastern boundary of the parish, at a place called St. Coomb's Kirk, was a church dedicated to St. Columba, and supposed to have been the church of the united parishes of Olrick and Dunnet: this, with the adjoining manse, was overwhelmed during the night by a drift of sand.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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