Parish of Lochs (1831-1845) - Topography and Natural History


Name.-The parish of Lochs derives its name from the numerous arms of the sea, by which it is intersected, and the many fresh water lakes that intersperse its surface. [Arms of the sea and fresh water lakes are indiscriminately termed Lochs in the Hebrides]

It was the most recently inhabited parish in the Island of Lewis, according to the rapidly expiring traditions of the country; the only source of information on this head to which we can resort. Different parts of it were used by the inhabitants of the parish of Uig, in times long gone by, as shealings, or summer pasturage for their cattle. There is a certain part of it that still retains the name of Ari Dhhoil Chaim" or Donald Caum’s shealing. This Donald Caum was a noted character, who resided in the parish of Uig, in this island, seven generations ago.

Extent.-The extreme length of the parish of Lochs, in a straight line, is 18 computed miles; not including the arms of the sea by which it is intersected. The breadth averages about nine miles. Its length is from north to south; and its breadth of course from east to west.

Boundaries.-The parish of Lochs is bounded on the south by an arm of the sea called Loch Seaforth, which separates it from Harris; on the south-west and west, by the hills of Harris and the parish of Uig, in a line which runs along the interior of the island, a distance of ten miles, over a very moorish tract of ground on the north, by the parish of Stornoway and the river Creed, which falls into Loch Stornoway and on the east, by the channel which separates the island of Lewis from the mainland of Ross-shire.

Figure.-The parish of Lochs being intersected by many arms of the sea, is of a very irregular figure. A great part of it is a peninsula called Park or the Forest of Lewis. This peninsula is called the Forest or Park, from its having been devoted by the first Earl of Seaforth to the exclusive maintenance of red-deer. Park forms the southern extremity of the parish. The arms of the sea by which it is formed into a peninsula are, Loch Seaforth and Loch Erisort. The isthmus that separates these lochs and joins the forest to the rest of the parish, is three quarters of a mile in

When the forest of Lewis was devoted to the maintenance of red-deer, as noticed above, there was a very high dike across the isthmus; but that dike can now be scarcely traced. The forest has been for many years let to tenants.

Mountains.-The only mountains of any note in the parish of Lochs are in the district called Park. Some of these mountains are celebrated in the hunting-songs of Lewis men of bygone years; among others Benn Chrianeg, Ushinish, and Benn Mhore. These mountains are all in the southern division of Park. They are interspersed by valleys that yield good pasture, and are separated from the less mountainous part of Loch Shell. The rest of the parish, especially the interior, is almost all flat, yielding nothing but the coarsest of heath.

Caves and Fissures.-The only cave in the parish of Lochs is in an island named Tauneray, which is situated in the entrance of Loch Erisort. This cave is about twelve by eight feet wide in its entrance its dimensions increase towards its centre, but terminate in a very limited space in its extremity,- which is so dark as to render a minute inspection inconvenient, especially as its entrance is washed at all times of the tide, by the sea. There are many fissures along the coast, which are not of importance to merit any special notice.

Coast.-The coast of Lochs is generally very bold and rocky, especially about the headlands. The more inland parts of the coast are low, and yield a great quantity of sea-ware. The principal headlands are Kilbag-head and Rhu-Rairnish.

Temperature.-The climate is temperate, which is attributable to the insular situation of the country and though very damp, it is nevertheless very healthful, not only to natives, but also to strangers. Rainy weather prevails in Lewis, to a degree that is very prejudicial to the agricultural interest.

Winds.-The prevailing winds are west and south-west, which are generally accompanied with rain. In the beginning of summer, there is a succession of cold parching easterly winds generally, which prove very prejudicial to vegetation, and are otherwise pernicious to cattle.

Distemper:.-The most prevalent distempers are rheumatism, severe colds, and occasional epidemical fevers, which sometimes prove fatal; but that which is most decidedly peculiar to the island, is rheumatism.

Hydrography-Friths-The principal lochs or friths that intersect this parish, are Loch Seaforth, Loch Erisort, Loch Shell, and Loch Grimshadir. Of these, Loch Seaforth has the greatest claim to our notice, from its magnitude and picturesque scenery. It is about twelve miles long, bearing north-west from its entrance. The scenery around it, is truly majestic. Clishern, the highest hill in the Tong island, is close upon its south-west shores, while its north-east side washes the base of the principal hills of Park. It winds around many jutting points that form a variety of bays. Of these, we shall notice Mareg only. Here Loch Seaforth is land-locked, and presents a scene of solitary magnificence unequalled in this neighbourhood. About four miles farther up the loch, is a shoal that is impassable by boats at half-tide, from its rapidity. It runs at the rate of eight miles an hour, and makes a noise with spring tides that can be heard in calm weather, at many miles distance. Loch Seaforth being environed by high land, and narrow throughout, has a very gloomy aspect. The scenery around it, is indeed solitary, and seldom frequented by man. The bleat of the sheep which pasture on the surrounding hills, sometimes breaks upon the car. It is frequented by shipping, but is not a very desirable anchorage, from the narrowness of its entry, and the loftiness of the surrounding land which causes the wind to sweep the loch sometimes in sudden gusts.

Loch Erisort is next to Loch Seaforth, in magnitude. The entrance of this loch furnishes many excellent anchorages for shipping of any burthen. It is much frequented, and is by seafaring men named the Barkin Isles, from a cluster of islands which are situated in its entrance.

