- TONGUE, a parish, in the county of Sutherland, 250 miles (N. by W.) from Edinburgh; containing, with the island of Roan, and the villages of Tongue, Skianid, and Torrisdale, 2041 inhabitants, of whom 1558 are in the rural districts. This place anciently formed part of the parishes of Durness and Eddrachillis, from which it was severed in 1724, by act of the General Assembly. It derived its original name, Kintail, signifying in the Gaelic language the "Head of the Sea," from its situation at the head of an inlet from the North Sea, by which it is bounded on the north. The parish, on its separation, took its present name from a narrow neck of land projecting far into the inlet above noticed: from this neck there is a ferry to the opposite shore, and from it, in all probability, the arm of the sea, also, is called the Kyle of Tongue. This part of Sutherlandshire was for many generations the residence of the family of the Mackays, from whom the surrounding district, to a large extent, obtained the appellation of Lord Reay's country; it is now the property of the Duke of Sutherland, who is sole proprietor of the parish. Few transactions of historical importance are recorded in connexion with the place. Some tumuli, however, at a place called Druim-na-Coup, point out the spot where a battle was fought between the Mackays and the Sutherlands, and where, also, in more recent times, a party landing from a vessel bringing a supply of gold from France for the Young Pretender, were seized and stripped of their treasure, by the inhabitants.The parish is about twenty miles in extreme length, and nearly eight miles in average breadth, comprising an area of 140 square miles, of which not more than 1000 acres are arable; 500 are in natural woods, about 250 in plantations, and the remainder, of which probably a few acres might be reclaimed, mountain pasture, water, and waste. The surface is boldly diversified. Two continuous ridges of mountainous elevation, rising abruptly from the sea, and stretching towards the south, intersect the parish in nearly parallel directions, and, terminating in a similar range of heights which extends from east to west, form a semicircular chain of hills inclosing a spacious vale. In the western range, the highest hill is Ben-Hutig, on the north, elevated 1345 feet above the level of the sea, which for several miles is the average height of the ridge, till it terminates on the south in the lofty mountain of Ben-Hope, rising to the height of 3061 feet. The eastern range, which is greatly inferior in elevation, consists of a series of hills of conical form, in some places ascending precipitously from the shores of the Kyle, but mostly of gradual ascent, and of which the lower acclivities, to a considerable distance from their base, are under profitable cultivation. The inland or southern ridge abounds with features of picturesque and romantic character. The principal mountain in this range is Ben-Laoghal; it rises from a base two miles in breadth to the height of 2508 feet, and the summit is divided into four massive and lofty peaks, of which the highest is by far the most prominent. When partially covered with mist, the hill presents a most fantastic appearance. In the valley inclosed by these mountain ranges, the Kyle of Tongue forms a chief feature, resembling, from the number of islands at its mouth, which in some points of view hide its communication with the sea, a spacious inland lake, apparently divided into two lakes by the tongue of land: from the south-eastern shore rises the bold promontory of Varrich, crowned with the ruins of an ancient castle.The lands are interspersed with numerous lakes, of which more than a hundred may be seen at one time from some of the eminences, and of which those most deserving of notice are the following. Loch Maedie, in the southern extremity of the parish, is about six miles in circumference; it is indented with many points of land projecting from its shores, and forming small bays, and is studded with islands, on which are trees of ancient growth. Loch Diru is situated at the base of a rock of that name, branching off from the west side of the mountain of Ben-Laoghal; it is two miles in length, and is accessible to persons travelling on foot. The shore on one side is the rock, which towers precipitously to the height of 200 feet, but whose rugged aspect is at intervals softened by a few trees of birch and mountain-ash. Loch Laoghal, the largest of a series of four lochs on the east and south sides of the mountain, is five miles in length and more than a mile in breadth; its margin on the west is ornamented with a few trees, and that on the east with a wood of thriving birch, at the base of a considerable hill clothed with verdure to its summit. There are two islands in this lake, the resort of numerous wild-fowl. The other lakes in the chain are Lochs Cullisaid, Craggy, and Slam, which communicate with each other, and with Loch Laoghal, by small rivulets, and of which Loch Craggy, commanding a fine view of Ben-Laoghal, is the most interesting. The principal rivers are, the Borgie, the Rhians, and the Kinloch. The Borgie, which is the largest, and is sometimes called