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Statistical Accounts of Scotland

Old and New Statistical Accounts


Assynt V16, P163 Golspie V9, P26
Clyne V10, P298 Kildonan V3, P405
Creich V8, P362 Lairg V11, P569
Dornoch V8, P1 Loth V6, P311
Durness V3, P576 Rogart V3, P563
Edderachillis V6, P278 Tongue V3, P517
Farr V3, P538 General Observations







The opportunity afforded by Google Books to quote extracts from books on their site has been taken here, so that the text below is that of the actual accounts rather than a summary although in one or two places a summary has been given in italics. The NSA accounts can be accessed on Google Books here; the volumes in which the OSA accounts appear are given above under each parish and can be accessed here.

The maps below are from the 1923 quarter-inch OS Map, sheet 7, with thanks to the Ordnance Survey.

Additional information about parishes can be found on the Vision of Britain site and on Scotland's Places.

The Sutherland accounts have considerable information about roads and this is supplemented by the surveys of farms in Assynt and on the east coast of the county which allow a quite detailed picture of the road network of the time.

At the time of the OSA, there were some main roads though these were in bad condition and poorly served by bridges, dangerous fords and some ferries. There was a road up the east coast which appears on the Military Survey map of c.1750 and in greater detail on John Kirk's plans of farms in Golspie and Loth parishes. There was also a road from Tain and Dornoch towards Assynt which seems to have been made as far as Strath Oykel and was only a beaten track beyond that. In Assynt itself, there were basic tracks between settlements which are shown on the map below and mentioned in the account of the parish. In Kildonan parish there were three tracks, one of which - the Crasg - was well used with the two others requiring a guide. The Crasg was a short cut of a few miles that led directly north from near Loth over to Strath Kildonan and the other tracks led north to Halladale and Strathnaver. Statute labour was applied in a desultory way, if at all, and usually resented although the entry for Tongue refers to the enthusiasm with which road making was being carried out.

There are mentions of droving, and of cattle being forced to swim in places; the account for Clyne refers to cases of fraud that had caused great hardship.

There were bridges at Brora and in Farr parish in a poor state and fords, often dangerous, on the way to Assynt, at Helmsdale, and in Loth parish. There were several ferries - at Dornoch, Helmsdale and in Creich parish as well as mentions of small cobbles. It is not clear if the Kylescu ferry was in operation at the time - the Assynt account says no and the Edderachilis account (on the north side) says it was.

The contrast with the 1830's when the NSA was written was remarkable due to the work of the Commission for Highland Roads and Bridges and the county. Roads mentioned are from Strath Oykel (ultimately connecting to Bonar Bridge, Tain, Dornoch etc) to Stoer with some others in Assynt; Bonar Bridge to Lairg and Tongue; the coastal route to the north (the Ord was now easily negotiated); Durness to Altnaharra where it joined the road between Tongue and Lairg; Durness to Cape Wrath where there was a lighthouse; Durness along the north coast to Caithness; Helmsdale through the Strath of Kildonan to the north coast at Bigfoot near Melvich; and from the coast road to the north up Strathfleet to join the Bonar Bridge to Lairg road. The new and improved bridges replaced many of the fords and ferries; with in some cases, remaining ferries themselves being improved. The Golspie account mentions that the Little Ferry was superseded by an earthen mound 995 yards in length with a short bridge at one end. Transport generally was greatly improved as roads were now capable of taking carriages and carts. For the first time, many places were in easy reach of the postal service.

Other Sources
Guide to the highlands and islands of Scotland, including Orkney and Zetland, George & Peter Anderson, 1851
Use contents page to navigate to desired area - gives some details of the roads

Roads in 1859
This links to the 1859 Report of the Commissioners for Inquiring into Matters relating to Public Roads in Scotland and gives an overview of roads in Sutherland at that time.
Commission for Highland Roads and Bridges
The annual reports, which can be found on the Am Baile site, give considerable details of the roads
in the early 1800's.
Photos of areas of interest can easily be accessed through the Geograph site.


Situation—This parish is situated on the W. N. W. coast of Scotland, within the county of Sutherland.... The distance betwixt Thurso and Dornoch is 43 computed miles; thence to Assint 30 miles like measure, at least. Three rivers, and several considerable rivulets, intersect the road betwixt Assint and Dornoch; therefore, when the weather turns out rainy, and continues for but 24 hours, or thereby, the very rivulets, and especially the rivers, are so many tremendous torrents, not to be forded, and when rashly attempted, the consequence seldom fails to prove fatal; along these 30 miles, there is not one bridge, nor but one or two small boats, of the shape or figure of salmon cobles, in which a stranger would think himself not safe, far less would he think of having his horse wafted in them, though both are often done by the adventurous natives. The road from Assint to Dornoch, making only allowance for the preceding hazardous inconveniencies, is in a tolerable degree opened up, excepting five miles in Finevin, the property of the late active and gallant Sir John Ross of Balnagown, whom the narrator has often heard say, that he would soon drive his carriage to Kan-loch-elsh (Loch Ailsh, 5 miles east of Ledmore), which could be easily effected, there being no bog nor mire in the tract of these few miles, only stones of such bulk as might be taken up by any ordinary man, and removed to a distance; the bottom is gravel. Sir Charles Ross, son and successor to Sir John, would have only to say, " Let these five miles be opened for a road;" and it would readily be done.
Between Loch-me-addy and Fane-loch there is a dangerous ford called U-y-farn at which some people have drowned.
The length of this part of the coast (from the river of Kirk-ag to the point or land end of Row-store), if the uneven, winding, and in some places, rocky foot road from farm to farm (Inverkirkag, Baddy-na-ban, Knock-nan-nach, Culag, Filin-wintering, Drumswordland, and Duchlash) be followed, may be found at least to measure 15 miles.
But, to proceed, (near Lochinver) along a dangerous wooden bridge to the opposite side of Inver river, in our way to Row-store-point, several farms and grazings offer to view, interspersed with numberless rocks, stones, and hollows; however, all have the advantage of fishing.

