Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Nova Moraviae Descriptio  
Pagination: 104-105
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Translation of text:

of Loch Spynie, whence it has added a great haul of fine soil to the loch, and even today the trouble persists.

The Spey, huge, most clear, most rapid, largest of all after the Tay, emerges from a small loch of the same name, in the ridges which lie between Badenoch and Lochaber. For the most part it is carried in a rushing course to the north-east, girded by high mountains on all sides and crowned with woods, increased by many rivers and innumerable burns from the precipices of the mountains, until it approaches within six miles of the sea, then turning directly to the north, cutting through plains and cultivated land, and causing much damage to the neighbouring fields, it reaches its mouth: distinguished by no harbour, it admits smaller ships with difficulty, experiencing swell at scarcely a mile: not infrequently it boils in summer heat, without rain, when the west winds which drive the waves blow. No river in Britain rivals it in yield of salmon, except the Dee and the Don, each of which however it equals in various years: for there are preserved and exported hence each year generally 80, not infrequently more than 100 lasts as they call them, which if converted to tons are a quarter greater. All this fishery, very profitable to the lords, is confined to a very few summer months and to a space of a mile, at the village called Garmouth. Fishing is conducted along the whole course from the source, but they are scarcely preserved but serve for everyday use; and this fishing is carried on by throwing by hand in day-light hooked spears into the swimming fish, or at night in wicker baskets covered with leather. These baskets were first described by Lucan:

First the white willow, the twigs having been moistened,
Is woven into a small ship, and adorned with a slain bullock,
It rises up enduring the swollen stream of its carrier.

No sane and inexperienced person will go on these baskets, yet those who are accustomed to them boldly, in the lack of any other crossing, successfully trust themselves to the fierce river, swollen beyond measure. The right of such profitable fishing belonged from olden times to the monastery of Pluscarden; concerning this a story has come down to us, that one of our older kings, whose name has been lost, turned aside from his route to this monastery, and was received with a far from regal meal; he expressed surprise at the cheap provisions, and the Abbot excused this from their lack of resources; the King suggested that he would provide anything that could be allowed without loss to others; the Abbot replied that, as nothing was left empty in the land, everything having been taken, he asked only a few furlongs in the river, which would harm no-one and would be under royal law; the King agreed and it was easily conceded.

This province is divided into two prefectures or sheriffdoms: the first, and larger, comes from the names of Elgin and Forres; the other, narrower, is called Nairn from the name of the small city. Excluded from these are estates and lands which belonged from olden times to the Bishopric of Moray; for in these the Bishop had Royal rights, which have now fallen to the treasury. Some land too around the city of Inverness pertains to that prefecture.

The towns are Inverness, on the Ness, which is crossed by a pile-bridge; the harbour is untrustworthy and capable of taking only smaller ships; otherwise the town is in a very convenient situation, suited for transacting the trade of the neighbouring regions; in olden times it was the residence of Kings: the castle on a lovely hill has wide views over the city and the whole neighbourhood: the land around the city is fertile: nothing is lacking, except that those bituminous lumps with which the hearth is supplied must be sought from a distance.

The drink of all these provinces is beer, with or more often without hops, brewed in the old manner. All these towns do not lack a supply of foreign wine, at a quite reasonable price. I remember when in my youth I was coming home from Paris, I saw wine sold in Rouen at a much higher price than it was a few months later in these parts; each had been brought from Burgundy: the reason was the moderate tax then imposed in Scotland. But besides wine they have their own native liquor, called water of life, in whose presence (and it is never lacking) even the finest wines are disdained. This liquor is extracted from beer with the addition of spices, in every place and in such quantity as to be sufficient for all. They gorge themselves with this in full draughts, so that it is a miracle to foreigners (such is its strength) that they can endure it. None even of better reputation abstains, nor do matrons escape this disgrace. When travelling in the harshest winter, in the most intense cold, fortified with a flask of this liquor and some small cheeses (for they are little concerned about victuals or bread), they traverse very great distances without trouble on foot. Although I have made these notes in relation to this city, this is the common custom of all these regions.

Following the coast a little, a new building of the Earls of Moray comes into view (they call it Castle Stuart), set in a lovely, fertile situation. To it is joined the parish church called Petty, where in former times were preserved the gigantic bones of one John, known by antonomasia as ‘Little’; in my lifetime the church was consumed with fire and they are no longer to be seen. Nearer to the city is the castle of Culloden; and not far from there is Dalcross, the castle of Baron Fraser of Lovat. But passing along the sea-shore, past Ardersier, where there is a crossing, is a wilderness, where traces remain of the slaughter of an army of the Danes.

