Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

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Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Praefectvrarvm Aberdonensis Et Banfiensis ... Nova Descriptio, Auctore Roberto Gordonio  
Pagination: 103
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View earlier description of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire in 1654 Atlas

Translation of text:

In Scotland beyond the mountains,

These two prefectures have the Grampian Mountains and the River Dee as their boundaries on the south; on the west, the lower part of the River Spey, after it has passed through Badenoch in its course; to the north they are bounded by Ptolemys Gulf of Varar (today the Moray Firth); the remainder is pounded by the open ocean. The nearest provinces to them, the Mearns and some of Angus, and also the upper parts of Athol, are all to the south; to the west is Badenoch and some of Moray, the rest is as I said girt by the sea. The climate is rather chilly for those not accustomed to it and born in a warmer air, yet it is temperate and healthy. The summers sometimes delay the expectation of harvest with rain, but do not cheat one of it. The winters are mild beyond what one would believe from the latitude; it is surprising to foreigners arriving here, Danes, Prussians, Poles, since with them the earth for the whole winter lies hard and hidden under perpetual snow and solid ice. There is no use of under-floor heating here: hearths are excellently supplied with dug-up black bituminous turf, not the light and spongy kind, but heavy and firm, which is dried in the winds and sun. Now this does not come from river beds or marshes (as it is extracted in Belgium), but from clods found everywhere on the surface of the earth; the cause and origin is this. When some centuries ago all this area was rough with woods, to the great hindrance of agriculture, as they were cut down or rotted through age, moss grew on top, especially in damp and low-lying places: this moss was at first light and spongy, but as it increased by new growth each year, it became hard and changed into black, firm, rich earth, not indeed very useful for ploughing unless it has been burned, for then crops luxuriate amazingly in the ashes, but after one or two years the ashes are renewed and a new burning is needed. Farmers eagerly seek these lands, attracted by this quick way of fertilisation. The ground is covered by this stratum sometimes to a depth of eight or twelve feet; its removal reveals huge tree trunks, cut off at the roots or rotten with age, often destroyed by fire. In the lower regions as far as the sea-shore, oaks of various species, alders, willows and hazels were prevalent; among the mountains, fir, pine and spruce (which for the most part last also today) were more frequent: the birch however was common to both. But this great supply has now in the lower places, where the land is more suitable for agriculture, changed to scarcity; hence material for buildings is for the most part imported by sea from neighbouring Norway, while there is enough at home for country matters. But what is left of the native woods is difficult to access as a result of trackless places and rough roads. The nature of the land varies: where it is farther from the sea, it rises in mountains, while the lower parts are marked by hills, which are watered by rivers or streams. Variations of the soil will be mentioned later. But in general it is not infertile and if diligently treated with manure it returns what is demanded for human use. Wheat, rye, barley and oats are to be had in abundance, peas and beans among vegetables: others are neglected, although they are not lacking if cultivated properly. Shrubs, herbs and plants for medical uses are not lacking in gardens, fields and mountains; to foreign crops also (brought in either as seed or as plants) the land is hospitable, as we learn from the daily trials of the curious. In conclusion if anything is wanting or is present, this is entirely due to the laziness or industry of the inhabitants. In the higher and mountainous areas it is given over to pasture (which is a more leisurely life), but in the lower parts where the soil is gentler, the plains rich and the hills fruitful, they devote themselves totally to agriculture: this is the sole study of the country, no place is spared where there is hope of a crop or suitability for a plough, neither meadows nor pastures escape this desire. Concern for hay is dilatory; for this lack they try to compensate by straw from oats and barley, with which domestic animals are given pleasure and nourishment, when shut up in sheds in winter. The sea is always open and available for navigation, unless storms prevent it; and not only this sea of ours, but all are susceptible to them. It is equally outstandingly full of fish, but the men from the dregs of the people who have

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