Click for larger map
Roads (in red) shown on John Home's Plans of Farms in Assynt 1774. Those in yellow are those mentioned in the account of the parish - see below.

The writer gives a long description of the "roads" in the parish and it is interesting to compare these with the roads shown on Home's maps. He does mention the track from Inverkirkaig (just south of Lochinver) to Ledbeg (from where the road continued to Tain and Dornoch) that ran to the north of Suilven but has another, not shown on Hume, that ran to the south of Suilven. He also refers to the route by Loch Assynt over to Inchnadamph and then south to Ledmore that Home shows in part.

At Tumore near the western end of Loch Assynt he mentions the road shown by Home that led ultimately to Oldeny. His reference to Cromauld, Auld-an-achy, Alpine, and Knock is simply that the farms were in that area (SW of Loch Urigil over towards Knockan and Elphin) and not of any roads to them.

He does not mention Home's road from Lochinver to Drumbeg or from Stoer towards Lochinver, nor from Stoer to Drumbeg or the roads towards Unapool,Tubeg and Elphin.

The description is as follows:

But to give as clear an idea as possible of the different tracts and directions in which these places are situated and found, the narrator will suppose, that a traveller sets off from Inver-kirk-ag shore for Ledbeg on the height of this parish ; in this event he will either keep by the south side of Su-il-vine, or Suggar-loaf-hill, and find the path disagreeable, abounding with stones, in some parts with rocks; and in case he would wish to give a call, or shelter himself from rain or storm, there is but one habitable place called Brackloch, (close by the western end of the great fresh water lake called Ca-um-loch), a distant pendicle of Ledbeg-farm.

Or, again, if the traveller sets out from Tilin-wintering by Ed-ra-vine track, he will find his way almost equally bad for said Ledbeg, though in part opened up several years past. Here also is but one habitation, named Clo-ich-a-ry, situated in a contracted gloomy hollow, mostly surrounded with rocks. It lies to the north side of lofty Su-il-vine. This place is also a remote corner of Ledbeg farm, and occupied by a herd of Lieutenant Kenneth Mackenzie, the tacksman.

But in preference to both the above tracks, if the traveller sets off, by Inver and Brackloch-Inver farms, keeping along the north side of Inver river, he will find his way more comfortable in every respect. One hour's walk or thereby will bring him to Little Assint, and he may walk or ride as he may find convenient. Little Assint is a wintering, and consequently a temporary residence of Lieutenant John Scobie. He generally has a boat at the western end of the beautiful fresh water lake called Loch-Assint. If it can be got, it will serve as a vehicle for seven miles towards the higher farms here; and then the traveller lands near the parochial kirk; but though the boat should not be procured, it makes no great difference; as upon leaving Little Assint, the traveller makes for Tumore, where the road becomes perfectly firm, and continues so, not only to Auld-an-na-kal-gach, the present march, but as far further as the length of Dornoch or Tain.

But to proceed and mention all the other farms of this inland intermediate tract ; the traveller leaving Tumore (besides this tract or road from Inver to Tumore, there is another from Oldeny to it also, at the distance of a half mile from Tumore, in our way thence for the height, a path or track strikes off this principal road (as we call it) by Ballach-lerag for Slishachilith, particularly for Glenlerag, Ned, and Ardvare farms; the two former situated by the chops of Loch-Ned, the latter not far from it, has the high hills of Cu-i-nag close by him, to the north; on his right hand is the small winterings of Edra-chalda, at same time the winterings of Upper and Lower Tubegs offer to full view; they lie along the south side of Loch-Assint at the base of a group of hills called Bine garve. From Baddy-nacarbad, the small wintering of Edra-chalda, the road leads directly cross the little, but occasionally rapid river or burn of Ski-ak, through the farms of Upper and Lower Achmores, that of Edra-chalda, cross the small river of Chalda, then through the farm of Culin and Half Camore; here, about the eastern end of Loch-Assint, are the parochial kirk and manse.

The way thence leads cross the river Tralegal, which, at a little distance enters Loch-Assint, then through the farms of Inch-nadaff, Sronchruby, and Laing, cross A-na-ka-un river, by Ry-an-cro-vich farm, thence, advancing a little, there is a path which strikes off for Leadbeg farm-house, but the public road is continued to Auldan-nakal-gach; the farms from thence westward (in the direction of Cloich-glas maul-a-chirn, etc, formerly described), and lying within that line of march, are Ledmore, Cromauld, Auld-an-achy, Alpine, and Knock. The narrator having now faithfully mentioned every particular farm and inhabited place, the manner they are situated along shore, and how they lie in the inland tracks, he leaves the consideration and decision respecting public roads to the Honourable Commissioners of the county; only adding, that if these roads were begun and finished, bridges built, and regular stages fixed, probably no less curious and useful object would cast up to view, and be found here, than in the Swiss Cantons, so very particularly described by British travellers.

Ferries.—There is no ferry here; the only one that would be necessary, is one at Unapool of assint, by Kilis-cu-ig to Edrachilish, or vice versa.

Ale-houses, Inns, and Police, Etc.—No ale-houses here, nor inns, except honest tenant's houses, at certain distances here and there, on the several tracks or roads not cleared up, where the weary traveller may now get a good, clean, Highland woollen plaid, and a comfortable pallet or couch to sleep on. There are no bridges betwixt Assint and Dornoch, nor one betwixt Assint and Tain, excepting that called the bridge of Grug-ag, near Kincardine, Rossshire. If there were bridges, the road is well opened to Brae of Strath-Okel; but thence to Assint is a very fatiguing length; no houses; none of accommodation ; that whole tract to Assint, is a perfect wilderness; the whole is sheepfarms without stages.

