Drawn up from the Communications of the Ministers of
The different parishes.
By Sir John Sinclair, Bart., 1793.
Parish of Cabrach.
County of Banff-Presbytery of Alford-Synod of Aberdeen
By the Rev. James Gordon.
Name.-The name is derived from the Gaelic language, and signifies the Timber Moss : accordingly, the parish is full of moss and fir. Every place within the bounds, except such as are new, has a name of Gaelic extract.
Boundaries, Extent, &c.-Cabrach is 30 miles distant from the county town, viz. Aberdeen, and surrounded by a range of hills, not very high, covered with heath. The length of this parish, at a medium, from south to north, is 5 miles; the breadth, from east to west, 3 miles, (all computed).
Climate, Soil, Produce, &c.-In summer the climate is pleasant enough ; and, for the benefit of goats milk, is resorted to from the low country by many of weak constitutions, or labouring under consumption, for whose accommodation there are 4 goat whey quarters. In winter, the frosts are more intense, and snow lies deeper and longer here, than in some of the neighbouring parishes ; but from this the natives feel no inconvenience: They have an inexhaustible moss at their doors, and depend not more for subsistence on the produce of their fields, than on the profits of a traffic they carry on in sheep and black cattle. The soil is wet, and full of swamps, productive enough in provender for cattle ; but owing to the frost, mists, and hoar frost in autumn, the annual produce of grain does not exceed the consumpt of the inhabitants. The farmers sow bear and birley oats only ; and these in the upper parts of the parish are always more or less affected by the frosts, in so much that if the season has not been extremely favourable, they never depend on their own bear, and but seldom on their birley oats for seed. Sometimes one half of a field is frosted, and the other safe ; and what is still more extraordinary, the upper half of the ear has been found affected, while the lower was safe. Daily experience evinces that the corns on the heights and eminences run less risk than those of flat low grounds. For the most part they begin to sow in the end of March, and reap in September and October. Potatoes are the most uncertain of the crops. Turnips thrive; but for want of inclosures through the whole parish, experiments are not tried on a large scale. Clover and rye-grass have been sown in yards with success ; cabbages are common.
Agriculture and Employments.-The mode of culture is perhaps the same at this day which it was a century ago. The plough in use is the old Scotch, drawn by 6, 8, or 10 oxen, or cows and oxen, or horses and oxen together. The dung is, in a great measure, carried out in creels, on the horses sides, a method by which there is a great waste of time that might be gained, 3 of these loads being only equal to one of a cart.
Men and women are employed, and as soon as the feed time is done, the plough and harrow are laid aside; the farmers mind little else but their cattle; the women, besides their ordinary domestic affairs, are employed in providing coarse cloths for the family, and spinning linen yarn to the manufactories.
Nevertheless, with all these peculiarities of climate and customs, the tenents, especially within the four hills of Cabrach, are in good circumstances enough for their rank, and are thriving. Nature seems to have intended the country more for pasturage than agriculture ; aware of this, the inhabitants pay their attention chiefly to sheep and black cattle. Early in the spring, they stock their little farms with the former, and, about Whitsunday, with the latter. During the course of the summer, they are ever buying and selling at home and in markets. About the end of August, they clear their towns, if the sale is brisk, of all except as many as they can have provender to support in the winter: If the market has been bad, they keep more than their usual number, and buy corn and straw for them in the neighbouring parishes. By these means they seldom meet with much loss, nor indeed can it ever be great ; their flocks are small, and the circle of their trade but narrow ; of course, the little speculation that is here, depending merely upon the appearance of a good grass crop, or a demand in the south, is seldom attended with bad consequences, even if the crop should happen to be short. Accordingly, one year with another, they replace the capitals employed in this trade, with a small profit, deducting all charges.
Estimate of Black Cattle, &c.
|Black cattle bought and sold, about||500|
|Kept in winter on each farm||30|
|Sheep bought and sold||2000|
|Kept in winter||1000|
|Horses in the parish, all small||335|
|Black cattle, taken to hill pasture annually, at 2s. each||350|
|Black cattle, taken to infield grass, at 5s. Sterling each||200|
Quarries.-Those who reside in the northern parts, contiguous to Mortlach, burn and fell annually about 4000 bolls of lime, at 6d. per boll ; two firlots Aberdeen measure make a boll. Lime is little used here as a manure, on the supposition that it turns the crop late. It is presumed, however, that in some parts it would be attended with advantage.
Besides great numbers of lime-stone quarries, there is a slate quarry, of a light grey colour on the Hill of the Bank ; there being little demand for the slates, the quarry is not in lease. They are not sold, but given gratis.
Forests.-The banks of the river Dovern, about half a century ago, were covered with birch, although, since the sale of it, there is not a plant of wood to be seen there, or in any part of the parish, except in Glen Fiddich, where there are some old trees, and on the burn of Bank, where there are some young bushes. The Feddick, which runs into the Spey, between Aberlour and Boharm, rises between Cabrach and Glenlivet, and runs into Mortlach. On its banks the Duke of Gordon has a house for a hunting seat in a beautiful romantic spot, but within the parish of Mortlach. He has another farther up on the Blackwater, in the same parish. The forests of Glenfeddich and Black-water are stored with red deer and roes ; the hills all around, with innumerable flocks of muir-fowl. Here there are partridges, hares, foxes, otters, wild ducks, and black cocks. The migratory birds are the swallow, the plover, and cuckoo, who appear about the middle of April.