the Torrisdale, has its source in Loch Slam, and, flowing in a north-eastern direction, and forming a boundary between this parish and that of Farr, falls into the bay of Torrisdale. The Rhians and the Kinloch, after very short courses, flow into the Kyle of Tongue near Castle-Varrich; and the smaller streams of Tongue and Skerray both run through straths to which they respectively give name, the former into the Kyle, and the latter into the sea. There are also many perennial springs in the parish, and several sulphureous and chalybeate around the mountain of Ben-Laoghal, which are strongly impregnated, but have not hitherto been accurately analyzed.The coast is more than ten miles in extent, generally elevated and rocky, and, around the promontory of Whiten Head, extremely bold and romantic; it is indented with some fine bays and numerous creeks, affording shelter to vessels of considerable burthen, and to various small craft. The Kyle of Tongue, nearly in the centre of the coast, is about nine miles in length, and more than a mile and a half in breadth; of no great depth; from the numerous islands at the entrance, difficult of access; and from the shifting nature of the sand-banks, of dangerous navigation. At the mouth of the Kyle is good anchorage for ships of the largest size, which may ride there in safety, being protected from the adverse winds of almost every quarter; and on the western shore are fine roadsteads for vessels, near Portvasgo, and in the small bay of Talmine, which has a good bottom and a smooth sandy beach, and is one of the principal fishing-stations on the coast. On the eastern side of the Kyle, and nearly opposite to the bay of Talmine, is the small creek of Sculomy, now affording shelter only for a few fishing-boats, but which, at no very great expense, might be rendered a safe station for vessels of greater burthen. The bay of Torrisdale, to the east of the entrance of the Kyle, is wide and spacious, but gives little shelter to vessels, being open and exposed to all winds, which are here frequently violent and tempestuous. The only headland of any importance on the coast is Whiten Head, which is partly in Durness parish, and of which the rocks are perforated by the action of the waves into various caverns of romantic appearance; the cavern of Fraisgill has a naturally-formed arch at the entrance, fifty feet high and twenty feet wide, and penetrates for nearly half a mile into the rock, gradually contracting its dimensions both in breadth and height.The principal islands are, Eilean-nan-Naomh, or "the Saints' Island;" Eilean-nan-Ron, or "the Island of Seals;" and the Rabbit islands. Eilean-nan-Naomh, situated near the eastern extremity of the coast, had anciently a chapel with a burying-ground, of which traces may still be discovered. On the south side of this island is a circular fissure in the rock, through which the sea, after forcing its way along a narrow channel, ascends in a perpendicular column to the height of thirty feet, accompanied, within a few seconds, by a violent rushing of water from the eastern side of the island, with a noise resembling the discharge of a cannon. Eilean-nan-Ron, to the west of the former, has at high-water the appearance of two islands, and is partly under cultivation by a few tenants who, from a hollow in the form of a basin, containing land of great fertility, raise some fine crops of grain. The rocks, which rise precipitously to a great height, are on the north side divided by numerous fissures, through which the wind rushes with great force, carrying with it great quantities of saline spray, and thus affording the means of curing fish without the use of salt. On the same side of the island is a naturally-formed arch, of lofty dimensions, and of such symmetry and elegance as to rival the work of art. Nearly in the centre of the isle, the surface has subsided into a spacious chasm of circular form and great depth, which is supposed to communicate by a cavern with the sea. The Rabbit islands, which are more within the mouth of the Kyle of Tongue than Eilean-nan-Ron, are three in number, of no great elevation, and only covered with verdure affording pasture to rabbits. The ancient name of these islands, "Eileanna-Gaeil," or "the Island of Strangers," is supposed to have been derived from their occupation by the Danes, who are said to have landed on them, and retained possession for a time. The fish taken off the coast of the parish are chiefly cod, ling, haddock, whiting, skate, and flounders; in September, coal-fish are found in great quantities, near the rocks; and turbot and tusk are occasionally taken. The shores in the upper part of the Kyle abound with shell-fish, including muscles and spout-fish of excellent quality, and cockles, of which vast numbers are used during the summer months for food. Salmon, grilse, trout, and char are found in some of the lakes and rivers; and at the salmon-fishery on the Borgie, about 2000 are annually taken, on an average. The herring-fishery, which was formerly carried on to a great extent, and was very lucrative, has within the last few years been rapidly decreasing.From the small proportion of land under cultivation, the