There are two preaching places, one at Achnahiglash, otherwise called Kirktown; the other preaching place at Torbreck, one English mile distant from Loch-Inver. The distance betwixt Achnahiglash and Torbreck is eight long computed miles.

Burial Grounds.—As for burial places, at a considerable distance one from the other, there are no less than six. 1st, At Ach-na-hi-glash, or Kirktown; 2d, At Ged-a-vo-lich, by the west of Loch-Nedd; 3d, At Ardvare, where, as formerly said, there is plenty of marble under the heather, which indeed the narrator came accidentally to know of, as he happened to be travelling alone, and missed the road-track; 4th, At Oldney Island; 5th, At the farm of Store; 6th, At Inver farm, near the entry of Inver river to the harbour of spacious Loch Inver.

By What Means the Situation of the Inhabitants and Parish might be meliorated.—By good roads and decent inns, If a road were opened from Lairg by Braemore of that parish; thence by Rosehall,Tu-tom-tar-vach, by Finvin, and Garvachirn, thence to Auld-an-na-kal-gach, the present march of this parish with Balnagown property; any person would walk easily enough betwixt Dunrobin and this parish of a short day. Besides roads carried on in Assint, and inns built, a few bridges would be necessary. One store-house, if not two; at Loch-Inver one ; at Unapool another; the former would be sufficient to serve the low, the latter to serve the higher parts of Skish-a-chilish, and inhabitants of the height. The victual of the Honourable proprietors put up in these storehouses would prevent the exorbitant prices of importers, and secure the money to the former.

The writer notes the great potential for developing the parish.

A marble quarry was opened near the church some 30 years ago and "roads were formed, or rather tracts for the heavy waggons, from Ledbeg to Unapool, a distance of sixteen miles." The project proved too expensive and was discontinued.

V.—Parochial Economy. Markets.—There is no market-town within the parish; neither have any markets been established. It is intended to establish a cattle market at Inshnadamph. This would prove very advantageous to the people, and save them the expense and trouble of driving their cattle to a greater distance. The Kyle tryst, held in the vicinity of Bonar Bridge, forty miles beyond Inshnadamph, is the nearest cattle-market at present (since writing this a cattle-market has been established, and is likely to prove a permanent benefit).

Means of Communication, Etc.—In Lochinver, also, is a post office. There is another in the immediate neighbourhood of the church. The mails arrive regularly twice a-week. This is one of the greatest improvements imaginable. A letter or newspaper from London we have the fifth day. In connection with the post office, I am naturally led to notice our excellent roads. Nothing has so much contributed to the external improvement of the country as these, by which this interesting district, till lately inaccessible, and comparatively unknown, has been opened up to the public; and thus, advantages secured to the inhabitants, which our ancestors would have deemed impossible. This improvement is attributable, in a great measure, to the Noble proprietors, and, were there no other benefit conferred on it, Assynt, on this account, owes a lasting debt of gratitude to the late excellent Duke of Sutherland. The length of road constructed from Aultnacaelgach to Store, including branches to Unapool and Inverkirkig, exceeds forty miles. To this may be added several miles of bye roads for the exclusive benefit of the tenantry. There is a small convenient harbour at Lochinver, where a pier has been erected. There are some other harbours, or rather creeks, at Nedd, Oldney, and Ardvar, all lying on the north side of the point of Store, which afford shelter and anchorage.
Alehouses.There are several in the parish.

Fuel.—Peats are universally used, and much difficulty is experienced in seasoning them, arising from the excessive rains with which we are often deluged.

John Home's Survey of Assynt in 1774 (National Library of Scotland)

Betwixt 400 and 500 black cattle are exported yearly from the parish, being sold to drovers for the south of Scotland, and for England. This trade, however, is not yet well understood or carried on under proper regulations, several dealers having of late found means, after getting possession of the cattle, to evade payment of the greatest part of the price. This has been the source of incredible confusion and distress for a number of years past, and the inhabitants of this parish have suffered deeply their own share of the public calamity. The dependence of the Highland part of the parish for paying their rent, and supporting their families, is upon the produce of their stocks and herds.
There are no bridges worth mentioning, on any of the numerous burns or rivers in the parish, except one on the river at Brora, about a furlong above the place where it falls into the sea on the high road to Caithness and Orkney. Even this bridge, important as it is to the public, is in a state of great disrepair. The sea at full tide runs up in the river far above the bridge; and, at low water, it is four fathoms deep immediately below it.

There was scarcely a cart or a plough among the small tenants in the parish forty years ago. It can now boast of 258 carts and 240 ploughs, all made by native tradesmen, on the most approved principles.
V.—Parochial Economy. Market-Town, §c.—Dornoch is the nearest market-town, being distant about thirteen miles from the confines of the parish; but half-yearly markets are held in Golspie, only four miles distant, in June and October. Brora is the only village, and contains 280 inhabitants.

Means of Communication.—When the former report was published, there was not a mile of road fit for a carriage, and Brora could boast of the only bridge in the county. It has probably long enjoyed this advantage, and its name may have been derived from the Danish word Brora, a bridge, or from brugh, a borough.

Now, the country is intersected in every direction with the finest roads in the kingdom, there being in this parish alone about thirty miles of road, and fifteen bridges of the most perfect construction, and always kept in the best order. No toll-dues are exacted in this county,—which is justly prized as a great advantage over our neighbours.