Lakes-There are many fresh water lakes in the parish of Lochs, varying in extent from a mile and a half downwards. Of these, we shall only notice Loch Trialivall. The water of this lake is more transparent than that of any other lake in the parish. This lake has a sandy bottom; but almost all the rest are mossy in their bottom, which darkens their water. There are a few mineral
springs interspersed throughout the country.

Rivers.-There is not a river of any magnitude in all the parish of Lochs, excepting the river Creed, which separates the parish of Lochs from the parish of Stornoway. The largest river in the parish is that of Laxay; it runs out of Loch Trialivall, already noticed,-which loch is fed by Loch Adigo, in the parish of Uig. This river is 3 miles long and about 30 feet broad, and is generally about 15 inches deep. The other numerous streams are so trifling as not to merit notice.

Geology.-The parish of Lochs presents a very rocky aspect everywhere, except in the interior, where it is soft and mossy, and where the number of lakes cannot fail to excite the stranger’s astonishment. Indeed, so much fresh water on so small an extent of ground, is not elsewhere to be seen in the British dominions.

SoiI.-The soil is uniformly mossy, reduced in some places, by dint of industry, to a state of indifferent cultivation. It is generally black, composed of decayed vegetable matter, with an occasional mixture of gravel. The depth of the soil varies very much. It is generally thin in the spots reduced to cultivation, which renders it necessary for the agriculturist to gather it together, leaving a wide space of bare stones between every crooked ridge. The moss is ten feet deep in some places, and is rapidly increasing. Its product being the coarsest of heath is not grateful food for cattle; it therefore decays annually, covering the spot from which it springs with a thin stratum, that progressively increases the moss on which it grows.

Zoology.-The Island of Lewis abounds with sheep, black-cattle, horses and red-deer all of which are of a very diminutive size, in consequence of the rough unsubstantial heath which constitutes the chief part of their food. When the Lewis cattle are brought to better pasturage in the south, they improve astonishingly; and, from their hardy nature, they suffer less in driving than any other cattle in the north. The native sheep are very similar to the breed peculiar to North Wales. Their wool is finer; but that breed is nearly extirpated, and the common black-faced and Cheviot breeds have been introduced into the island, by Dr Macaulay of Linshadir and Mr Stewart of Valimas,-the only capitalists who have done much to improve the breed of sheep and cattle in the Lewis. Game is not very abundant in the Lewis. There are no rabbits nor roes. There are a few hares, which are, in common with all the quadrupeds here, diminutive in size. In the feathered tribes game is more abundant, with the exception of partridges and pheasants, of which there are none.

All the insects peculiar to this climate, are abundant in the Lewis. Caterpillars have been, of late years, particularly so,-as is also that noxious insect, the grub-worm.

Every kind of fish which is to be met in the northern seas, frequents the Lewis coast. There were great takings of herring in some lochs in this island, in past years, particularly in Loch Roag; but the herring fishing has not been prosperous, of late years. Herrings frequent the Lewis coast, in great shoals, every September. They seem in perpetual progress towards the east. It is seldom that a few stragglers from the main body visits the lochs in which they formerly so much abounded. The desertion of the Lewis lochs by the herrings, is attributed by some to the constant reaping yearly of the sea-weed or weir along the coast. Whatever truth may be in this opinion, it is certain that the decrease of the quantity of herrings taken in the Lewis has kept pace with the increase of the quantity of kelp manufactured on the island. Cod and ling are taken in considerable abundance. But the quantity of them taken, is not equal to that taken in former years,-notwithstanding of the improvement which has taken place in the fishing materials, and the great increase of fishermen. At present, there are about sixty tons taken annually in the parish of Lochs.

The fresh water lakes of Lewis abound with black trout, all of one kind, but differing in size and quality, in different lakes. Carp are to be met with here, but rarely. The only river in the parish of Lochs, which produces salmon, is the river of Laxay. The fresh water lakes of Lewis abound with black trout, all of one kind, but differing in size and quality, in different lakes. Carp are to be met with here, but rarely. The only river in the parish of Lochs, which produces salmon, is the river of Laxay. The river Creed, which separates the parish of Lochs from the parish of Stornoway, produces a few salmon also; but they are not so abundant, nor so good in quality on the river Creed, as in the river of Laxay. The proper season for fishing this river commences in November, and continues until July. The fish taken in the early part of the season, are always the best. I have been induced to believe, by the testimony of several respectable people in this island, who have had ample opportunities of knowing, that salmon spawn every second year: only. It is perfectly well known here, that while the salmon which spawned are poor and black in the months of November, December, January, February, and March, during these months other salmon come from the sea, fat and fresh; and that the winter is the best season for fishing,-not that salmon is taken in greater abundance during that season of the year, but that what is taken then is much better than
what is taken, during what is called generally the fishing season.

Shell-fish is less abundant on the shores of the parish of Lochs, than on the shores of other parishes in Lewis. There are a few lobsters in their season, about the headlands. Mussels are plentiful in some of the bays, where there are also a few oysters. There is a variety of whelks and other shell-fish of minor importance.

Botany.-The parish of Lochs furnishes but a very stinted field for botanical observation. It is almost all covered with heath. The exceptions are a few spots along the seashore, which were rendered green by cultivation, and are now left in crooked ridges, as not compensating the labours of the husbandman.

There is a stinted scraggy copsewood of birch of small extent, in a point of this parish called Swordle, near the spot on which the first manse in this parish stood. This is the only wood now on the island; but the Lewis was at one time covered with wood of great size and variety, as is evident from the huge roots which are yet abundant in all parts of the island. Tradition says that the woods of Lewis were burnt by the Danes.

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