Church, School, and Poor.-The minister's stipend is £45 Sterling, and the services; besides £2 15s 6½d Sterling, for communion element money ; with a glebe of 19 acres arable, and 2 of pasture ground. The parochial school salary is £5 11s 1½d Sterling. The charity school was taken away from Dovernside in 1779, a want which the people there feel much. To remedy this in some degree, they hire a country man to teach their children to read and write in winter; the only time they can dispense with them from herding their cattle. The number of poor on the roll who receive occasional supply are 12. The weekly contributions amount annually to œ2 sterling, beside a fund of £50 sterling at interest, under the management of the heritors and kirk-session.
Religion, Sectaries, &c.-Besides the established Church, there are two chapels; one for Papists, who are not half the number they were 30 years ago, and one for Seceders, who are much on the decline. One great reason for the decline of both sects, is the moderation with which they are treated all over this country. Intermarriages with Protestant families have been frequently observed to bring over Papists, especially the female part, from their former persuasion.
Character, Diseases, &c.-The inhabitants, whose ordinary size is 5 feet 10 inches, though variable from 5 feet 6 inches to 6 feet, are industrious, sober, and healthy ; live much better, are neater and cleanlier in their dresses and dwellings than their predecessors were some generations ago, when men and beasts lay under the same roof. They all read and write; are intelligent in the ordinary and even some of he less common affairs of life, beyond what could be expected from their opportunities, and of an obliging disposition. Notwithstanding the temptations inseparable from the species of traffic they are constantly engaged in, in the cattle markets, they are not addicted to drinking. However unaccountable, in such a place, the want of inns and alehouses may be, there is not one in the parish; a circumstance perhaps not unfriendly to health and morals ; nor are the inconveniences attending it felt by travellers, because of the hospitality of the people. With all the necessaries, and some of he conveniences of life, they live happy and content at home. They are not in general litigious; nor are law-suits frequent, which is a consequence of their honesty in dealings. That the natives of a place full of mosses, and interspersed with swampy ground, should be healthy, and subject to no local distemper, may appear a little problematical ; yet, excepting a few fevers, which are by no means frequent or fatal, the whooping cough, measles, and small-pox in the natural way, are the only diseases known here. The most common disease of which they die is of old age. Of late, the consumption has appeared in 4 instances ; in each of them fatal, excepting one case. Those who died of it were attacked when at service in other countries. It is not pretended to account for the healthiness of the people. Perhaps the great fires constantly burning in their houses, have considerable influence in counteracting the effects of the exhalations which are continually rising from the earth. Strangers, not accustomed to them, catch cold.
Valued rent, Servants Wages, &c.-The valued rent in this parish is £1290 2s 10d Scotch.
|Men servants gain yearly about (Sterling)||£5||5||0|
|Women servants gain yearly about (Sterling)||2||10||0|
|Geese are sold at||0||2||6|
|Hens are sold at||0||0||6|
|Butter per lb.||0||0||6|
|Cheese per quarter||0||1||0|
The services which used to be paid to the principal tacksman were happily done away when the present leases were given by the Duke of Gordon, by getting tacks immediately from himself ; the best thing he could have done to this country.
Population, &c.-The number in 1755 was 960.
|Within the parish are, above 8 years of age, catechiseable,||550|
|Children below 8 years of age||150|
Each marriage, at an average, produces 4 children.
Remarks.-The number of inhabitants has decreased about 200 since 1782 and 1783; at which period the householders or crofters were driven in quest of subsistence to other countries and towns, where manufactures are carried on. The upper part of the parish in Aberdeenshire seldom produces sufficiency of grain for itself. The lower part of the parish in Banffshire produces a sufficiency of grain for itself, and disposes of about 200 bolls, which would make up the deficiency in the upper part, was it not disposed of to the neighbouring distilleries. The defect is made up from other places. The state of the inhabitants then, (in 1782) when few places hereabout had enough for themselves, may be learned from this circumstance that the mill multures of Cabrach amounted to a ninth part only of what they are in ordinary years ; yet, by means of the indulgence of the Duke of Gordon, who allowed them to detain their rents for buying meal, and supporting their families, till they were able to pay without hurting them, and the spirited exertions of individuals, particularly John Gordon, Esq. of Craig, who imported grain of different kinds for a subsistence to the indigent poor, which he gave to this and some of the neighbouring parishes, no body suffered for want; but their circumstances were much impaired : there was no demand for cattle. Meal was sold at 1s 6 d. and 2s per peck, 9 lib. Servants suffered most; for everybody reduced their numbers; and day labourers got little if any employment.
So early as the 15th September 1782, there was a great fall of snow, which laid all the corns, then hardly begun to fill, in most places. The frosts were intense, and vegetation was stopt here.
The corns which had milky juices in the ear were totally ruined ; those which had only watery juices wanted season; therefore given mostly unthreshed to the cattle. It was after Christmas before they were all cut. The meal made of what was threshed was bad. To some it may appear trivial, to others worthy to be remarked, that, in spring 1783, cows had calves much earlier, and in greater numbers, that was ever remembered ; a fortunate circumstance, in a year when the victual of home produce was excessively bad, and in a place where milk is a constituent part of ordinary fare. It was observed, too, very truly, as to this parish, that there was less sickness that year than usual; a fact which the curious will, no doubt, trace up to several causes.