Brora being a sub-post-office, a neat receiving-house was built by subscription from the inhabitants, and the Mail-Coach, drawn by two horses, passes and repasses daily.

A pier was constructed at the harbour, at the sole expense of the late Duke of Sutherland, when the coal and salt works were in operation, and which affords secure shelter to coasting vessels.
Markets.—A market is held at Brora in the month of October, which is attended by the people of this and the neighbouring parishes. Shopkeepers come from a distance, and erect tents to display their commodities, and they usually meet with a ready sale. A great many cattle and horses change owners, it being the last market of the season.

There are five inns.

Fuel.—The ordinary fuel is peat procured from mosses in the close neighbourhood, and the fishers collect coke from the shore under flood-mark. Coal is imported, costing from 16s. to 18s. per ton, and its use among the wealthier class is much on the increase.

The black cattle are mostly of a small hardy kind, and may now, at an average, fetch, when sold to drovers, from 2 L. 10 s. to 3L. Sterling.....The people depend principally on the black cattle for paying their rents.

Ferries and Roads.—There are no bridges in this parish; but there are 4 or 5 ferries between it and that of Kincardine, which are crossed by cobbles, or yawls, and boats, that can ferry over two horses each, or more. The people in this parish and neighbourhood, have been amused from time to time with the hopes, that a bridge was to be built over the Kyle, at Culrain, about four miles above the church of Criech, at the expence of government. It would be of great advantage to the inhabitants of this district in particular, besides the emolument that would accrue to the community at large, if the public road around the ferries were brought this way by a bridge. Such a bridge would be particularly convenient for drovers; all the cattle driven to the south from Sutherland, Caithness, and Lord Reay's country, except the parish of Assint, having hitherto been obliged to cross the Kyle by swimming; which, when the weather is bad, and the Kyle much swelled by rains, hurts the cattle greatly, especially when the night following proves cold. Sometimes they refuse to swim, in which case they must be ferried over by the cobble. The people pretend to foretell, whether they shall have a good market or not, by their readiness to swim. The roads, in this extensive parish, are very bad; statute work is but seldom performed, which may be owing to this circumstance, that few heritors reside in it. The roads might easily be made good, as the bottom is hard and gravelly.

Navigation.—Several vessels trade to Bonar Bridge, of from 30 to 60 tons burden, importing meal, coals, and lime; and exporting fir props, wool, oak-bark, corn, and salmon.

V.—Parochial Economy.
Market-Town and Villages.
—There are no market-towns in the parish, and the nearest is Dornoch.

The centrical position of Bonar Bridge, situated at the great entrance of the county, and at the junction of the Assynt, Reay, Caithness, and Ross-shire roads, has pointed it out since the erection of the magnificent iron bridge in 1813, as the site of a future town. Mr Dempster is feuing ground here, and a village has already arisen, which is gradually increasing by that slow and natural growth which experience has shown to be the most secure foundation of a town. The great Kyle markets, as they are called, for the sale of the cattle of Sutherland and Caithness, are now held here, in the months of July, August, and September. A suitable piece of ground is inclosed for the purpose, and the convenience of the public will be greatly promoted by the desertion of the very inconvenient place at Portenleik, where they have hitherto been held.

Bonar Bridge is already a place of considerable export and import, having the advantage of depth of water sufficient for shipping. There is no village at Newton, but it is used as a shipping place for the wool, corn, wood, &c. of this parish.

Means of Communication.
Bonar Bridge
.—The first and most useful among the means of communication in the parish is the bridge of Bonar, consisting of one large metal arch and two smaller stone arches: it opens the communication between Sutherland and Ross-shires, as well as to the most distant parts of the country, south and north. It was erected by Government and the county; as were also the roads leading from it.

The first road, from Bonar to Assynt and the west coast, has three bridges; one of two arches over the river Shin; one of a single arch over the river Caslie; and one of a single arch over the river Oykell. This public road runs through the parish from Bonar to within a few miles of the manse of Assynt, a distance of about thirty miles. The second public road from Bonar is by Lairg to Tongue, at the north coast. The third public road from Bonar (recently opened) is made through the middle of the parish in mosses and hills, towards the Fleet Mound and the east coast of Sutherland. It extends within the parish a distance of seven miles, and has a bridge of one arch over a small river. The fourth public road from Bonar is towards Dornoch and the east coast. This road within the parish extends a distance of eight miles, and there are two small bridges upon it at Spinningdale and Ospisdale. These four roads were made by Government and the county. There are, besides, several private roads with bridges through the different inhabited straths and glens; which render the communication through the parish both easy and comfortable in all seasons of the year.

Inns, Alehouses, Etc.—There is one inn at Bonar, and five or six alehouses in different parts of the parish; but the people seldom exceed a necessary refreshment. September 1834.

Situation, Extent, Surface, Soil, Climate, Etc.— The burgh of Tain in Rossshire, stands on the south side of the frith, directly opposite to Dornoch; and three computed miles to the westward of both, where the frith becomes pretty narrow, is the Meikle Ferry, so called in contradistinction to another arm of the sea, called the Little Ferry. On each side of the former, there is a large boat for transporting carriages, horses, and other cattle; as also a yawl for the accommodation of foot passengers; but at the Little Ferry these are found on the east side only. At this ferry, four hands serve; and the same number at each side of the Meikle Ferry. Frequent complaints are heard of both; an evil not peculiar to these ferries, nor likely to be remedied, until the property and disposal of such be vested in the public, instead of private proprietors, whose chief aim, naturally, is to have as high a rent as possible.
Roads and Bridges.—Nature has made the public roads here passable: they owe little to industry or police; the statute labour has occasionally been exacted, but it has not been applied with that constancy and vigour, which would render it efficient. A commutation of it appears to be now in contemplation, among the proprietors of this and some other northern counties. This parish is destitute of bridges; the want of one is particularly felt at the river of Evelick which is often not passable in winter. A piece of ground in the vicinity of Dornoch, is said to have been destined by former public spirited proprietor, for the purpose of upholding a bridge on this river, although it is uncertain if this will be carried out by the present proprietor.
The writer notes the great distance to peat and turfs and the time wasted in gathering these. Even if roads were made and carts brought into use, there would still be problems.

