Saddell and Skipness

   SADDELL and SKIPNESS, a parish, in the district of Cantyre, county of Argyll; containing 1813 inhabitants, of whom 846 are in Saddell, and 967 in Skipness, respectively 19 and 32 miles (N. by E.) from Campbelltown. The name of the first of these places has been at different times written in ancient documents Saundle, Sandel, and Sandale, signifying in the Scandinavian language "a sandy plain." The term Skipness, in the same language, means "a ship-point," and was used in reference to the place on account of its having been a central station for the rendezvous of the northern fleets, during the period of their attacks upon this coast. The two districts, the former having been disjoined from Killean, and the latter from Kilcalmonell, were united in 1753. An abbey of considerable note was founded in Saddell about the year 1160, by Somerled, Lord of the Isles, who, in 1158, with a fleet of fifty-three ships had seized Cantyre and the Western Isles, then belonging to the crown of Man, and made himself an independent chief. This religious house, which was finished and endowed by Reginald, his son and successor, was for monks of the Cistercian order, and was situated in a beautifully secluded spot in the midst of majestic trees, which still overshadow its ruins. Its church was in the form of a cross, the extremities respectively pointing to the four cardinal points; the length from east to west was about 136 feet by twenty-four, and that of the transepts from north to south, seventy-eight feet by twenty-four. Other buildings were appended, giving to the whole a quadrangular form. The parish is bounded on the east by the sound of Kilbrandon, which separates it from the Island of Arran; and on the south by Campbelltown. It is of a long irregular figure, stretching twenty-five miles in extreme length, and three in average breadth, and comprising considerable portions of well-cultivated arable ground, with some good pastures, and large tracts of moor, heath, and mountain. The line of coast is very circuitous, and diversified with numerous creeks, promontories, and bays; the last are often spacious, though rocky at the entrance, and generally embrace a fine expanse of water having a good sandy beach. The headlands are in general low, and of various forms, but all projecting towards the south-east. In the neighbouring waters, in every direction, cod, ling, mackerel, haddock, whiting, and other kinds of fish, are to be found in great abundance, though mostly neglected by the natives.
   The surface of the interior is also much diversified, and displays a great variety of undulations, numerous hills covered with heath, and dreary mountains and moors, with several spacious valleys. Some of the last, near the sea, are ornamented with interesting mansions surrounded by verdant inclosures, tasteful gardens and shrubberies, and well laid out grounds. The highest mountain is Benintuirk, rising 2170 feet above the level of the sea, and commanding beautiful views which embrace the Isle of Arran, the Frith of Clyde, the Craig of Ailsa, and the Irish Channel, with many other more distant objects. The most attractive prospect, however, though much less extensive, is from the southern quarter, whence may be surveyed a mixed landscape of the first order, combining numerous striking features of both Highland and Lowland scenery with great effect. The valleys have each their own streams, generally well stocked with trout, and which, after marking with their respective channels the sides of the mountains, slowly wind their way, in many places through secluded hollows and recesses, till they lose themselves in the waters of the ocean. Most of the moors are spangled with silvery lakes, which also abound with trout; and the lakes and marshes originate several rivers, some of them stocked with par and good-sized salmon. The chief streams in the parish are the Skipness, Claonaig, Crossaig, Sunadale, Torrisdale, Saddell, and Carradale, the last a fine angling stream, and in much repute.
   The soil on the higher grounds is a light earth with an admixture of gravel, but along the streams, a kind of alluvial slimy compost; the subsoil in most places is rock, clay, or gravel, but near the sea, pure white sand. The meadows consist principally of moss, or of a deep rich loam resting on clay. The husbandry till recently was very indifferent, the body of the people having united other avocations with that of farming; but the most improved system has been now introduced by some of the landholders, with extensive draining, in consequence of which great advances have been made. The farms vary in extent from 250 to 1500 acres, and the rent of arable land averages 17s. 6d. per acre. The predominating rock is mica-slate; but quartz is also abundant, running generally parallel with the former, though sometimes crossing it at right angles. Large detached blocks of granite are also to be seen, of a very hard texture; and in a quarry at Carradale have been found fine specimens of obsidian, a species of lava which, though almost black in the mass, when cut into thin pieces exhibits the hue of dark green glass. The natural wood, which is scattered in different places, comprises oak, ash, hazel, birch, and alder; fine old foresttrees occur in some of the plantations, and Scotch fir and larch are in many parts abundant and in a thriving condition. The rateable annual value of Saddell and Skipness is £5251.
   The population has partially declined of late years, owing in some measure to the breaking up of the cottar system, and the consolidation of small farms. The parish is principally agricultural and pastoral; but many hands which are employed in husbandry give also a large part of their time to fishing, especially those who dwell on the coast; and about sixty-five boats, chiefly for taking herrings at a distance, belong to the place, usually carrying three men each. Cod and ling are also sometimes caught; and salmon both at Carradale and Skipness, with much success: lobsters are abundant, and of excellent quality. The parish is ecclesiastically in the presbytery of Cantyre and synod of Argyll, and in the patronage of the Duke of Argyll: the minister's stipend is £150, of which more than a third is paid by the exchequer; with a manse, and a glebe of twenty acres, valued at about £30 per annum. There are two parish churches, thirteen miles apart, one situated at Carradale, and in good repair, and the other at Claonaig, which is in a dilapidated state: they accommodate respectively 354 and 288 persons. Two parochial schools are also maintained, affording instruction in the ordinary branches; the masters each receive a salary of £25. 13. 4., with a house, grass for a cow, and £4 fees: these schools were not established until 1822. The most interesting relic of antiquity is the ruin of the celebrated monastery of Saddell, which however has nearly disappeared, the materials having been quarried out of late years for various uses. The castle of Skipness is an ancient and venerable pile of square form, with a court, the outer wall comprehending a space of 450 feet; and at Saddell, also, is a castle of the same figure, of considerable size, and formerly surrounded by water. Along the coast are ruins of several forts, generally situated on the headlands; and a few tumuli are to be seen. The churchyard is remarkable for the number of singularly curious inscriptions and figures carved upon the gravestones, and as the place of sepulture of many persons celebrated in former times. The Rev. Donald Mc Nicol, a great scholar and antiquary, and author of the Review of Dr. Johnson's Tour to the Hebrides, was minister of the parish in 1753.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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