Ardnamurchan

   ARDNAMURCHAN, a parish, partly in the county of Argyll, and partly in the county of Inverness; comprising the quoad sacra districts of Aharacle and Strontian, and containing 5581 inhabitants. The present parish of Ardnamurchan, previously to the Reformation, was distributed into three separate parishes, comprehending the five districts of Ardnamurchan, Sunart, Moidart, Arasaig, and South Morir. These districts still remain as distinct portions, and from the first the parish takes its name, signifying "the promontory" or "heights of the great sea." This term was originally applied with great propriety, the district of Ardnamurchan being nearly a peninsular promontory, thrusting itself out from the mainland to a considerable extent, into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The districts of Ardnamurchan and Sunart are in the county of Argyll, and the other three in Inverness-shire; and the whole extent is supposed to comprise 200,000 Scotch acres, of which 87,753 are in the Argyllshire portion. The parish is bounded on the south by Loch Sunart, separating it from that of Morven; on the south-west, by the northern end of the Sound of Mull; on the north, by Loch Morir, and the river flowing thence, which separate it from North Morir, in the parish of Glenelg; and on the north-west and west, by that part of the Atlantic Ocean which reaches to the opposite shores of Skye and the Small Isles. The coast, which is continuously, and remarkably, indented with creeks and bays forming numerous points and headlands, is supposed to embrace a line of several hundreds of miles, and exhibits a bold and rocky appearance. It displays, at some seasons, the foaming cataracts of the neighbouring waters driven landward by the westerly winds, and occasionally rendering inaccessible the several creeks and landing-places. The headland of Ardnamurchan, which is the most westerly part of the mainland of Great Britain, and the most prominent on the line of coast between Cape Wrath and the Mull of Cantyre, was formerly used as a geographical mark, in respect to which the Western Isles were denominated north or south. A creek on its extreme point, the picture of dreariness and desolation, marks the place where the remains of numbers of unfortunate sailors have found a grave, their barks having been dashed to pieces on the adjoining rocks; indeed, the whole coast surrounding the district of Ardnamurchan, is a series of indentations and prominences. Beyond this, the southern part of the parish, the line of coast runs along the Moidart district, on the west and north, and then forms the western limit of Arasaig and South Morir, jagged with many rocky points and headlands, of which the point of Arasaig, the next in importance to Ardnamurchan, is well known to mariners, and is visited by steamers plying from Glasgow to Skye and other parts. The coast here is very rugged, but not abrupt or precipitous; and it has numerous shelving rocks, extending under water to the northern boundary of the parish. A deep and wide bay is formed by the line of shore stretching in an easterly direction from the point of Ardnamurchan to the isthmus of that district, then northward, and afterwards round to the west, reaching to the point of Arasaig; and at the flexure of the northern coast of Ardnamurchan towards Moidart, is Kintra bay, with its fine sands, the latter measuring about two square miles, of nearly circular form, and covered, at high water, by the sea, which enters by a small inlet.
   The principal Harbours along the coast are, the bay of Glenmore, on the south of Ardnamurchan, affording good anchorage; that of Kilchoan, a small harbour on the same coast, furnishing the chief point of communication with Tobermory; and, on the north coast of Ardnamurchan, at Ardtoe, a small bay, where inferior craft may find a safe retreat. At the island of Shona, north of Kintra bay, also, and in the opening of Loch Moidart, are several creeks with good anchorage, the resort of boats from the southern highlands, in the season for cod-fishing; and in Loch Sunart are the harbour of Strontian, and the creek of Salin, at which latter a pier has been built. There are likewise several maritime lochs in the parish, which are of considerable extent and importance, and form a distinct feature in the general scenery of the coast. Loch Sunart shoots off from the Sound of Mull, where it is about six miles in breadth, and, in its inland course of about twenty-five miles, runs, with much impetuosity, through the channels formed by the islands of Carna, Resga, and Oransay, six or seven miles from its mouth, and then lies quietly, with the exception of the ebb and flow of the tides, between lofty rocks and precipitous banks overgrown with wood. Loch Moidart is about four miles long, from east to west, and communicates with the open sea by means of a narrow channel on each side of the island of Shona: being surrounded with steep lofty mountains, it is usually unruffled, and its scenery embraces all the striking features of a highland district. The remaining salt-water lochs are those of Loch-nan-Uamh, situated between Moidart and Arasaig; Loch Ainart, a branch of the former; and Loch-na-Reaull, just north of Arasaig point; all of comparatively small extent. In different parts of the coast are caves, some of them very extensive, but none of much note, except one at Baradale, in Arasaig, a damp, rough, dark excavation, where Prince Charles Stuart, after his defeat at Culloden, concealed himself for three days.