Mention of the Meikle Ferry and the Little Ferry - coal ships discharge their cargo nearby.

Parochial Economy.
Burgh.—Dornoch is the only market-town in the parish, and the only Royal Burgh in the county. It was erected into a royal burgh by a charter from Charles I. A. D. 1628.

This is one of five which compose what is called the northern district of burghs. It has no landed property, nor any other source of revenue except the customs levied at six annual fairs held here, and which are on the decline. But this may be accounted for by the recent establishment of two other fairs,—one in the village of Golspie, and another in the parish of Clyne,—and by the great number of retail-shops found here and there through the parish and the county.

Dornoch has a post-office and the mail-coach passes through twice a day.

The communication with the town is open in every direction by excellent roads and bridges, which are kept in annual repair. The Macadamizing system is adopted on the county roads. Indeed, the whole parish is intersected with roads and bridges; and with these there is another great advantage,—there are no tolls. Not a toll is to be seen in the county of Sutherland. Hence, carriages, gigs, and carts may be seen on Sabbath days carrying some of the good people to church.

Inns, Etc.There are inns in Dornoch, Meickle Ferry and Clashmore.

Fuel.—Coals imported from Newcastle have been used here by the better classes in town and country, for the last twenty years at least. They are purchased at Dornoch, at from Is. l0d. to 2s. per barrel, and carried home in carts. Peats are still used by the common people.

September 1834.

No roads have yet been made through this tract of country, and, of consequence, on no occasion has the statute labour yet been exacted.
Fuel.—Peats are the fuel universally used through the parish. These every family cut and prepare for themselves.


Old gas lamp standard

V.—Parochial Economy. Means of Communication.—Thurso is the nearest market-town, 65 miles distant . There are no villages, the population all residing in hamlets along the shores, containing from 4 or 5 to 20 families. The means of communication have been much improved during the last three years, by the liberality of the late Duke of Sutherland. Formerly, the post-office was at Bonar Bridge, a distance of 62 miles, to which there was a runner sent once a-week at the sole expense of a few subscribers. There is now a post-office twice a-week to Tongue. The days of dispatch are Monday and Thursday; of arrival, Tuesday and Friday,—to suit the Golspie mail, which crosses the interior to Tongue every Monday and Thursday. There is a weekly runner to Scowrie. There is also a monthly carrier to Tain; but almost all imports and exports are by sea.


Click for larger picture
Plaque on Rhiconich to Durness road

The roads are, 1st, a road from the Kyle of Durness to Cape Wrath (capewrath.org.uk), executed by the Light-house Commissioners in 1828, 11 miles in length; 2d, from Eriboll by Strathmore, till its junction with the Tongue road to the south, 19 miles; 3d, the main line leading from west to east,—34 miles round by Loch Eriboll, or, by crossing the ferry, 24 miles. With the exception of 12 miles, commenced ten years ago by statute-labour, these roads were completed by the late Duke of Sutherland, and have completely opened up the country to new sources of industry, and the gratification of the traveller, and the speculations of the capitalist. There is an excellent bridge over the Dinard, and a chain-boat over the Hope.

The harbours are, Loch Eriboll, Rispond, and Port Our, at the termination of the Cape Wrath road, and Smo; the last only for boats. At Rispond, there is a basin and pier, and rings fastened to the rocks in the bay; but this is not reckoned very safe in north-east gales and spring, tides. Loch Eriboll, in the bay, where there is a church, is reckoned a very safe anchorage. A slip for boats has been also made at Clashcarnach, three miles east of the cape, where the light-house yacht lands the oil and necessaries for the light-house; but is seldom attempted in stormy weather with northerly winds.

Inns.—There are three inns, or rather houses licensed to retail whisky. But hitherto, travellers have been in most cases obliged to draw on the hospitality of the inhabitants. Comfortable inns and stabling are, however, now in progress.

The new bridge between Kylestrome and Kylescu

Caolis-cuin signifies " the narrow kyle;" and is so called, because of a narrow part about the middle of it, near Island-rannoch, where there is a ferry, which is not above 60 yards broad, though it widens greatly above.....
Black-Cattle, Sheep, Goats, and Horses—The principal dependance of the inhabitants for their living is upon their black cattle ; and, by a late enumeration, they are found to have 2573 heads of the cow kind. The quality and size of their cattle are equal to those of any other place in the Highlands. The price of an ordinary cow for droving, is 50s.—of a good one, L. 3;—and of the best, L. 4. An ordinary milch-cow fells at L. 3 ;—a good one at L. 4 ;—and the best at L. 5. There are drovers, in the country, who buy up such cattle as are sent to market; and, after driving them to the south of Scotland, and sometimes to England, dispose of them commonly to English drovers.

Horses are bought by dealers, in the country, at a year old, who carry them to the Orkney islands, and there dispose of them at good prices : of late, purchasers from the south have found their way into the country, who buy all sorts at good prices. The number presently in the parish is 351.
Travelling, it must be owned, is difficult and disagreeable, there being no roads, but such as the feet of men and cattle have made......
Disadvantages - 2. The want of roads within the country, and towards other places. Were the people called out, and made to work upon the roads according to the statute, travelling here might in time be rendered commodious and easy.