agricultural economy of the parish is scarcely an object deserving notice; the soil of the arable land is a rich black loam, producing grain of all kinds, but the only remunerating crop is that of potatoes, which are raised in large quantities. The lands are chiefly in pasture; but from being overstocked, the sheep and cattle are often stinted in their growth. The sheep on the larger farms are generally of the Cheviot breed, and are sent to the southern markets, where they are in much estimation and obtain high prices; the sheep reared by the smaller tenants are either of the black-faced breed or a cross between that and the Cheviot. Great quantities of wool are forwarded to Inverness, and also to the Liverpool market. The cattle are of the Highland blackbreed, and are usually sent for sale to the Aultnaharrow market, in the adjoining parish of Farr, or to the Kyle market near Bonar Bridge, but frequently are purchased by drovers who travel through the country to collect them. The natural wood, which for some time had been neglected, and for want of regular thinning was beginning to decay, has within the last few years been carefully managed, and is now in a thriving state. The most extensive of the more recent plantations are those around the House of Tongue; they display some fine specimens of beech, ash, elm, and lime, with firs of various kinds, of which the spruce thrives better than the Scotch fir. The rocks in the parish are principally gneiss, in some places intersected by veins of quartz and granite; the mountain of Ben-Hope is composed chiefly of mica-slate, and that of Ben-Laoghal of sienite. The substratum of the lower lands is chiefly sandstone. Black manganese ore has been found in Ben-Laoghal, and bog-iron ore occurs in many places; slate and flag quarries are wrought at Talmine and Portvasgo, on the lands of Melness, on the western shore of the Kyle of Tongue, but the return is inconsiderable. The rateable annual value of the parish is £3417. The only seat is the House of Tongue, the property and occasional residence of the Duke of Sutherland. This mansion, which is of ancient date, and irregular in its style of architecture, is situated in grounds tastefully laid out, and comprehending much beautiful scenery; and the surrounding demesne is richly planted, and embellished with timber of stately growth. The villages of Skianid and Torrisdale are both described under their respective heads. In Tongue is a post-office, which has a delivery three times in the week from Thurso, and twice from Golspie; a subscription library and a public reading-room, both recently established, are supported by subscription, and rapidly improving; and there is a good inn. Facility of communication is maintained by excellent roads, of which nearly forty miles pass through the parish, the greater number parliamentary and county roads; and by the ferry across the Kyle of Tongue, which, from the shallowness of the water, and the abundance of materials for the purpose in the immediate vicinity, might perhaps be converted into a public road.The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Tongue and synod of Sutherland and Caithness. The minister's stipend, including an allowance for communion elements, is £158. 6. 8., of which sum more than two-thirds are paid from the exchequer; with a manse, and a glebe valued at £35 per annum; patron, the Crown. The church, erected in 1680, was nearly rebuilt in 1731, at the expense of Lord Reay, and substantially repaired in 1779; it is a neat substantial structure, conveniently situated, and containing 520 sittings, all of which are free. A missionary station is established at Melness, in the western district of the parish; and a church containing 500 sittings, and a manse, were erected there by the late Duchess-Countess of Sutherland: the missionary has a stipend of £50, paid by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. The members of the Free Church have a place of worship. The parochial school affords instruction to about sixty children; the master receives a salary of £34. 4. 4., with a house and garden, and the fees average £10 annually. There are also two schools supported by the education committee of the General Assembly; one is at Melness, the other at Skerray. Among the interesting monuments of antiquity, the remains of the castle of Varrich are the most conspicuous. These ruins, which occupy the summit of the promontory of the same name, consist chiefly of the massive walls of a square tower two stories in height; the lower story had a roof of vaulted stone, and the upper a ceiling of timber frame-work: but nothing of the original founder, or of its early history, is known. Extending from the coast into the interior, are remains of several circular towers which, from their being within sight of each other, are supposed to have formed a chain of signal stations, for the communication of intelligence in times of danger. Subterraneous caverns, some of them evidently of artificial construction, are found in various places, and appear to have been places of retreat of the inhabitants from the pursuit of their enemies.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.