1902 Encyclopedia > Elgin (Morayshire; Elginshire) (county)

Elgin (county)
(also known as: Morayshire; Elginshire)

ELGIN, or MORAYSHIRE, a maritime county in the north of Scotland, bounded on the N. by the Moray Firth, along which it extends for thirty miles, on the E. and S.E. by Banffshire, on the S. and S.W. by Inverness-shire, and on the W. by Nairnshire. The distance from the sea to its furthest inland point is 33 miles. It contains, since the alterations made by the Inverness and Elgin County Boundaries Act, 1870, about 487 square miles, or 312,375 acres, nearly one-third of which may be considered as under cultivation. As thus limited, the county comprises but the eastern portion of the ancient province of Moray, which extended from the Spey on the east to the river Beauly on the west, and from the sea to the Grampians southwards.

Elginshire naturally divides itself into two portions, distinguished not less by physical aspect and geological struc-ture than by the products of the soil—the seaboard and the upland. The surface of the former, as its local name, " laigh o' Moray," implies, is level, rising, however, between the mouth of the Lossie and Burghead, and westward from Elgin, into ridges of some height. Throughout this district the prevailing rock is sandstone, overtopped to the south and east of Elgin, and in several other localities—as at Lossiemouth—by a species of limestone or " cherty rock." From the mouth of the Spey west and south till the gneissose rocks of the uplands are reached, the sandstone is of a dark red colour, and belongs undoubtedly to the Old Bed or Devonian formation. Elsewhere in the district it is grey or yellow, apparently overlying beds of this Old Red, but almost destitute of fossils, except in the coast ridge and the parallel portion of the inland ridge already mentioned, where are the famous reptiliferous strata whose age has lately given rise to so much discussion. Oolitic patches, indicative of a formation of mesozoic age having once existed in the neighbourhood, are also found scattered between Elgin and the sea. Favoured by an ex-cellent climate and rich soil, the lowlands of Moray have been long noted for their fertility. Wheat, barley, and oats are all grown in great perfection, and exotic fruits of various kinds ripen freely in the open air. Since the beginning of the present century, agricultural pursuits have been carried on in a spirit that has greatly increased the natural resources of the district. Within the same period the breeding and rearing of cattle has become one of the most profitable occupations of the farmer; and some of the finest short-horned and polled cattle in Scotland are to be seen here, as well as crosses between these two breeds. On a number of the more extensive farms large flocks of sheep, chiefly Leicesters, are kept all the year round. The upland portion of the county is hilly, gradually rising higher and higher above the level of the sea,—the loftiest of its ridges being the Cromdale hills, one point of which has an elevation of 2328 feet. Here the rocks are metamorphic, with asso-ciated limestones and veins of granite, closely resembling the rocks elsewhere met with around the Grampians, between the Old Red and the central masses of granite and other once molten matter. {Their strike is N.E. and S.W., the same as prevails between Aberdeen and Argyll. The climate of this district is much colder and damper; oats is the principal cereal, barley being confined to the glens and straths; the cattle partake more of the character of the Highland breed; and the blackfaced sheep takes the place of the Leicester.