The older road near Laxford bridge
Near Laxford Bridge, looking towards Arkle

Roads, Etc.—The aspect of the country has been since changed by the construction of roads, erection of inns, and farm-houses. These improvements extended over the whole county of Sutherland. In the aggregate, no less than 480 miles of roads have been made, greatly by the means, and wholly through the instrumentality, of his Grace. The portion of these roads confined to this parish is 32 miles in extent; and three inns have been erected in it solely at the Duke's expense.

Means of Communication.—It appears from the former Statistical Account, that there was no regular post communication with the south, a circumstance which caused great complaint in these days; and the only way of receiving letters was by a few of the parishioners contributing to send a runner once a-fortnight to Tongue, to which place there was a communication from the south round by Caithness, the difference between the direct line and this route being at least 150 miles.

Instead of this, there is now a post office at Scourie, having intercourse, by means of a mail-gig twice a-week, with Golspie, where there is a daily post to all parts of the kingdom. The internal communication was equally defective, the intercourse being carried on by boating, and on unshod ponies, which scrambled over the precipices with wonderful safety and agility. Few accidents arose from either. T
Since the construction of the roads, many of the tenants have carts, which are in all about forty: these were unknown before the Duke acquired the estate.
Fuel.Peat easily obtained locally.

August 1840

The state of the roads and bridges is very bad. After the statute labour was exacted in kind, they made pieces of roads in different places; but they have been allowed to go into disrepair.
The distance from markets is one of the disadvantages peculiar to this parish.

During the herring-fishing season, ships from the south ports of Scotland, from England and Ireland, come to the coast to land cargoes of salt and barrels, and to carry the cured fish to market.
V.—Parochial Economy. Means of Communication, Etc.—
The nearest market-town is Thurso, thirty-two miles from this place. There is a post-office here connected with that of Thurso; and a mail diligence, drawn by two horses, and carrying four passengers, which runs three days in the week from Thurso to Tongue, and alternately back; and there is a weekly carrier from Tongue to Thurso. There are no turnpike roads in the parish; but a considerable extent of the Parliamentary road from Bonar Bridge to Tongue passes through the heights, and about sixteen miles of the general line from Tongue to Thurso run near the sea-coast. On the roads in this parish there are two bridges of three arches each, twelve of one arch, and a chain-boat on the river Naver. There are no regular harbours. The safest landing-places for boats are Kirtomy and Armidale.

Market.—There is a market held at Bettyhill, near this place, on the first Wednesday of November, (N.S.) for general traffic.

Inns.—Three inns.

.....the carts are 24. There is 1 two-wheeled carriage.

Peat and turf are used as fuel, and brought from the neighbouring hills, at 3 miles distance, at 2d. the back-load of the small country horses, and 3d. in winter and spring.

Parochial Economy.
Markets, Villages, Etc
.—The nearest market town is Tain, 20 miles distant, with a ferry crossing. The village of Golspie has some shops.

Means of Communication.—A trading smack plies regularly once a-month between the Little Ferry, in this parish, and the port of Leith, touching also at Helmsdale and Aberdeen (there is a steamer to commence plying, next spring, between the Moray Frith and London; and this steamer is to touch at the Little Ferry).

There is here, too, a regular post-office; and a daily mail-coach passes through the village on its way to and from Thurso. From this post-office, there runs twice a-week a Diligence gig, conveying a mail, and fitted up to carry two passengers, to Lairg in the interior, distant eight miles; from which place, and on the same day, two other similar conveyances, and for similar purposes, branch off, —the one to Tongue, the other to Assynt. It is only about three years since these latter conveyances began to run; and fifteen, since the mailcoach commenced......The length of mail-coach road, in this parish, is eight miles. Over Golspie burn there is a well-built substantial one-arched bridge.

Earthen Mound.—Connecting this parish with the adjacent one of Dornoch, at the head of the Little Ferry inlet, and across the Fleet, there is a mound 995 yards in length, 60 yards in breadth at the base, and 20 feet at the top, and about 18 feet perpendicular in height; it terminates at the north end in a bridge 34 yards in length, with four arches, each 12 feet span, fitted with valve gates. The expense of constructing this mound was L.9600, of which sum the Duke of. Sutherland defrayed L.1600, and the public and the county the remainder, each a moiety. Along the mound the mail-coach now passes; and thus a passage, formerly uncertain and often dangerous, has been rendered safe, certain, and agreeable.
The harbour of the Little Ferry is frequented by trading vessels, which import lime, coal, bone-dust, and merchant goods, for this parish and district, and export grain, wool, whisky, &c. At Dunrobin there is a pier for the use of small vessels.

Fairs, Inns, Fuel.Annual fair near Golspie mostly for cattle and obtaining household goods. There is another less inportant fair. A fine inn has recently been built near Golspie. Peats have to be brought for some distance - by the time they are gathered in, their cost is probably much the same as the coal which is brought from Newcastle.

