Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

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Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Strath-Navernia. Cathenesiae Nova Descriptio  
Pagination: 114-115
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Translation of text:

hours and 45 minutes. To that extent the panegyrist (4) is wrong who once said that the sun not only does not set here, but goes past and touches the horizon, on the authority of Tacitus no doubt, ‘that the flat extremities of the earth with a low shadow do not throw up darkness’ (5) . More correctly and with true reasoning Pliny, where he is discussing the longest days in relation to the inclination of the solar orbit to the horizon, says ‘The longest days in Italy are of 15 hours, in Britain of 17; where in summer the nights are bright, they doubtless bring about in fact what reason demands to be believed: that at the solstice (6), as the sun approaches nearer to the pole of the universe, with a narrow revolution of light, the neighbouring parts of the earth have continuous days for six months, and nights conversely when it is far off at the winter solstice.’

But in this farthest part, which Ptolemy makes project too far to the east, when it bears to the north (by which name Roger Bacon formerly marked it in his Geography), Tacitus said that ‘a huge and shapeless area of jutting lands is narrowed into a wedge’ (7), the three promontories mentioned by the ancient writers jut out, Berubium now Urdehead, near the village of Bernswale, and Virvedrum, now Dunsby, also known as Duncansby, which is thought to be the remotest promontory in Britain. Orcas however in the region of the Orkney Islands Ptolemy makes the last of all islands; it is now in the vernacular called Holborn, in Ptolemy also Tarvedrum and Tarvisium, a name which, if my conjecture is not mistaken, he invented because it ends Britain. For Tarvus in British has the meaning ‘ending’, with which we too shall put an end to this book. On the Orkneys and Hebudes or Hebrides and Shetland we shall speak in their own place.

A NEW DESCRIPTION
OF CAITHNESS (Section Note)

We mentioned above how widely the word Cattey once spread in these parts, and which people it included: but only this province which is our subject is now designated by this word, with the addition of the suffix Ness, by which is meant promontory; we mentioned which people, many centuries ago, according to the ancient geography, settled in these parts, the memory of all of whom is lost. But it should be noted that many place names even today have a strange ring, whose origin has (1) no reference to Scots, Irish, Danish or Norwegian, but they seem of unknown, uncertain and very ancient origin; such are Orbuster[?], Lybster, Robuster[?], Thrumster, and innumerable others. The popular speech today is a quite degenerate Scoto-Irish, sharing in both but satisfactorily reflecting neither.

This is the last boundary of mainland Scotland, reaching farthest to the north at the village of Duncansby, a few minutes below the fiftieth parallel. Ptolemy in his Geography, badly informed on these matters, has twisted these shores, which face north, to the east; however if this error is forgiven and the coasts bent back to the north, the rest will be sufficiently accurate.

Before him these parts seem to have been unknown to the Romans, who, thinking that the whole island ends in a wedge, likened it to a double-axe, although in fact it opens out to a wide edge, which is known to be marked by three promontories: the first of these to the east, looking over to the Orkneys, to the afore-mentioned author Veruvium, today Duncansby Head, although in fact the Orcas promontory should have been placed here; the cause of the mistake is that he thought that the Orkneys were situated farther to the west than is their true location; whence the promontory closest to them, with lowered lands, not high like the others, is to him Virvedrum, today Rowrachy and Strathy Head. The third to the west is to Ptolemy Orcas and Tarvedrum, to us Faraid or Parro Head: from here the coast turns away, bending to the south or south-west.

Caithness to the south and south-west, as we have said, is separated with a continuous boundary from Sutherland by Creag Thoraraidh, then by a continuous line of mountains, as far as Mount Knockfin; from there following the course of the River Halladale from source to mouth, and Druim na Halladale to the same river, is considered the boundary between this and Strathnaver. The eastern side is washed by the Ocean, but where it turns north, it is divided from the Orkneys by the fierce and dangerous Pentland Firth. This firth is feared by seafarers, and not suitable to cross except at fixed times even if the winds are calm. The reason is that, when each day the tide is stirred from the north in these places, pouring round the Orkneys and through them, here first it is checked by its meeting the land, whence that great force of waters permeates these island by many channels, then pours out into the rest of the sea in this firth, and with the waves of the Vergivian and Eastern seas also battling, creates fearful whirlpools of water to the great danger of ships.

If we look at the nature of the soil, along the sea-coast or the courses of the rivers, it is low and good for cultivation, and generously produces crops in many places, and nothing is wanting to make life tolerable, neither grass in plains or valleys, nor fowling and hunting in the mountains, nor fishing in sea or rivers, and that in outstanding abundance.

Everything here is sold at a low price, whether because of abundance or fewer opportunities for trade or a lack of money.

The soil, as I said, cares kindly for crops, and in such abundance that not only satisfies the inhabitants, but they can be exported: but because the soil is wet and of clay, everything here ripens later, nor do the crops have such goodness that they can be compared with those of Sutherland and Ross.

The region, being extremely lacking in wood, obtains it from nearby Strathnaver, mostly in exchange for crops, in which that province is equally lacking, or uses material brought from Norway. For fire are provided turfs, or black bituminous earth, formed into blocks and hardened by sun and wind; this excellent and easily prepared fuel for fire is lacking hardly anywhere in the north. Many sterile plains and mountain sides are fully covered with it.

Mountains fill the interior; they can be seen in great number and size and in a very long line from the opposite shores of Buchan, Boina[?] and Ainia[?]; the highest of all are those which have the name of Maiden Pap (because they appear to resemble them).

In the lower parts and marshy valleys there are many lochs, through which rivers wander, or they provide sources and springs for them, none however of any great name though all have fish.

There are frequent rivers, but small and not with long

  [Continuation of text]

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