- BARVAS, a parish, in the island of Lewis, county of Ross and Cromarty, 10 miles (N. W. by N.) from Stornoway; containing, with the late quoad sacra district of Cross, 3850 inhabitants. The name of this place, like that of many others in the neighbourhood, is supposed to be of Norwegian derivation; but its signification is altogether unknown. From the memorials which still remain, the Danes appear to have had some connexion with the district: a fort, now in ruins, evidently of Danish construction, stands on the border of a loch south of Bragar, and three buildings of the same description are to be seen between Shadir and Borve, each of them, by its peculiar form, locality, and appendages, indicating the scene of the military operations of that people. On a plain of moss between Barvas and Shadir, stands an immense stone, eighteen feet high, and almost as much in girth, supposed to have been raised as a triumphal memorial of the slaughter of some cruel and reckless tyrant of the Danish nation; and the ruins of several old chapels and burying-grounds still remain, showing the subsequent occupation of the soil by religious teachers. These chapels were dedicated to St. Bridget in Borve, St. Peter in Lower Shadir, St. Mary in Barvas, and St. John in Bragar.The parish, which is remotely situated, in the northern extremity of the island of Lewis, is about twenty-two miles long, and seven broad, and contains 16,103 acres, of which number 1468 are in tillage, 489 the best kind of pasture, and 14,146 pasture of an inferior kind; it is bounded on the north-west by the Atlantic Ocean. The coast, which comprises a length of about fourteen miles, is rugged, and in many parts bold and rocky, and is beaten by a violent surf when the wind blows from the west or north-west. The surface of the ground in the interior is diversified by gentle elevations, except in one or two instances, where it is broken by a deep glen traversed by rivulets, or occupied by a sweeping moor covered with red mountain deer. There are five rivers, the Glen, Borve, Shadir, Arnal, and Torra, which generally rise from springs or lochs, six or seven miles up the country, and empty themselves into the ocean. The climate is surcharged with vapour and fog, and subject to violent storms and rains; the striking phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis is frequently seen, in all its splendour and majesty. The soil of the cultivated land, which chiefly lies along the sea-shore, is black earth, often largely mixed with gravel or sand, but, as the main part of the parish is moor, the soil is mostly mossy. The arable portion is overspread with quantities of stones, which, together with exposure to winds from the sea, without hill or mountain to protect behind, supply formidable impediments to the labour of the farmer, and sometimes destroy his crops altogether. The rental is small; no produce is exported, the whole being used in home consumption, and but few improvements have been made in agriculture, chiefly from the shortness of the leases, and the poverty of the people, who, in seasons of scarcity, are compelled to live upon whelks, limpets, and crabs, the only shell-fish to be found. About 2500 head of black-cattle are reared, which are fed in winter chiefly on sea-weed; and the sheep amount to upwards of 7000, and are all of small stature, as are the horses, which, however, are compact, active, and mettlesome, and well suited to their ordinary work of carrying the sea-weed in double-baskets, over difficult and rocky grounds. The subsoil is a stiff hard clay, which, in some parts, is covered with large banks of sand, twenty feet high, driven inward from the shore by the continued action of westerly winds. The rateable annual value of the parish is £1942.The inhabitants live in numerous villages on the coast, almost entirely in an insulated state, having very little communication with others; there are two roads, one running along the coast, and another to Stornoway, the only mart in the island. The parish contains four small bays, into which boats sometimes enter; but the violence of the wind prevents the anchorage of any vessel. Salmon-fishing has been carried on for some years, with considerable success, near the mouths of the rivers; but the nature of the coast rendering other fishing impracticable, the people are generally little inclined to make the employment a steady pursuit. The ecclesiastical affairs are subject to the presbytery of Lewis and synod of Glenelg; the minister has a manse, a glebe worth about £20 per annum, and a stipend of £158. 6. 8., partly paid from the exchequer; the patronage belongs to the Crown. The church, built nearly sixty years since, is a long narrow building, and contains 300 sittings, all free. There is a parochial school, in which the classics and the common branches of education are taught, and the master of which has a salary of £28; and two other schools are supported by the Edinburgh Gaelic School Society. The parish contains several chalybeate springs, but none of any note.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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