Uist, North

Uist, North
   UIST, NORTH, an island and parish, in the county of Inverness; containing, with the islands of Balishear, Boreray, Grimsay, Heisker, Illary, Kirkibbost, Vorgay, Orinsay, Ronay, and Vallay, 4428 inhabitants, of whom 3788 are in the island of North Uist. This place, which is included in the Hebrides, or Western Islands, is supposed to have derived its name from its situation to the west of the Isle of Skye. Originally it formed part of the territories of Somerled, King of the Isles, whose descendant, Donald Macdonald, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia in the year 1625; and the present Lord Macdonald is now the sole proprietor. The island, which is about thirty miles in length and from eight to fourteen miles in breadth, is bounded on the north-east by the sound of Harris; on the southeast by the Minch; on the north-west by the Atlantic; and on the south-west by the sands which, at low water, connect it with the island of Benbecula. From the extreme irregularity of its surface, however, its numerous indentations by arms of the sea, and the great number of its inland lakes, it has not been accurately surveyed; nor has even the number of square miles it contains been computed with any degree of exactness. The surface in the eastern portion is diversified with ranges of hills, increasing gradually in height from north to south, and varying from 300 to 700 feet in elevation above the level of the sea. Towards the west, the surface is chiefly a tract of level sands, with a wide extent of moorland intersected by fresh-water lakes of large size, and in some parts diversified with low ranges of hills, covered with heath, and affording only coarse pasture for cattle. In this part of the island are most of the cultivated grounds, rendered fertile by the drifting of shell-sand from the shores of the Atlantic, and in favourable seasons producing good crops of grain; also some extensive tracts of luxuriant meadow yielding fine crops of red and white clover.
   The coast on the west, with the exception of a few rocky headlands, is low and sandy, affording little security for vessels of any kind; but on the south-east, bold and elevated, bounded by ranges of high hills, and indented with numerous bays forming excellent harbours. The principal harbour on the north is Cheese bay, which is easy of access from the south-east, and has safe anchorage for vessels of any burthen at all times. Loch Maddy, on the south-east, and in front of whose entrance are three bold rocks from which it takes its name, is a capacious and secure harbour, readily entered, and affording anchorage to vessels of any burthen, which may ride in perfect safety, protected from all winds by the high grounds that inclose it on either side. To the south of Loch Maddy is Loch Efort, extending for six miles inland, though narrow at the entrance; it possesses secure anchorage-ground, but, from its proximity to Loch Maddy, is not much frequented. Still farther to the south is the harbour of Rhueva, which, though affording good anchorage, is difficult of access, from the narrowness of its entrance. About three miles to the south of Rhueva is the harbour of Keallin, between the islands of Grimsay and Ronay, having safe accommodation for vessels of moderate size: near this harbour is a fishing station.
   Connected with the parish are numerous islands, some of them inhabited and under cultivation, and others affording only scanty pasturage for a few sheep, or frequented merely for the sea-weed found on them, which is collected for the manufacture of kelp. Boreray, in the sound of Harris, and about two miles to the north, is a very fertile island, about a mile and a half in length and half a mile in breadth, and inhabited by about thirty families engaged in agriculture. The island of Orinsay, to the south of Boreray, and near the main land of North Uist, is about half a mile in length, and insulated only at high-water. To the west is the island of Vallay, separated from the main land by a strand dry at low-water; this island is two miles in length and a quarter of a mile in breadth, affording good pasture, and in favourable seasons fair crops of grain. The island of Heisker, about six miles to the west of the main land, is two miles in length, but of very inconsiderable breadth; the soil is sandy, bearing a little grass and a small quantity of grain, but the isle is chiefly valuable for its kelp-shores. The islands of Kirkibbost and Illary, which are insulated only at high-water, are also situated on the western coast. Kirkibbost is now barely a mile in length, and very narrow: consisting of very fine sand exposed to the violence of the western gales, it was, with the exception of what remains, blown away by the winds, before the use of bent-grass, and other modes of fixing the sands, were discovered. The island of Illary is about four miles in length, and nearly two miles in breadth; the soil is partly sandy and partly a rich black loam, yielding tolerable crops of barley, and affording good pasturage for cattle. Grimsay, situated on the strand, between the main land and Benbecula, and insulated only at high-water, is two miles in length and a mile in extreme breadth; it is fertile and in cultivation, and inhabited by about forty families. The island of Ronay, of much smaller extent, though formerly unprofitable, has been much improved, and is now a valuable pasture.
