Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Cathenesiae Nova Descriptio. Insvlarvm Circa Scotiam Descriptio  
Pagination: 116-117
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Translation of text:

courses, as the Ocean skirts much of the land.

The most famous town in these parts, Wick, on the east coast facing the Ocean, has a harbour quite safe for ships: here trade is carried on. There is another, facing north in a narrow gulf, with a harbour and reliable anchorage; its name is Thurso.

Throughout the whole region many castles, estates, and villages (for this province is quite well populated) are scattered here and there according to the suitability of the locations, some not to be despised with more elegant buildings. But the genius of the place and the nature of the inhabitants leads to indulgence in food and drink and living pleasantly and joyfully for the day, rather than to turning the mind to construction. Castle Sinclair, formerly Gernigo, the fortress of the Earls not far from the town of Wick, holds first place; and in its vicinity Ackergill, not so long ago belonging to the family of Keiths but now removed to the same Earls, is neglected because of the vicinity of the other. As one advances a little further Keiss Castle may be seen, that too belongs to the Earl, a lovely and pleasant dwelling. On the north coast, a few miles from Duncansby, is the Castle of Mey of the family of Sinclairs; likewise theirs on the south coast is Dunbeath, a strong fortress, built above a cliff on an isthmus, and close to it Berriedale, belonging to the Earls. There is also Dounreay set on the coast facing west. There are also many other not contemptible buildings, but it is not worthwhile to delay in listing their names.

This region is as I have said held as a Sheriffdom by itself, and that is hereditary to the Earls: when and how that came about, I have recalled above.

Of all the families which bear the surname Sinclair, the chief now and from the most ancient times is held to be Baron Sinclair of Ravenshaugh (as we touched on in the description of Fife). Their other families, widely dispersed through Shetland, the Orkneys, Caithness, Fife and Lothian, owe their origin to this one. Its ancestors held Shetland and the Orkneys with the title of Earldom, joined also by marriage to the royal house of Denmark (a daughter of theirs having been taken as wife); but although by the bad administration of one (who for that reason was known to later generations by the name of William the Spendthrift) they were deprived of these provinces, yet there remained and today remain in these islands very many noble individuals descended from that family, to whom the Earl of Caithness owes his origin, who has now widely disseminated his offspring throughout these parts which we are describing.

There are here too many other ancient and illustrious families, some of whom have rarely settled in their estates, since they are natives of other places. The Keiths of Inverugie, of the Marischal family, have acquired many lands here. From their heredity not so long ago arose the very famous Earl Marischal, head of the Keith family, which later under agreed conditions ceded these lands to Mowat, or more accurately de Monte Alto, who today hold their ancestral lands in these parts. It would be tiresome to list the lesser native families.

No small portion of this county was not so long ago held of the Bishop in feu and emphyteusis, which are now ceded to the treasury.

When one has pased the town of Thurso, no further city, no town is to be found along the whole western coast of the kingdom until you land at Dumbarton in the innermost recess of the Firth of Clyde: to such an extent are the natures of the inhabitants blunted to the practice of a more civilised life (which is more common in cities), as they cling fast to their ancient language and old frugality. A correct judgement will attribute this to inertia rather than imitation of older generations. There are certainly not lacking in many places opportunities for founding cities, very large, safe and capacious harbours; seas full of all kind of fish; fertile land, suited to crops and cattle; and rivers fitted for transportation: but laziness refrains from using all these, and the inhabitants, for the most part living off their cattle, grow up and grow old as masters in the same place; hence this area is less known to all foreigners, and even to Scots, is seen by few, or exercised in commerce. I am not unaware that some men equal to this task have set their minds to founding cities; but although the laws and liberties normal in cities (without which they cannot stand) were attainable, though decrees promulgated for the purpose invited, they did not achieve their wishes and gave up the attempt.

FROM CAMDEN (Section Note)

Further on lies Caithness, in the vernacular Catness, facing the German Sea, its coast bending with frequent changes of direction; in it in Ptolemy’s time lived the Catini (wrongly Carini in manuscripts), among whom Ptolemy also placed the River Ila, which seems to be the modern Wifle[?]. The inhabitants here get most revenue from pasturing cattle and fishing. The principal castle is called Girnigo, in which the Earls of Caithness mostly live. [This name has been changed to Castle Sinclair.] The Episcopal seat is in Dornoch, an otherwise obscure little village; here too King James IV placed the seat of the Sheriff of Caithness, or in Wick, as affairs required.

The Earls of Caithness were once the same as the Earls of Orkney, but were later divided. By the marriage of the eldest daughter of one Malise to William St Clair, in the vernacular Sinclair, the Royal Butler, his descendants acquired this honour of the Earls of Caithness, and enjoy it still. [And as noted above they changed the name Girnigo to the name of their family.]

SCOTLAND. (Section Note)

Kind reader, at the beginning of this volume we gave a general description of Scotland from George Buchanan’s History, with the exception of that of the Islands, which we thought it worthwhile to reserve for this position, as the harshness of the times does not allow us to have others from Scotland. And so there follows

BUCHANAN (Section Note)

It now remains for us to say something of the Islands (which area of British history has been infected with the greatest errors). But omitting older times from which nothing definite has been handed down to us, we shall proceed with the truer and more open publications of men of our time.

All the islands which as it were crown Scotland are made up of three classes or groups, the Western Isles, the Orkneys, and the Shetlands.

in the vernacular
HEBRIDES. (Section Note)

The Western Isles are those which stretch in the Deucaledonian Sea on the west side of Scotland from Ireland almost to the Orkneys. Those who now or in our fathers' time have published anything on the affairs of Scotland, call them the Hebrides; this is certainly a new name, for which they show no origin or trace from old writers. For in that part of the sea some have placed Aebudae or Aemodae, but with such inconsistency that scarcely ever do they agree on the number, location or names. Strabo (to begin with the oldest) should perhaps be forgiven because that part of the world had not yet been sufficiently explored and he may seem to follow an uncertain legend. Mela counts seven Hemodae, Martianus Capella the same number of Acmodae, Ptolemy and Solinus five Aebudae, Pliny seven Acmodae and thirty Aebudae. We shall retain in the matter of names those most frequent in the ancients, and shall call all the Western Isles the Aebudae. We shall review the location, the natures of each, and their commodities from authors who are, as more recent, so much more reliable. And especially we shall follow Donald Monro, a man both pious and diligent, who travelled to and viewed them all himself. They lie scattered in the Deucaledonian Sea, more than 300 in number, and .... All the Kings of the Scots held them from the most distant times down to Donald brother of Malcolm III, who ceded them to the King of Norway,

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