WATTEN, a parish, in the county of Caithness, 10 miles (W. N. W.) from Wick; containing 1266 inhabitants. This place originally formed part of the parish of Bower, from which it was separated about the year 1638; it is situated nearly in the centre of the county, and is supposed to have derived its name, in the Danish language signifying "water," from its extensive lakes. The only events of historical importance connected with the parish are, the various incursions of the Danes, and the frequent hostilities between rival clans in its vicinity; and even of these, the memorials rest rather on tradition than on any well authenticated records. The parish is nearly ten miles in extreme length and seven miles in mean breadth, comprising about 38,400 acres; 5500 are arable and under cultivation, and the remainder, of which probably 5000 acres might be reclaimed and rendered profitable, consists of moorland pasture, moss, and waste. The surface is generally undulating, without attaining any considerable degree of elevation; and is intersected, especially in the southern portion, with numerous narrow glens, through which flow various small streams that have their sources in the moorlands. The river Wick has its commencement in the confluence of two rivulets issuing from the lakes, and which in their progress receive several tributary streams: on their union, nearly in the centre of the parish, the river thus formed flows eastward, and falls into the bay of Wick. Loch Watten, near the northern boundary of the parish, is a beautiful sheet of water, about three miles in length, nearly two miles in breadth, and about ten feet in average depth; and is surrounded on all sides by gently rising grounds in a state of rich cultivation. Loch Toftingall, near the southern boundary, is of nearly round form, about five miles in circumference, and having an average depth of eight feet; but being encircled by bleak and barren moors, it is greatly inferior in the beauty of its scenery to Loch Watten. Both these lakes abound with trout and eels, the former fish weighing from half a pound to five pounds, and the latter varying from three to four feet in length. There are numerous springs of excellent water, and in several places are some of which the water is strongly impregnated with iron; they are not very copious, but are all perennial.
   The soil varies in different parts: in some there is a rich deep loam, alternated with clay and sand; in others, a stiff friable clay; while in the neighbourhood of the moors are large tracts of peat-moss. The crops are oats and bear, with turnips and potatoes, and the usual grasses. The system of husbandry on the small farms is in a backward state, but on most of the larger has been greatly improved: the principal farm-houses, also, are substantial and well arranged. The lands have been drained, and inclosed partly with dykes of stone, but chiefly with hedges of thorn, now in a thriving state; some of the commons have been divided and inclosed, and all the more recent improvements in the construction of agricultural implements have been adopted. Great attention is paid to the management of live-stock; and under the countenance of the landed proprietors, who give premiums for the best specimens, the sheep and cattle reared in the pastures have been much improved. The sheep are chiefly of the Leicestershire breed, and a cross between that and the Cheviot; and the cattle, of the native Highland breed, with a cross of the Teeswater, recently introduced. Since the facility afforded by steam navigation, great numbers of fat-cattle and sheep have been shipped to Leith, Newcastle, and London. There is now but little wood in the parish, though numbers of trees of large size are found imbedded in the peat-mosses, with the bark perfectly entire, at sixteen feet below the surface. At Scouthel are about ten acres of natural copse, consisting of birch, hazel, and ash; and at Watten is about an acre of plantation of fifteen years' growth, which, the land being well trenched and drained, is in a thriving state. The principal substrata are flag-stone and clayslate, of which the rocks are chiefly composed, with limestone and whinstone, which occur in some few parts; marl is found to a considerable extent in the bed of Loch Watten, and bog iron-ore is thinly scattered over the surface in several places, more especially in the dry moorlands. The rateable annual value of the parish is £4038. There are numerous substantial and handsome houses, formerly the residence of the principal landholders; some of them are now occupied by the tenants of the larger farms, and others are only the temporary resort of sportsmen during the shooting season.
   There is no village in the parish, the inhabitants of which are all engaged in agricultural or pastoral pursuits. Fairs for sheep, cattle, and horses, and for hiring servants, and at all of which various kinds of merchandise are also exposed for sale, are annually held on the first Tuesday in May and third Tuesday in September, O. S., and the last Tuesdays in October and December. Large cattle-markets are held on the first Mondays in July, August, and September. At the bridge of Watten is a post-office under that of Wick, which has a daily delivery, and facility of communication is maintained by good turnpike-roads, of which about twenty miles intersect the parish in various directions; by roads kept in repair by statute labour; and bridges over the Wick and other streams. The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Caithness and synod of Caithness and Sutherland. The minister's stipend is £192.17. 10., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £18 per annum; patron, Sir James Colquhoun, Bart. The church, a very ancient structure, in which were lately some allegorical paintings and other relics of antiquity, was substantially repaired in 1714, and contains about 800 sittings, all of which are free. At Halsery, in the south-west of the parish, a chapel was built by subscription in 1842, containing 350 sittings. The members of the Free Church have a place of worship. The parochial schoolmaster has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with a house, and a sum of money in lieu of a garden. A school is also supported by the Assembly. A parochial library was established in 1840, which now contains nearly 400 volumes, and is well supported by subscription. Dr. James Oswald, of Methven, bequeathed a sum of money for the poor of every parish in Caithness, from which this parish received £100, now augmented by donations to £300: the interest is annually divided. There are numerous remains of ancient Pictish forts, and in the heart of the moorlands are the ruins of a Druidical circle, beautifully situated in a hollow covered with turf; there are also vestiges of chapels, of which the burying-grounds are still remaining.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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