Canisbay

   CANISBAY, a parish, in the county of Caithness; including the island of Stroma, a small part of the late quoad sacra parish of Keiss, and the detached townships of Auckingill, Duncansbay, Freswick, Gills, Huna, Brabster, and East and West Mey; and containing 2306 inhabitants. The name of this place has generally been supposed to be a corruption of the term Canute's bay, from some Norwegian chief who arrived here; but others think it comes from Canna, the name of a plant once abundant in the district. In ancient times, the parish was portioned into several parts, in each of which there was a religious edifice; and at Freswick, are the ruins of an old castle, called Bucholie Castle, which is of great antiquity, and is said to have been inhabited, in the 12th century, by a Danish nobleman of the name of Suenus Asteilf. From certain entries in the session records, it is probable that Oliver Cromwell, or some of his officers, were in the parish in the year 1652. Canisbay is situated in the north-east corner of Scotland, and is the most remote parish in the country; it measures about eight miles in length, from east to west, and its mean breadth is about six miles, the whole containing upwards of 32,000 acres. It is bounded on the north by the Pentland Frith, and on the east by the German Ocean; the coast on the north side is in general level, but on the east bold and precipitous. The chief headlands are, Grey-head, Skirsahead, St. John's or Mey head, and the beautiful promontory of Duncansbay head, which last is about two miles in circumference, and is indented with several large ravines. Near it are two rocks, surrounded by the sea, called the Stacks of Duncansbay; they are of oval form, and shoot up fantastically to a great height, attracting, in the spring and summer, swarms of seafowl, and on the top of the larger stack, the eagle has its habitation. The bays are, Freswick bay, on the east, and Duncansbay and Gills bay, on the north, the beaches of which consist principally of sand and shells. In the interior, the land is remarkably level, the ward or watch hill being the only considerable elevation, rising about 300 feet above the sea; the loch of Mey, in circumference about a mile and a half, is the sole loch in the parish, and among the few small streams, the burn of Freswick is the principal.
   Heath and deep moss, with a little coarse grass, cover nine-tenths of the surface; and the soil, in the cultivated grounds, consists in general of a light black loam, with an intermixture of moss. The moor and pasture comprehend about 28,800 acres, in a state of undivided common, and open to the cattle and sheep of all the parishioners; the arable land consists of about 3200 acres, the produce of which is bear and oats, with potatoes, turnips, &c. The sheep and cattle, with the exception of a few reared by the large proprietors, are the native breed, in its worst and most deteriorated state; agriculture is at a very low ebb, the rotation system being unknown among the people in general, and the crops, for want of manure and good husbandry, are of a very inferior kind. The rateable annual value of the parish is £3675. The prevailing rock is red sandstone; there is also some greywacke, and a tolerable supply of limestone is obtained. The three chief proprietors have all good mansions; that of the Earl of Caithness is Barrogil Castle, an ancient and venerable pile, and the two others are Freswick and Brabster Houses. Several boats are regularly engaged in obtaining lobsters for the London market, and there are thirty large boats employed in the herring-fishery, the value of the fisheries being estimated at £1650 per annum. Cod are plentiful on the coast, and coal-fish, or, as they are here called, Cuddens, at certain seasons, are taken in immense quantities, and not only serve the poorer classes for food, but supply plenty of oil for light. The people in the parish rely principally upon fishing for their subsistence: there are post-offices at Mey and Huna, the latter of which is seventeen miles and a quarter from Wick, and a turnpike-road runs from Thurso to Huna. Two small fairs for the sale of horses, cattle, and swine, are yearly held, the one in February, at Freswick, and the other in December, at Canisbay. The ecclesiastical affairs are subject to the presbytery of Caithness and synod of Caithness and Sutherland; patron, William James John Alexander Sinclair, Esq.; the stipend is £205, and there is a manse, with a glebe worth £6 per annum. The church was thoroughly repaired in 1832, and accommodates 512 persons. A parochial school is supported, the master of which has the maximum salary, with the legal accommodations, and £5 fees; there are also two schools maintained by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, and a parochial subscription library. About a mile and a half to the west of Duncansbay-head, stood the celebrated John o' Groats House, of which nothing but the site remains.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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