   The numerous inland lakes are thickly studded with small islands, the resort of various aquatic fowl, and abound in trout of different kinds and of good quality: in some of them, which in high tides communicate with the sea, salmon are also occasionally found. There are no streams that at all approach to the character of rivers; but many of the inlets from the sea penetrate with rapid currents far into the land. The fish commonly obtained off the coasts are, cod, ling, sythe, and flounders of large size, little inferior in quality to turbot; and herrings sometimes frequent the shores during the season, though no regular fisheries have been established. Shell-fish of various sorts are found upon the sands, including lobsters and crabs; but the most abundant are cockles, in the collection of which on the ebbing of the tide, hundreds of people are employed, as they form a nutritious kind of food, and also for the sake of the shells, which, when burnt, are used in preference to lime in the making of kelp into soda. The moorlands and hills abound with grouse, snipes, and woodcocks, and are much frequented by sportsmen; plover and curlews are also found in large numbers; and on the shores, and in the several islands of the inland lakes, are numerous herds of red deer.
   The quantity of land in the parish which is arable is about 14,000 acres; there are 53,000 of meadow and good pasture, and a large extent is sand and waste. The chief crops are, oats, barley, and potatoes, of which last great quantities are raised, forming the principal food of the poorer inhabitants. The system of husbandry has been greatly improved; much waste land has been reclaimed and brought into profitable cultivation, and great attention is paid to the management of livestock. The sheep were formerly all of the small native breed, the flesh of exquisite flavour, and the wool of extraordinary fineness; but though great numbers were reared, they did not thrive so as to enable the farmers to export; and they are now almost entirely superseded by the Cheviot and black-faced. The cattle are of the Highland black-breed, and, from the care bestowed on their improvement, the majority are inferior to none in weight and symmetry. Even those of the smaller tenants are superior to most in the Hebrides in size and quality, and are still rapidly improving under the encouragement of the proprietor, who gives premiums for the finest specimens. A great number of horses are reared for the purposes of husbandry; they are hardy and strong, though in general of but moderate stature; and those bred by the principal tenants are equal, both in size and value, to those kept for agricultural use in the south of Scotland. There are scarcely any plantations, though, from the discovery of trunks and roots of trees in the mosses, at a great depth from the surface, it would appear that the island of North Uist anciently abounded with timber. Trees have been planted in some few sheltered spots, and continue to thrive; but from the general want of shelter, little progress has been made. The rateable annual value of the parish is £4080. There is no village properly so called; and the only manufacture is that of kelp, in which the tenants are employed during intervals of leisure from agricultural pursuits, in the months of June, July, and August, by the proprietor of the island. About 900 tons are annually made, and sent to the southern markets on his account; 400 persons are thus employed, and the average earnings of each family are £4 for the season. The handicraft trades requisite for the wants of the parish are carried on in different places, and there are also several shops for the sale of various wares. At Loch Maddy, which is a packet-station, about eleven vessels varying from twenty to sixty tons' burthen each, and of which several were built in the parish, are employed in the coasting-trade; a post-office has been established at the same place, which has three deliveries weekly; and there is a good inn. Fairs for black-cattle, sheep, and horses, are held in the neighbourhood of Loch Maddy, in July and September; and facility of communication is maintained by good roads, which have been lately much extended, and by the packet that sails three times in the week to the Isle of Skye.
   The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Uist and synod of Glenelg. The minister's stipend is £158. 6. 8., of which more than one-half is paid from the exchequer; with an allowance in lieu of manse, and a glebe valued at £40 per annum: patron, the Crown. The church, erected in 1764, is a plain structure containing 400 sittings. A church was erected by government, in 1828, at Trumisgarry (which see); and at Carinish is a missionary station, of which the minister is supported by the Royal Bounty, and officiates in a building containing 396 sittings. The parochial school affords instruction to about sixty children; the master has a salary of £34. 4. 4., and the fees average £16 annually. Two schools are supported by the education committee of the General Assembly, who pay the masters a salary of £25 each; and various other schools are supported by the Glasgow Auxiliary Gaelic Society, and the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Nearly in the centre of the parish are two hills, on the summits of which immense cairns of loose stones have been raised. As there are no stones within a great distance of the site, it is difficult to imagine how these stones, some of which are of enormous weight, can have been conveyed to their present situation. They are supposed to have been raised over the remains of some distinguished leaders who were slain in a battle that took place near the spot; but no particulars of any such event have been recorded. On the islands in some of the inland lakes, and on the high grounds in different parts of the parish, are vestiges of Danish forts, within view of each other, and apparently intended as a chain of signal stations, to give notice of the approach of an enemy. At Carinish, in the south, are the remains of an ancient church called Teampul-na-Trianade, or "the Temple of the Trinity," which is supposed to have been the first Christian church erected in the Highlands. There are also some Druidical remains, and the ruins of various chapels, in the burial-grounds of which are crosses rudely sculptured, and in two of them obelisks of stone, of considerable height.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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