Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Strath-Navernia  
Pagination: 112-113
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Translation of text:

(Section Note)

This region takes its name from the River Naver which cuts its middle. It starts however at the River Helmsdale, where Caithness ends, and stretching straight to the west, is separated from the sub-province of Eddrachillis by the gulf and river called Durness; to the north it has the vast and open Ocean, with no land opposite, to the farthest northern parts; to the south Sutherland, as we have said, is closest, divided from it by very high mountains.

The region, mountainous all over, is raised up in mountains and these frequent and linked together, high, rough, and snowy. Lochs in the valleys quite extensive, full of woods, good harbours are not lacking; but, all more suited to herds than crops, it is not self-sufficient in these; trade with foreigners, or neighbouring Caithness, often relieves this lack by exchange of wood and timber. One may see here innumerable herds of cattle, horses, goats and other domesticated animals; there is a large supply of stags, deer and all game, and very rapacious wolves, who wander here through woodland and wilderness with great loss to domestic animals, in such numbers that, driven out of almost all the rest of the island, they seem to have placed their home and residence here, nowhere else certainly are they so common.

The industry of the inhabitants, so far as is allowed by climate and soil, is employed on cattle in their lands which stretch along the area of the coast, for a little further inland, except in rare places, the mountains which hang over the rivers prevent this. But the seas, gulfs and rivers all have an amazing amount of fish, from which every year not inconsiderable wealth comes to the inhabitants, especially to the lord from the catch of salmon. Here are worked iron-mines, and thanks to the woods iron is smelted from the veins, and is also exported for profit. In places near to the markets great numbers of fattened cattle and of young horses are sold. Exported by sea is beef in casks for sailors, skins, hides of cattle and deer, tallow, cheese, butter, and other products. Pork is here as everywhere quite scarce: and let it be sufficient to have said once about the whole Kingdom, that pork is despised, and falls to the share of the lowest class, while the majority entirely abstain from it. There are throughout the whole Kingdom, from the suitableness of rivers or streams flowing through mountains or hills, innumerable mills, whose guardians by old custom pay each year to the Lord in addition to other things castrated pigs: if this custom did not prevent it, it is probable that every kind of pig would long since have become extinct.

It may seem strange that the Danes, when they were subjugating England and raiding our kingdom, sought out such rough and uncultivated places as these and looked for homes here; but it is certainly so, and in one or two places on the coast monuments of victories against them survive.

On the sandy coast between the two main rivers Naver and Torrisdale, whose mouths are two miles apart from each other, ruins now consumed by sand and sea testify that once a town stood here, but now is no more. The population of the whole region is spread through villages. The chief has a house called Farr at the mouth of Strathnaver, and at no great distance on the gulf of Kintail one named Tongue, and in some other places.

This province is divided into five sub-regions which beginning at the east stretch along the coast in this order. Halladale, bounded by the Rivers Halladale and Strathy. Next is Strathnaver, called by the name of the whole region: followed by Kintail[?], at the gulf of the same name. Then A'Mhoine, as far as the gulf called Eriboll; last is Durness, at the gulf and river of the same name, which compared with the others has better and more fertile soil.

Hunts are frequent here, especially of stags, as are fowlings, the nature of soil and people inviting them; and a man who does not take part in hunting and find unique pleasure in it, is counted as nothing among them, whence there is always a great supply of game in readiness.

The people are strong, robust, tolerant of toil, cold and heat, accustomed to frugality, and yet not of that roughness of character that the harshness of the region might seem to promise; but joyful in ingenuous simplicity, relaxed in banquets either among themselves or with strangers, they turn over no deceit in their minds. There is the same system of spirit and character in all the other neighbouring provinces, which have been discussed.

It is common to all these regions which speak the old language, that as much as possible they venerate, cherish and love their Lord, fight for him, in danger give up their lives with no reluctance, and apart from the customary burdens of estates, if ever the necessity occurs, when the lord is marrying off his daughter, repaying a bond, redeeming mortgaged farms or acquiring new ones, that when extraordinary taxes are declared they all gladly without distinction from highest to lowest contribute a quarter or fifth of their cows, of which their wealth consists (and it is unusual to maintain male cattle); and this imposition, once accustomed to be collected for the afore-mentioned reasons, now every five or three years has become regularly demanded, although the reasons have ceased, but is borne patiently as custom so demands.

