Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Nova Sovtherlandiae Descriptio  
Pagination: 110-111
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Translation of text:

copious hunting: for everywhere here is full of stags, fallow-deer, wolves, foxes, wild cats, otters, martens, badgers, and every kind of woodland bird which can be nourished in this climate. There is also here a bird of a peculiar kind, much resembling a parrot; they call it Knag; with its beak it digs out a nest for itself in the trunk of an oak, possibly it may be referred to the family of the woodpecker. On the boundaries facing north-west is a mountainous and wooded area, and in it Mount Arkle: all stags found here have bifurcated tails, by which they are easily distinguished from others. Around the beginnings of Loch Shin are to be seen those mountains made famous by marble veins, as we have mentioned under the sub-province of Assynt.

The principal rivers which irrigate this region are the Unes, also named Fleet, which for those going to Dunrobin Castle is crossed at narrows at the town of Dornoch. There are also the Evelix, Brora, Loth, Helmsdale, also called the Ullie, Shin and Cassley. All these, although small, are full of fish; in their courses, where the mountains open out, lie plains, rich in grass and fruits. These tracts by the local custom they call Straths, with the name of the river added to distinguish them. Often even unknown streams unfold among the mountain slopes quite lovely and cultivable plains. More or less sixty lochs are found here, small and of no great name, nonetheless with fish and rich in water birds: for there is no lack of a supply of swans, ducks of various kinds, likewise many kinds of geese, and other birds. One of these lochs is notable above the rest for size, Shin, which puts out the river of the same name into the gulf a little above the mouth of and opposite the Carron. That river is notable for a waterfall; while the salmon are struggling against it, they fall into wicker baskets prepared for this and are caught. They claim that this river, whose channel scarcely exceeds six miles from the lake to its mouth, never freezes although all around are solid.

Further, resources taken from the sea enrich this region; for whatever kinds of fish the Ocean bestows on neighbouring provinces, are not lacking here. Here too not uncommonly whales are driven on to the coasts, from which there is a supply of oil for many purposes. There are herds of seals and sea-calves, many different kinds of fish which are distinguishable by size, flavour or other marks, turbot, rays, dogfish, flounders, sting-rays, mackerel, skate, eels, sea toads, disgusting in appearance but delicate and healthy to eat when the skin is removed; and many other, or rather innumerable kinds, which being peculiar to northern waters have not yet found names in Latin. But oysters, congers, mussels, crabs, smooth-lobsters, cockles, snails, lobsters, whelks, sea-snails, scallops, and other shellfish are abundant at the river-mouths and sea-cliffs. From here each year various products are exported, which are exchanged either for money or for other goods for the use of the inhabitants: grain, especially the highly praised barley, salt, fossil coal, of which veins were found here not so long ago, salmon, beef, wool, hides, skins, butter, tallow, cheese, and the young of horses. Also iron of fine quality is smelted from veins.

There are no dormice in these parts, nor do those imported on ships (as often happens by chance) survive here, which perhaps may seem surprising, as neighbouring Caithness, divided by neither sea nor river, is infested with them.

For use in building there are stones of various kinds, especially sandstone, sought by masons for carving; there are also quarries of shingles for roofing houses and of limestone.

The principal town of the region is Dornoch on the southern shore at the previously mentioned gulf, opposite to and in sight of the town of Tain, famous for its castle and cathedral church. This church recognises as its founder Gilbert, formerly Bishop of this diocese: here is the tomb of the Earls. Of the parish church, named St Barr’s, only the walls remain in the city. The city is full at four markets yearly, which they denote according to old custom by the names of the saints on whose days they are held, Barr, Gilbert, Margaret, and Bernard.

A short distance from the town to the east, a stone monument exists, shaped in the form of a cross, in the vernacular called Craisk-vorwair, that is cross of the Thane or Earl; another not dissimilar is seen at Embo, called Ri-Croiss, that is royal Cross, taking its name from a King of the Danes who was killed and buried there.

Not so long ago Robert Gordon, while he was acting as tutor to the Earl his brother’s son, had this town erected into a royal and free burgh, with the concession of the required privileges.

There are scattered through the whole region many fortifications, castles and estates: Dunrobin, on the coast as I have said, in a lovely situation, with gardens, waters, and an ample enclosure. There are besides [?] Skelbo, Skibo, Proncy, Pulrossie, Invershin, Cuthill, Embo, Golspie Tower, Golspie-Kirktoun, Aberscross, Ospisdale, Clyne Crakaig, Helmsdale, Torrisdale, Dun Creich, Caisteal nan Corr, and more unnamed.

These Earls of an ancient and most noble family have their place among the first in the highest convention of Estates. Baron Reay of neighbouring Strathnaver has many possessions here by vassal’s right from him. The rights of Admiral in his own possessions and some neighbouring places also belong to him.

The principal names and families which are now extant in Sutherland (excluding Strathnaver, Durness and Eddrachillis) are Gordons, Sutherlands, Murrays, Grays, Clan Gunn, Thomasons, Johnsons, and MacPhails. (Section Note)

The family of the Earls of Sutherland is very old, and famous from its first beginnings to the present day: it remains most loyal to its Kings, and has never justly been convicted of treason. In Assemblies, they have their place among the leading nobles of Scotland. The Earls of Sutherland have always been considered active men and fearless in war. Now the Earl is of great power and authority, Sheriff of the whole of Sutherland, Assynt and Strathnaver; hereditary Admiral not only of these but also of certain surrounding regions; and that by gift of the Duke of Lennox.

All the gentlemen who live in his province are his followers and vassals. In his possessions he exercises Royal rights. Further Lord Mackay, Baron of Reay, and the Lord of Duffus are under his protection; and Mackay holds Strathnaver, Eddrachillis and Durness by his right: so that in authority and power he is equal to his ancestors.

FROM CAMDEN (Section Note)

Beyond Ross Sutherland faces the German Ocean, more suited to raising animals than to growing crops. In it rise mountains of white marble, certainly amazing in this cold place, but almost of no use, since luxury in building and that leisurely display of wealth has not yet reached these remote regions. Dunrobin is the most famous castle in it, the main seat of the old Earls of Sutherland, from if I am not mistaken the family Murray. Celebrated among them under King Robert Bruce was William, who married the full sister of King David and had a son by her, whom King David recognised as his successor in the kingdom and bound the nobles by oath on his behalf; but he soon after was snatched by death without children, and the Earldom at length came hereditarily through a daughter and heir to A. Gordon of the family of the Earls of Huntly.

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