   The Interior of the parish, consisting of a sweep of land of very rugged character, is crowded with the features, variously combined, of almost every description of wild and romantic scenery, comprising lofty mountain ranges, precipitous rocky elevations, thickly-wooded hills, dells, and ravines, with numberless inland lochs, and several rivers. The Ardnamurchan portion is strongly marked by a range of hills, though of no great elevation, running from the western point, for about twenty-four miles, towards the east, and varying from four miles and a half to seven in breadth. Near the coast, are many farms under good cultivation, within the first ten or twelve miles, but afterwards the pasture becomes coarser. Oak, birch, and hazel are seen covering the rocks, and the lower hills on the south, to Loch Sunart; while, on the north, the district, at its eastern extremity, is occupied by a very extensive moss, girt by the river Shiel; this stream, which flows from Loch Shiel, and one from Loch Morir, being the principal rivers, and both falling into the western ocean. The name of the Sunart district, written, in some ancient records, Swynefort, or Swyniford, is supposed to have been derived from the circumstance of a king of Denmark named Swin, who was driven from his own country for apostatizing from Christianity, having, in the 10th century, landed in a creek here, on the western shore, called, in consequence of that event, Swineard. This tract is a continuation of that of Ardnamurchan, about twenty-five miles long, and ten in average breadth, and, for several miles from its commencement, has the appearance of a mountain ridge. After this the eminences expand, reaching to Loch Sunart on the south, and Loch Shiel on the north and north-west, leaving a large intermediate space, filled up with lofty hills and deep valleys and glens, thrown together in the greatest irregularity and confusion. The most lofty mountains are, Ben-Reisipoll, Scur-Dhoniel, Scour-Choinich, Creach-Bhunn, and, Glaschoiren Hill, reaching respectively 2661 feet, 2730 feet, 2364 feet, 2439 feet, and 1920 feet in height. The district contains two extensive and interesting valleys, of which that of Strontian, near its eastern extremity, opening at Loch Sunart, stretches for about five miles inland. It is ornamented in succession from its entrance with clusters of fine natural oak, flourishing plantations surrounding a tasteful mansion with well laid out grounds, an excellent and well-cultivated farm, with the crofts and tenements of numerous cottagers, the government church near the stream that runs through the valley, and, further on, the pleasing manse. Glenaheurich, a few miles north of the former valley, contains a spacious lake, and affords excellent pasturage for sheep; and besides this, there are other glens of inferior dimensions, bounded with picturesque bills displaying a profusion of verdure and ornamental wood. The district of Moidart takes its name from a compound Gaelic term signifying "the height of sea-spray," and extends about ten or twelve miles in breadth, and twenty-five in length, in a direction parallel with Sunart, along the whole boundary of Loch Shiel. It is bounded on the west and north by the sea, and the continuous range of mountains along the coast on each side, incloses an intermediate and lofty ridge, exhibiting a summit with a magnificent assemblage of crags, rocks, hills, and ravines, rendered more interesting to the curious observer by the almost impossible attempt to find their parallel. There are, however, in this elevated portion, some tolerably good plains, and a valley called Glenaladale, about 300 yards broad, and containing fair arable and pasture land. The districts of Arasaig and South Morir, not separated from each other by any marked features, constitute together a tract twenty-four miles in length, and fifteen broad: a long and very dreary valley named Glenmeuble, stretches along Arasaig for ten miles, with a farm at the eastern end, and a small loch called Brosaig, not very far off. The parish contains numerous fresh-water lakes, many of which abound with trout; the principal of them is Loch Shiel, which separates the county of Argyll from that of Inverness, and is embosomed amid mountains of the most magnificent description, very little known to travellers. At the western extremity of this lake is the beautiful island of Finnan.