The lord of the region today is Donald Mackay, Baron of Reay, who now holds it, possessed in a long series by his ancestors, by authority, as with Eddrachillis, next to be spoken of.


Strathnaver is annexed by Royal charter to Sutherland and is a part of it; and Lord Mackay Baron of Reay holds it by right of the Earl of Sutherland; it is separated from Sutherland by mountains which stretch from east to west.

The region is more fertile in grass than grain; so it is quite suited to rearing cattle. Here there are almost infinite herds of cows and shoals of salmon. And if the inhabitants were not given most excessively to idleness and leisure, this region could be made much more prosperous and fertile.

In Strathnaver there are various promontories, running into the Northern Ocean, viz. Eriboll, Hope, and Strathy; it is also watered by various rivers noted for the catch of salmon; the principal ones are Halladale, Naver or Farr, Strathy, Torrisdale, and Hope. But Durness and Eddrachillis, although they belong to Mackay Lord of Reay, are not properly in Strathnaver. Strathnaver is fortified with two fortresses, scil. Borve and Tongue, the latter of which is the main seat of the Mackays. In the village of Farr is the parish church, called Farr. But it is in the chapel of Kirkiboll, restored not so long ago, that the Lords of this family are buried. Here there is a huge supply of stags and hinds: and although almost the whole region rises into high mountains (of all of which the highest is Tatha ham Beann), yet it is suited for grazing cattle. Strathnaver from east to west is thirty-four miles long; from south to north twelve wide in some places, but in others only six, excluding Durness and Eddrachillis. There are many lochs here, of which the principal is Loch Naver; in Loch Loyal there is a island, inhabited in summer time. And around the coast on the Arctic Ocean various islands are scattered, viz. Eilean Co’omb, Eilean a’ Chaoil, Eilean nan Rón, and Neave Island.


Eddrachillis is a portion of land on the seashore looking west, impassible because of deserted cliffs, and at Kinlochbervie conterminous with the boundaries of the Earls of Sutherland. Although it now belongs to Mackay, it was however never part of Strathnaver, but part of the Barony of Skelbo in Sutherland; and Lord Mackay still holds Eddrachillis by right of the Earls of Sutherland. In it is a river, in the vernacular Laxford, from which Mackay (or Macky) has a large income from salmon. Handa Island in the Ocean belongs to Eddrachillis, or rather to Durness.

OF DURNESS (Section Note)

The Barony of Durness enjoys level and pleasant soil, where it faces north-west. Although today Mackay Lord of Reay has it in possession by right of the Earls of Sutherland, as their vassal, however it does not pertain to Strathnaver: but the Earls of Sutherland hold it by feudal right from the Bishop of Caithness. Here the summer days are very long and there is scarcely any night. For those sailing directly from here towards the North Pole, no land can be found. Here too is a river, in the vernacular called Durness.

FROM CAMDEN (Section Note)

The farthest shore of the whole of Britain, which faces north with the forepart of the coasts turned that way, and has the middle of the Great Bear’s tail (which Cardanus believed to transfer empires) vertically above it, was held, as one can see in Ptolemy, by the Cornabii, among whom he places the River Nabeus; these names are so mutually related that the people seem to have drawn their name from the river where they lived; nor is the modern name Strathnaver, i.e. Valley at the Naver, totally different from these. The region is less fortunate in the fertility of the land and less cultivated because of the harm done by the cold climate, and hence it is most severely devastated by the cruellest wolves, who fall so dreadfully not only on herds with very great loss but also on people to their great peril, not only in this but also in many other parts of Scotland, that by Parliamentary decree the Sheriffs and inhabitants in the individual counties are ordered to go out to hunt three times each year in order to destroy wolves and [formerly, not now] their cubs. But in this northern region it may be considered some consolation that it enjoys the shortest night and the longest day in the whole of Britain. For at a distance of 59 degrees and 40 minutes from the Equator it has a longest day of 18 hours and 15 minutes and a shortest night of 5

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