Miscellaneous Observations.—(In the past) there were few wheeled vehicles that deserved the name. Corn, fuel, &c. were carried in a kind of frame called crubags, fastened on horseback, to a wooden saddle, that rested on a straw mat. The public road was the only one, and that itself indifferent.
There are, of all descriptions of road, in the parish, about forty miles,—of which about twelve were made by the Parliamentary Commissioners and the county; about eighteen, partly at the expense of the proprietors, and partly by an assessment on the tenantry; and ten miles at the sole expense of the proprietors. In no county of Scotland was there ever, in so short a time, the same length of road made, as there has been, within the last twenty years, in the county of Sutherland. In former times, the internal communication was by mere paths or tracks, and many parts of it were all but inaccessible. Now, several hundred miles of good road intersect the county in every direction ; and there is free and easy access to every part of it. These roads were made chiefly at the expense of the noble proprietors of this parish, and under the able management of James Loch, Esq. M. P. their commissioner.
March 1833. Revised September 1834

John Kirk - Survey of farms in Golspie and Loth parishes, Sutherland, ca. 1772 (National Library of Scotland)

Mountains—There are six mountains, not very high, but covered with heath. Across one of these hills, called Slersil there is a road, (the Crasgg), which leads from Badsluich, at the foot of Bein Uarigh, to Lothbeghouse, through a deep valley, (Glenloth), about 5 miles in length, being a course about half way shorter in distance, than round Helmsdale to the coast. Towards the north-west, in tbe height of the parish, in the straight course to that of Farr, there is a place called Bealach-nan Creach; and another leading to Strathhaladale, in the parish of Reay, Bealach Chnoieshim, both of which can only be travelled on horseback, with proper guides. It would be of vast utility, that the tract in the Crasg was made a patent good road, and a road cut out in Bealachsnan, Creach, and Cnockfin, where there is not so much as the vestige of one for a number of miles. The hill road called Bealach-nan-Creach, on the west side of Bein Mhadugh, signifies the Pass or Streight of Spoils, depredation, or booty. During the establishment of the feudal system, when the M'Kays were proprietors of Strathnaver, in the parish of Farr, great numbers of cattle were carried away from the Highlands of Sutherland, on this side of the county, through this pass, from which it derived its name.
Disadvantages.The lack of a regular inn for accomodation is inconvenient for those heading north.

V.—Parochial Economy. Helmsdale is the nearest town, distant two miles from the south boundary of the parish, and nine miles from the manse and church. There is a good road leading from Helmsdale, along the whole extent of the strath, to Bighouse and Melvich, on the north coast and another road from within one mile of the manse, running southward across the Crask; a stormy and elevated hill dividing the strath from the head of Glen Loth, until it joins the parliamentary road on the east coast of the county at Loth-beg.

Improvements Suggested: - The greatest improvement, of which this part of the kingdom is capable, (and indeed it is a national concern), is that of making an inland navigation, through this parish, from the E. to the W. sea. It is but 5 computed miles (or about 7 1/2 English), from the end of Loch-Shin to a navigable arm of the Western Ocean.

V.—Parochial Economy.
Means of Communication
.—There is no market-town in the parish, nor any nearer than Dornoch, which is distant from Lairg about twenty miles. This want, however, is little felt, the people having every advantage as regards the means of communication with other parts of the country. The roads (of which there are about forty miles in the parish) are excellent. There is a post office, at which a post-gig carrying passengers arrives twice a-week; and an idea of the means of communication enjoyed may be had from the fact, that the London papers are received at Lairg on the morning of the fifth day from the day of publication.

It is a pity there is no bridge at Helmsdale; as all travellers, to and from Caithness and Orkney, are obliged to cross the river, which they do either by a ford, or in a passage-boat; but in a speat, the one method is impracticable, and the other very difficult.
The Loth is very rapid, and sometimes impassable in speats; upon these occasions it is more formidable to travellers than Helmsdale, because on the latter there is a passage boat, whereas on the former there is no resource but to encounter the stream. A Caithness post was drowned in attempting to cross it in 1755, and an excise officer's servant perished in it in the same way soon afterwards. There are four rapid burns in the parish to the S. of Helmsdale, besides the burn of the Ord to the N. of it; in the last a young man and his wife perished in a speat, being carried down by the stream over a high precipice, about 20 years ago. The road through the parish is dry, and would answer well for travellers on horseback and on foot, if there were bridges over those streams; but it is not adapted for wheel carriages.
Fuel is an expensive article on account of the distance of the peats, and the badness of the road so that all the peats are carried home in back loads on horses. Some of the gentlemen have of late begun to import coal, which though dear, they have found to be very convenient.

This headland of the Ord has been at all times an object of great interest to strangers; and before the present Parliamentary road from Sutherland into Caithness was formed, in the year 1811, the path—for it did not deserve the name of a road—along the outer edge of the rock, and without any protection from the precipice that overhangs the sea, could not, with any degree of safety, be passed in stormy weather, and never failed to inspire individuals not accustomed to such passes, with great dread; and among other travellers of the last century who describe the terrors of the passage across the Ord, the Rev. John Brand, in his Description of Orkney, Shetland, and Caithness in the year 1701, says, " The Ord which divideth Caithness from Sutherland is a high mountain, as the name Ord, which in Irish signifieth an height, doth imply, down which our way from Caithness to Sutherland doth lie. The road is but narrow, and the descent steep, and if any stumble thereupon, they are in hazard of falling down a precipice into the sea at the bottom of the rock, which is very terrible to behold; but who pass it for the more security, use to lead their horses to the foot of the hill, which is about a short mile in length, and no other way there is from Sutherland to Caithness, or from Caithness to Sutherland, but this, except we go 12 miles about."

Parochial Economy. The only villages in the parish are Helmsdale and Port Gower, which are both on the sea coast, and distant about two miles from each other. Port Gower is partly supported by some excellent land adjoining it, which is divided among a few of the villagers, and by a settlement of active fishermen. It possesses a comfortable and pleasantly situated inn; and the Parliamentary road along the coast, towards Caithness, runs along it.

Helmsdale enjoys ample means of communication with all parts of the kingdom, having the great North Parliamentary Road running through it, which, on one hand, leads to Wick and Thurso, and on the other, to all parts of the south of Scotland and England; while a large steamer frequents Wick from Edinburgh, during eight months of the year; and the harbour of Helmsdale is often frequented by shipping from various ports of Britain and Ireland.