The rivers of Elginshire are three in number—the Spey in the east, the Lossie in the centre, and the Findhorn in the west. The first of these rises in Badenoch, a district of Inverness-shire, and, after flowing north-east for a distance of about 120 miles (including windings), of which 50 are in Elginshire, falls into the Moray Firth at the village of Garmouth. It is said to be the most rapid river in Scotland, and to discharge a larger volume of water than any other Scottish stream, the Tay alone excepted. The Spey receives a number of tributaries, the chief of which are the Truim, the Dulnain, the Avon, and the Fiddich. The Lossie, by far the smallest of the three, and the only one of them that rises within the boundaries of the county, issues from a small loch of the same name in the uplands, and, after a somewhat tortuous course of about 25 miles, empties itself into the sea at Lossiemouth. The Findhorn, like the Spey, has its source in Inverness-shire, in the western slope of the Monadleadh mountains, which for a number of miles form the watershed between it and the Spey. It then flows through parts of Nairn and Moray shires, and, after running in a north-easterly direction for about 70 miles, of which not more than 11 are within the boundaries of the latter, reaches the sea at the village of Find-horn, where it expands into an estuary of some extent. For seven or eight miles after it enters Morayshire, the scenery along its banks is among the grandest and finest of the kind in Britain. Of all the rivers affected by the memorable rainfall that occurred in the north of Scotland in August 1829, none rose higher or committed greater havoc than the Findhorn. Both the Spey and the Findhorn abound in salmon and grilse, the fisheries for which are very valu-able. West of the estuary of the latter are the Culbin sandhills, some of which, though ever shifting, have an average height of 118 feet. They cover what was 200 years ago an extensive estate, then comprising thousands of acres of the finest land, but now presenting an impressive scene of desolation and solitude. The lochs are small and few in number. The sea coast is very exposed; rocky be-tween Lossiemouth and Burghead, elsewhere low and sandy. Of its few harbours, Burghead is the most sheltered by position; but a good deal has been done by art for that of Lossiemouth, in which a number of vessels may sometimes be seen lying. For a number of years the herring fishery was successfully prosecuted at Lossiemouth, Burghead, Hopeman, and Findhorn, there being one season as many as 120 boats fishing from Lossiemouth alone; but latterly it has been more or less a failure, owing to the herring, for some cause or other, having become scarcer in their old feeding grounds. Large quantities of haddock, cod, and ling are caught in the firth and sent south during the winter and spring. Elginshire is not particularly rich in minerals. No true coal has yet been discovered within its limits; and though iron ore is said to exist in the higher parts, it cannot, owing to the absence of coal, be profitably worked. Lead occurs to the west of Lossiemouth. Attempts formerly made to extract it from the rock in sufficient quantities to prove remunerative failed; but operations lately undertaken give promise of success. The yellow sandstone of the lower district is a building-stone of supe-rior excellence, practically inexhaustible,—the distinct glacial stria;, seen on most of its outcropping strata, prov-ing how capable it is of resisting all atmospheric in-fluence. The rough impracticable gneissose beds of the upper district offer no favourite building-stone, and true slates are unknown. The plantations consist of larch, fir, and to a less extent oak. The country is well wooded, but since the introduction of railways a considerable quantity of timber has been cut down. The forest of Darnaway, on the left bank of the Findhorn, is believed to be a remnant of the natural wood with which a great part of Scotland was once covered. The manufactures are by no means important. Shipbuilding is carried on at the mouth of the Spey, though not on a large scale. The Highland Railway, which traverses Morayshire from east to west, is joined at Alves and Kinloss by branches from Burghead and Findhorn respectively, the latter of these being at present (1878) disused. At Forres the main line of the same railway strikes off for Perth by the valleys, first of the River Findhorn and afterwards of the Spey, the Garry, and the Tay. The Great North of Scot-land Railway has also been extended from Keith to Elgin by a somewhat circuitous route, and is connected with the Highland Railway at Boat of Garten in Strathspey. The Morayshire Railway, joining Elgin to Lossiemouth, the first Line formed north of Aberdeen, is now worked as a branch of the Great North. In 1872 there were in Elginshire 251 owners of land of 1 acre and upwards in extent, the principal among them being the earl of Seafield (Castle Grant), 96,721 ; the earl of Fife (Innes House), 40,951 ; Sir William G. Gordon dimming, Bart. (Altyre House), 36,387 ; the earl of Moray (Darnaway Castle), 21,669 ; and the duke of Richmond and Gordon (Gordon Castle), 12,271. In the same year the annual value of the land in the county was estimated to be upwards of ¿£200,000. The number of inhabited houses was 8452. The aggregate population of the whole county was, in 1831, 34,498 ; in 1841, 35,012; in 1851, 38,959; in 1861, 44,218; in 1871, 43,612. It unites with Nairnshire in returning a member to parliament. In 1877—78 the combined con-stituency was 1837 of which 1555 voters were in Elgin-shire. The county contains 22 parishes. Ecclesiastically it is part of the synod of Moray, the limits of which are nearly co-extensive with those of the ancient province, except that Strathbogie has been added.

There are two royal burghs in Elginshire—Elgin, the county town (for which see below), and Forres. Forres (population in 1871, 3959) must have been a place of some importance at an early date, though it was subsequently overshadowed by the neighbouring burgh or city. Its castle was for 300 years the official residence of the hereditary sheriffs of Moray; and of the lands anciently bestowed upon it by royal favour it still possesses upwards of 1000 acres. The town is pleasantly situated at the foot of the Cluny Hills, several wooded eminences traversed in all directions by public walks that are sheltered alike from the heat of summer and from the cold of winter. On the southern slope of one of them is a large hydropathic establishment. Forres being one of the centres of railway communication in the north, all parts of the country are easily accessible from it. Its most noteworthy memorial of antiquity is Sweno's Stone, one of those remarkable sculptured monuments peculiar to the north-east of Scot-land. Besides the villages on the coast mentioned above, Elginshire contains those of Fochabers, Rothes, and Grantown.

In all parts of the county the oldest names of places are Celtic, showing clearly what race had at one time been in possession of the soil. At the dawn of authentic history we find Macbeth, Ri or Mormaer of Moray, in rebellion against " the gracious Duncan." The sequel is well known. A century or so later there was a great influx of strangers into Moray—Normans, Saxons, and Flemings—who got large grants of land from David I. and his immediate successors. It was in those days that the family of De Moravia became the owners of the fairest part of the province. At the same period, and under the fostering influence of the same kings, the church acquired extensive lands in Moray. In addition to the cathedral at Elgin, there were the abbey of Kinloss, and the priories of Urquhart and Pluscarden, all well endowed. Chief among its ruined castles are Spynie Palace, the country residence of the bishops of Moray ; Duffus, once the home of the De Moravias, and "still the admiration of the antiquary;" Rothes, for centuries the seat of the Leslies; and, built on an island in the middle of a loch of the same name, Lochindorb, which was in the 13th century one of the mountain strongholds of the then powerful family of Comyn. Another interesting locality is the promontory of Burg-head, or "the Broch," as it is still familiarly called, anciently the site of a Christian church, the date of the planting of which there is some evidence to show goes back as far as the days of Columba, and probably the site also of one of those brochs or fortresses so common in the more northern parts of the kingdom, the nationality of whose builders is still a matter of dispute. The headland was afterwards turned, apparently by the destruction of these or other buildings, into a kind of fortified camp, a plan of which has been preserved by General Roy, in his Military An-tiquities of North Britain. Except a remarkable well cut in the solid rock, and of older date at least than the mounds sketched by Roy, few vestiges of the former importance of Burghead now remain.

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