- URQUHART, a parish, in the county of Elgin, 4½ miles (E. by S.) from Elgin; containing 1082 inhabitants, of whom 185 are in the village. This place derives its name, signifying in the Gaelic language "an extensive line of sea-coast," from its situation on the shore of the Moray Frith, along which it stretches from the mouth of the river Spey to that of the river Lossie. It appears to have been of some importance at a very early period: a priory was founded here in 1125, by David I., who endowed it with lands in this parish and in that of Fochabers, together with a portion of the fisheries in the Spey. This priory, which was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was dependent on the abbey of Dunfermline until the year 1345, when it was separated from that establishment, and united to the priory of Pluscardine, with which it continued till the Reformation. In the year 1160, the inhabitants of Moray, who had taken up arms against Malcolm IV., were encountered in the moors of this place by a detachment of the king's army, and after an obstinate conflict, were defeated with great slaughter. All the families in Moray who had participated in this insurrection were immediately dispersed into different parts of the kingdom; such as were removed into the northern counties took the name of Sutherland, and those who were sent into the southern parts, the name of Murray. The parish is bounded on the north by the Moray Frith, and on the west by the river Lossie. It is very nearly in the form of an equilateral triangle, each side being about five miles; and comprises 7500 acres, of which almost 4000 are arable and in cultivation, 3000 woodland and plantations, and the remainder waste. The surface on the north-west is a plain of considerable extent, but that in other parts undulating, and diversified with hills, of which, however, the highest scarcely attain an elevation of more than fifty feet above the level of the sea. The prevailing scenery is beautifully picturesque, and the district is richly embellished with flourishing plantations. The waters in the parish are unimportant: the small lake of Cotts has been drained; the only streams that flow through the lands are three rivulets, on one of which are mills for grinding corn and sawing timber; and the supply of water, even for domestic use, is very insufficient. The coast is low and sandy throughout its whole extent, with the exception of a small rock called Boar's Head, which is visible at low water; and there is neither bay nor creek capable of affording shelter even to the smallest vessel.The soil generally is light and sandy, but fertile, and under good cultivation; the crops are, barley, oats, wheat, potatoes, and turnips, with the usual grasses. The system of husbandry is in an improved state, and a regular rotation of crops is duly observed; the farms mostly vary from twenty to 100 acres in extent, but there are several small crofts rented by the villagers, containing only from two and a half to seven acres. Very little of the waste land appears to be capable of improvement with any hope of remuneration; and from the want of stone, and the expense of raising fences, the lands are but partially enclosed. The only agricultural produce exported is grain, of which a larger amount is grown than is required for the supply of the inhabitants; and wheat especially, to the cultivation of which a much greater degree of attention has been paid within the few last years, is sent to Elgin in considerable quantities. The woods, which are very extensive, and consist chiefly of Scotch fir, were partly planted by the late Earl of Fife, and are all in a very thriving state: about 30,000 foresttrees have on the average, of late, been planted annually, Innes House, the seat of the Earl of Fife, who is proprietor of four-fifths of the parish, is a stately mansion beautifully seated in grounds tastefully laid out, and adorned with plantations. Leuchars, the property of the same nobleman, is a modern mansion pleasantly situated. The village is neatly built, and consists of nearly forty houses, to almost all of which are attached crofts of land, in the cultivation whereof the inhabitants are partly employed; the various handicraft trades are carried on to a moderate extent, and there are several good shops stored with articles of merchandise for the supply of the neighbourhood. At Finfan, near the eastern boundary of the parish, is a mineral spring possessing properties resembling those of the Strathpeffer water, and which is frequented by a few invalids: a neat cottage was lately erected on the spot by the Earl of Fife, as a residence for a person whom his lordship appointed to take care of the well. Facility of communication is afforded by the turnpike-road to Elgin, which passes for nearly three miles through the parish; and by other roads that intersect it in various directions, and which are kept in good repair by statute labour. The rateable annual value of Urquhart is £3772.The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Elgin and synod of Moray. The minister's stipend is £233. 3. 8., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £5 per annum; patron, the Earl of Fife. The church, situated nearly in the centre of the parish, is a modern structure containing sufficient accommodation for the parishioners. The parochial school is attended by about fifty children: the master has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with a house, an allowance of £2. 2. in lieu of garden, and the fees, averaging £8 annually; also twelve bolls of meal every year from a bequest by the Earl of Dunfermline. Of the ancient priory the only vestige remaining is the abbey well, which serves to indicate the site of that amply endowed establishment. About half a mile from the church, and near Innes House, are the remains of a Druidical circle, consisting of nine lofty stones, with two others of greater height near the entrance. In a barrow or hillock near the farm of Meft, have been found two rude urns containing ashes and half-burnt human bones; and in another, on a hillock called Kempston, was found within the last twenty years, a human skeleton in a reclining position, which on exposure to the air quickly crumbled into dust. In one of the moors now covered with wood, at a distance of a mile and a half from the church, are the remains of a Danish camp, on a rising ground almost entirely surrounded with a deep trench; and in a hollow near the site, called the Innocents' Howe, some women and children who had retired into it for safety on some invasion of the enemy, were discovered and cruelly slaughtered.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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