Next is Nairn, set on a sandy coast at the mouth of the Nairn, where, if I may say something against the universal consensus, I see that Ptolemy placed here the castle Alata, which others have referred to Edinburgh: there is certainly no fault in his numbers, as he pursues his description, begun at that place, with numbers that fall aptly into place. Time has changed the appearance of this place, and the sea by piling up sand has blocked the harbour, which in olden times had been quite safe, and has partly destroyed, partly consumed no small part of the richest land: there appear today when the tide recedes the ruins of a magnificent and splendid castle; but others may see to this. Across the river various castles may be seen, and seats of the lesser nobility (called ‘gentlemen’ in the vernacular). I shall add the names of some: Loch Loy, named from the lake, because the sea at that point makes a brief gulf. There follow Inschoch, Kinnudie, Penig, Kinsteary. Auldearn village has a neighbouring cliff, whose fallen fragments burn with fire and give a flame, although the bulk of the rock remains: it seems to me a vein of living sulphur, for it is of an ashy or grey colour, burns in the same manner, and smells somewhat of sulphur.

Ascending the river one comes to Park and not far from there Cawdor Castle, where there is a vein of pyrites, and clear signs of copper. On the opposite bank sits Kilbuiach, a castle of the Rosses. Going further along the coast, there is nothing except fields covered with sea-rushes and dwarf junipers, and innumerable colonies of seals, which do much damage to salmon as they enter the rivers. Then one comes to Culbin, and to the mouth of the Findhorn. Above are seen Grangegreen, Brodie, Earlsmill, Moyness, Lethen, on a stream which flows into the Findhorn; all these are pleasant houses, situated on good soil. On the river below a wood is seen Darnaway, the oldest castle and seat of the Earls of Moray. Two miles from there on the opposite bank is the town of Forres, set in a lovely place (as much as any other in the north), formerly notable for the residence and castle of the Kings, which has now almost disappeared: but today it does not preserve its former magnificence. A little below is a monastery, once of great renown, wealthy, and magnificently built, Kinloss: but by the turn of fortune today little of its old splendour remains. Beside it in the river are moles to catch the fish when the tide is ebbing, as we have described under Ross. At a junction on the road to Forres stands a large column, consisting of one stone, a monument to a battle fought by our King Malcolm son of Kenneth against the commanders of the Dane Sweyn’s forces; they are now mostly eaten away by age and the letters are not clear.

Between this and Elgin at eight miles, on the right and left there are innumerable castles, estates, and villages; there is no need to enumerate them all, but I shall mention a few. Altyre, belonging to the Cumins, a family which three hundred years ago was the most powerful and numerous of all Scotland’s nobles and above all the chiefs of the Scots but has now almost disappeared. That family had held the largest part of Buchan, the whole of Strathbogie, Balveny, Badenoch, Lochaber, Atholl, and much else in these parts; much too in the southern provinces of our kingdom which now do not occur to me; also ecclesiastical revenues of no little extent; but since they had stood on the side of Edward I of England, to the disgrace of their country, against Robert I our liberator, they were convicted of treason, deprived of all these, and for the most part either perished miserably or changed their dwelling.

There follow [?] Kilbravock, Bogs of Blervie, Asliesk, Burgie, Earnside, Alves, Hempriggs, Pittendriech, Main, Quarillwood, Inchbrook, Findrassie, Duffus at the head of Loch Spynie, from whose flooding it experiences much damage every day, Gordonstoun, Kirktoun, Drainie, and on the shore Burghead, once with a fortress with the sea all round, set on a very strong rock, although the rest of the coast is sandy. From here also there is now a daily crossing to the opposite coasts of Ross, Sutherland and Caithness. Nearby is Roseisle, where sand stirred up by sea-winds have removed from the plough no small part of the best land. Inland on the bank of the loch is Bellormie, and contiguous to it the village with church of King-Edward, placed on most rich soil, taking its name from that King of England who had then occupied absolutely every place in his tyranny. In that village there had once been a palace, or a building called a palace, as charters written there still attest; nothing of it survives today.

Across the River Lossie is Innes, the house of Baron Innes, who holds many estates in the neighbourhood as far as the Spey, and no small parts of the fishing in the river. There follow Leuchars, Urquhart, Coxton, Orton at the crossing of the Spey, and above it the castle of Rothes, to which the most distinguished Earl of Rothes owes his titles, as we have mentioned under Fife. A few miles up the Lossie is Pluscarden, an old and rich monastery, which lacked nothing but an Abbot, for it was governed by a Prior.

There remains Elgin, the head of the prefecture, where justice is dispensed, not so long ago the seat of the Bishop. The Lossie passes it in its various windings on the east and north, placed on sandy but outstandingly fertile soil. The ruins of a castle on a sandy hill at the east of the city press on the river; it was destroyed in the Danish wars, like many fortified castles over the whole kingdom. In it is the cathedral church, or rather the walls of the church; while it flourished, in size, splendour, work of outstanding craftsmanship, in a word every exquisite magnificence, it seems to have surpassed the churches not only of these regions, but of the whole kingdom. The Bishop had a spacious and lovely house, built with the strongest fortification (called Spynie) on the shore of the loch of the same name, two miles from the city, where he lodged, and which survives today; it was surrounded by most pleasant gardens, and a wood, which has now perished. Every kind of aquatic bird frequents the loch, especially swans. A plant grows in the lake, with a straight stem and leaves not dissimilar to hypericum,

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