   The soil is various, but generally light and shallow; only a small portion is fit for superior husbandry, and the remainder is moor and moss, of which latter kind there are several large tracts styled moss-flats, especially adjacent to Loch Shiel. That called the Moss of Kintra covers an area of seven square miles, and, like some of the others, is a quagmire in the middle, of unknown depth, though considerable portions near the margin are capable of improvement. Oats and bear are raised; but potatoes, hay, wool, and the cuttings of wood, make the largest items in the returns of produce. The black-faced sheep are those chiefly kept, and the cattle are the Argyllshire; the pasture lands are in many parts of an excellent kind, and both sheep and cattle are generally of a superior description, and receive much attention. The method of cultivation varies according to the nature of the soil and the locality; the best implements are in use, and shell-sand mixed with kelp, and various deposits from the sea-shore, are extensively employed as manure. Considerable improvements have been made on some estates, within these few years, and the farm-buildings of superior tenants are good, but those of the inferior class of the worst description. The extent of arable land in the Ardnamurchan and Sunart districts is upwards of 5000 acres, about half turned by the plough, and half by the spade; and it is supposed that the quantity throughout the parish might be doubled, with a profitable application of capital, there being, in these two districts alone, more than 12,000 acres of pasture, 3000 or more of moss, and 80,000 of moor, much of which is capable of tillage. An agricultural association, principally connected with Ardnamurchan and Sunart, and some neighbouring places, meets annually at Strontian, under the auspices of which great improvement has taken place in the breed of horses, blackcattle, and sheep. The rateable annual value of the parish is £6894. The rocks, to the distance of eleven or twelve miles eastward from Ardnamurchan point, are of the trap formation, whinstone being most prevalent, and appearing in numerous dykes which intersect each other in all directions; and in some places are found portions of slate, sandstone, and limestone, the last in large masses. Beyond these strata, further eastward, the gneiss, or mica-slate, shows itself, and the rocks become much more abrupt and lofty; a quarry is in operation at Laga, of micaceous rock, of fine quality, abundant in the parish; and at Strontian, excellent granite is raised, at which place, also, lead-mines are open, but not at present worked. Previously to 1722, these mines were let to the Duke of Norfolk and others, and afterwards were held by the York Building Company, and worked to the conclusion of the last war, the proprietor receiving at that time, from £1000 to £1500 per annum for rent, amounting to one-eighth of the produce; they were also let in the year 1836, but the works were shortly discontinued. The wood is of considerable extent throughout the parish, including much oak, valuable for its timber, birch, hazel, alder, and ash, all of natural growth; and the plantations comprise fir, plane, oak, and ash trees. Arasaig House is an elegant modern mansion of polished freestone. The population is chiefly rural, and scattered through the different districts; a few are engaged in salmon-fishing, on the river Shiel, and others in taking herrings on some of the lochs; two decked-vessels belong to the place, one of fifty, and the other of twenty tons. There is a post-office at Strontian, with a daily post; also one at Arasaig, with a delivery three times weekly; and a third at Kilchoan, communicating, by a messenger, with Strontian, twice each week. A road runs from Arasaig, by Glenfinnan, to Fort-William and the Caledonian canal, and another from Strontian to Corran Ferry, by each of which cattle and sheep are driven to the southern markets. The principal communication, however, is by steam-vessels from Glasgow, which touch at the point of Arasaig, and at Tobermory, a sea-port, in the northern extremity of the island of Mull, about five miles south from the harbour of Kilchoan, in Ardnamurchan. A fair is held at Strontian, in May, and another in October, for cattle and sheep; and there is also a cattle and sheep fair at Arasaig.
   The parish is in the presbytery of Mull and synod of Argyll, and is ecclesiastically distributed into five portions, namely, the parish church district, two quoad sacra parishes, a district under the care of a missionary, and another under that of an assistant. The first of these embraces the western portion of the peninsula of Ardnamurchan, and contains a place of worship at Kilchoan, on the south, four or five miles from the point, and one at Kilmorie, on the northern coast, at which the minister officiates alternately. The Kilchoan church, which, on account of its situation, commands the larger attendance, is a superior edifice, built in 1831, and accommodating more than 600 persons; that of Kilmorie, raised by a late incumbent, is a very humble structure, originally built of dry stone, and thatched. The minister has a stipend of about £270, with a manse, and a glebe of 27 acres, valued at £10 or £12 per annum; patron, the Duke of Argyll. The quoad sacra church at Strontian is thirty miles distant from the parish church; that at Aharacle is situated at the west-end of Loch Shiel, 23 miles distant. The mission of Laga comprehends about eleven miles of the coast of Loch Sunart, partly in the parish church district, and partly in that of aharacle; the minister receives £60 per annum from the Royal Bounty, and has built a preaching-house at his own expense. The district of the assistant is by far the largest ecclesiastical division, embracing the principal part of Moidart, and the whole of Arasaig and South Morir, and has a small preaching-house, built partly by subscription, at Polnish, near Inveraylort, and a school-house at Ardnafuaran, in Arasaig: he receives from the parish minister £55. 11. 1., and £32 from the Royal Bounty, with £5 for communion elements. There are five Roman Catholic chapels, with two officiating priests. The parochial school, situated at Kilchoan, affords the ordinary instruction; the master has a salary of £25. 13. 3., with £10 fees, and a house, garden, and two acres of land, the whole valued at £7. The parish contains several vitrified forts; but the chief relic of antiquity is the castle of Mingary, on the southern shore of Ardnamurchan, once the stronghold of Mac Ian, from which James IV., in 1493, granted a charter, and where, two years afterwards, he held his court, to receive the submission of the nobles of the forfeited lordship of the Isles. On the plain, at Glenfinnan, is a tower erected in commemoration of the events of 1745, by Alexander Mc Donald, of Glenaladale, with an inscription by Dr. Donald Mc Lean; the successor to the property, Angus Mc Donald, Esq., has lately much improved it, and crowned the summit with a statue of Prince Charles Stuart.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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