The Parliamentary road through the parish, called the Dunrobin road, was completed, under one contract, in the year 1811, and extends from Golspie to the Ord, a distance of 21 miles and 880 yards, and originally cost L.6000; and 13 miles of this road run through the parish of Loth. Another road leads from Helmsdale, through the Strath of Kildonan, to the North Sea at Bighouse; and a branch road, leading from Lothbeg, through the Glen, joins the last-mentioned line of road, to the north of the church and manse of Kildonan. The bridge of Helmsdale is a handsome structure of two arches, and each of a span of 70 feet, and its erection cost L.2200. It was finished in 1811.

Helmsdale has a post-office, one principal and commodious inn, and several other public-houses; and the mail-coach passes and repasses through the village, daily.
Poor: In this part of the north of Scotland, the indigent poor are never neglected; but in order to continue to act towards them as their wants require, it is now found absolutely necessary to protect the northern inhabitants from the hordes of vagrants who have been wandering, of late years, from the southern parts of the kingdom, over the northern counties, and carrying with them all the moral and physical diseases of crowded cities in their most dreaded forms.

March 1841.

John Kirk - Survey of farms in Golspie and Loth parishes, Sutherland, ca. 1772 (National Library of Scotland)

The improvement of roads in this district is, as yet, quite in a state of infancy. The common people are very averse to perform statute labour upon them, and their superiors give themselves little trouble about the matter. Nor are there any bridges, except some wooden ones for foot passengers. Hence it is that every thing must be carried on horseback.

IV.—Industry. A great part of the population of this parish is employed as day-labourers for more than half the year. The men find employment in the making or repairing of roads; or from the tacksmen in parishes along the coast as extra labourers in spring and harvest-time; or, during the season of the herring fishing, in curing fish at the fishing stations.

V.—Parochial Economy.
Means of Communication.
—A road extends through the whole length of the parish along Strathfleet; and another crosses its breadth at the eastern end, from Strathfleet to Strathbrora. The road in Strathfleet is a continuation of a line of road from Golspie to Tongue; from which roads branch off in various directions. From the cross-road to Strathbrora there is a road branching off to Golspie, and forming a more direct and shorter way to that village for the inhabitants of the interior of the parish. Along these lines of road there are sufficient bridges.

There is no post-office in this parish. Letters to and from it, for which there is a receiving-office at Pitentrail, are carried twice a-week by a mail-gig running between Golspie and Tongue. It is probable, other improvements continuing to advance, that the communication may become more frequent.

Inns.Four inns.

Fuel.Peat is used, though obtained at the expense of time and labour.

Miscellaneous Observations.—Roads and bridges justly claim particular mention in the improvements which have taken place here, since the time of the last Statistical Account. They have changed the mode, as well as improved the facility, of every species of carriage. Sledges, which may soon become one of the objects interesting to the antiquary, were formerly the best means of carriage which those in better circumstances could use in farming, and for other purposes. Now, almost every poor man who cultivates a croft of land, has his wheeled cart.

Setpember 1834

It is not many years since roads began to be made in this parish ; they are now carried on with great spirit, and rendered as convenient as the nature of the ground will admit. Statute labour is still exacted in kind.

At the late Duke of Sutherland's funeral, when numbers from the whole county were invited to attend, and directed to line the road, arranged according to their respective parishes, as the procession passed by, the men from Tongue attracted general notice for their superior dress and appearance.
V.—Parochial Economy.
Means of Communication.
—There is no market-town in the parish; the nearest is Thurso, in the county of Caithness, distant forty-five miles. There is a post-office in the village of Tongue, and mails run three times a-week to Thurso, and twice a-week to Golspie. There is also a post to Durness, whose days of arriving and starting correspond to those of the Golspie mail. The vehicle from Golspie carries three passengers; that from Thurso carries four inside and four outside. A lighter vehicle, however, runs on this latter line during winter, which only accommodates five passengers.

The length of roads in the parish is 39 miles. Of these, 11 are Parliamentary, 14 county trust roads, and 14 private tenantry roads. They are kept in excellent repair.

The bay of Tongue is crossed by a ferry 1262 yards broad. In 1830-31, slip quays were built, and proper boats procured. This ferry, which is a great annoyance to travellers, might be shortened to a fourth of its present breadth, by constructing a mound between the point of Tongue, and the island adjacent thereto.
Inns.There is an inn in Tongue where travellers can stay.

Fuel.—Peat, though some are using coal.

See Miscellaneous Observations for an account of the Clearances

Before the year 1811 there were no formed roads within the county; but in that year, the first Parliamentary roads were completed, and since then the rapidity with which the whole county has been opened up, and intersected by leading lines and cross-branches of excellent roads, and all necessary bridges, is one of the most remarkable events in the annals of northern improvements.

The Parliamentary Commissioners effected a great deal by the erection of Bonar Bridge, which opens the communication into the county, and across the Dornoch Frith, without being compelled to encounter the always disagreeable, and often precarious passage of a ferry; and by the completion of a road from Bonar Bridge to the Ord, as the great and leading road from the south into Caithness; and also by the completion of another road from Bonar Bridge to Tongue on the north coast.

Still, with the exception of these two roads, the county was as completely shut out from the rest of the empire as formerly; but at this juncture, a new era for the completion and maintenance of all necessary lines of road, commenced to the county; and the untired exertions, the liberality and patriotism of the late Duke of Sutherland, effected this mighty and lasting advantage for the county of Sutherland, which has not only opened up its resources, and paved the way for its further and future advancement in prosperity, but has also been of incalculable importance in a national point of view, as consolidating remote and hitherto secluded districts with the rest of the empire, and securing all the other collateral benefits of well directed labour, and the increase of local wealth and public revenue.