The “New Statistical Report”, written by Rev Alexander Macleod of Baile na Cille in 1833. Reports from other parts of the country can be seen on the Statistical Accounts of Scotland page.
The word Uig is applied to many situations in the Highlands, and signifies a solitary place. It is therefore peculiarly applicable to this Parish, which is situated on the west coast of the Island of Lewis. It is bounded by the Harris mountains on the south; by the Atlantic Ocean on the west; and on the north by a district of the Parish of Lochs, which runs across the island from east to west.
The length of the Parish is 24 miles, including the wide entry of Loch Roag, which runs the distance of 12 miles, from west to east. The breadth of the Parish is 10 miles, and the circumference along the coast 40 miles.
The interior is more mountainous than any other part of Lewis. The hills are intersected by extensive tracts of soft moor and fresh water lakes. The lands, for the most part, along the sea-shore are low and the soil sandy. In the interior the soil is partly clay, but principally mossy, and is everywhere capable of producing forced crops, with the assistance of seaweed for manure.
The bay of Uig is the only notable bay in the Parish: it is one English mile in breadth. Gallon-head is the most prominent point on the coast. It is situated about two miles north of the mouth of the bay of Uig, which is much exposed to the sounding Atlantic.
There are twelve small islands within the bounds of the Parish, exclusive of the Flannan Isles, which are seven in number. Of the former, four are inhabited; the other islands are peculiarly adapted for pasturing sheep and black-cattle. The Flannan Islands are about 15 miles from the mainland of the Parish. They are supposed to have been the residence of ecclesiastics in the time of the Druids; and the ruins of their temples in these lonely islands, and in several other places in this Parish, are still extant.
The atmosphere is ordinarily warm and healthy; but is generally so moist that even deep falls of snow remain no longer than a few days on the ground. Although the weather is damp and hazy, we have not those torrents of rain and hurricanes of winds, to which so many other parts of the Highlands and Islands are subject.
On this coast, the south, south-west, and westerly winds are most prevailing, and in winter and spring are generally accompanied with rain and storm. Hazy weather in winter prognosticates frost, in spring snow, in summer fair weather, and in autumn rain; and it is remarked that, in the stormy months of January and February, the greater number of sea-fowls disappear from this coast, owing to the exposure of the coast in that season to the storms from the Atlantic. The most prevailing distempers in the Parish are rheumatism, colics, and epilepsy among very young infants. If these are not affected with the disease within the ninth or tenth day after their birth, they are not afterwards so subject to it.
The Firth of Loch Roag runs in a south-east direction through the centre of the Parish, the length of twelve miles. In the narrow parts of the channels of this long arm of the sea, the tide runs very rapidly, and the water is very salt.
There are a few small perennial springs in the Parish, arising out of sandy soil; their water is clear and cooling in all seasons.
The Parish abounds with fresh water lakes and lochs, the largest of which do not exceed two miles in length, and one in breadth. They abound with small trout. Their water is of a brownish colour. Flat moor and low hillocks form the scenery of almost all the interior part of Lewis.
There are four rivulets in this Parish, in which salmon is caught, viz. the rivers Grimersta and Ceann Loch, which join the sea at the head of Loch Roag; Resart, which joins the sea at the head of Loch Resart; and the Red River, which discharges itself into the bay ofUig.
Black cattle, sheep and horses, all of the small Highland breed, have been the kinds reared in this Parish, from time immemorial; but of late years, Cheviot and black-faced sheep’have been introduced into this Parish, with considerable success.
Oysters, lobsters and every kind of shellfish are abundant almost on every part of the shores of Loch Roag; and English vessels frequently come here, for several months, to fish lobsters.
James Alexander Stewart McKenzie, Esq. of Seaforth, is the sole land-owner of this Parish. The real rent of the Parish is L. 2535, 2s.6d.
Parochial registers have been kept in this Parish only since the year 1826. There are registers of marriages and births.
On the Flannan Isle, called by Buchanan, Insulae Sacrae, are still extant the ruins of religious houses. At Mealista and Pabbay are the remains of Nunneries; and at Callanish, on the east coast of Loch Roag, there are the very entire remains of a Drudical place of worship; some of the stones in which are so very large, that it is inconceivable by what means they could have been brought to the place. They all stand on end, at the distance of five and six yards from each other, and are in a rough natural state, as taken from the shore.
At Carloway, there is a Danish fort or doune, within the bounds of this Parish, – with a double wall of dry stone, – the largest and most entire I have seen anywhere in Scotland. At the base, it is very broad, and towards the top it gradually contracts. The height of the wall is computed to be about thirty feet. The fabric upon the whole is perfectly circular, and finished in a masterly style. In the year 1831, a considerable number of ivory sculptures resembling chessmen, and which appeared to be of great antiquity, were found in the sands at the head of the bay of Uig, and have been since transmitted to the Antiquarian Society at Edinburgh.
In the year 1824, the manse of Uig was repaired, and a commodious new wing added to it. A new church was built in 1829, which will accommodate 1,000 people; and in this region where there is so little of what might be called architecture, I may notice that several curing houses for cod and ling were erected on the coast in the year 1826; and in 1832, Mr and Mrs Stewart McKenzie of Seaforth erected two commodious school-houses and dwelling-houses for teachers in the districts of Valtos and Callanish, for the religious and moral improvement of the people.
The people of this Parish have always been remarked for their hospitality. They are naturally intelligent, and acute and docile in their dispositions; and have of late years improved much, in cleanliness, morals and religion. The population is on the increase -which may be accounted for by the fact that the people marry young, are in general higher in stature, and of a fresher complexion, than the people of the other parishes on this island, the Gaelic language is the mother tongue, and is as generally and purely spoken now, as it was forty years ago. The people have hardly any public games or amusements of any kind. Their improvement, of late years, in religious knowledge, has been very perceptible, and has taught them to be contented with their circumstances and their situation in life, and to enjoy and value the invaluable privileges of the Gospel dispensation.
The Common Breeds
The small country breeds of sheep, horses and cattle, are still the prevailing breeds of the country. Little or nothing is doing for the improvements of lands – principally, I believe, for want of capital. Still the capabilities of Lewis for cultivation are very great. Husbandry is done by the common and crooked spade; the ground is turned into lazy beds, but might be easily cultivated with the plough, in many parts of the country.
Ever since the failure of the herring fishing in Loch Roag, the cod and ling is that to which the inhabitants have turned their attention. In this, they engage with commendable industry, and are frequently very successful. They cure the fish in shore-houses, and sell it at 4d. per cod, and 7d. per ling. About thirty tons of cod and ling are taken annually: and about 100,000 lobsters are annually exported to the London market. They receive no bounty or any other encouragement, except the price. There are about 80 open boats in the Parish, and one decked vessel.
Kelp is the only manufacture carried on in the Parish: 226 tons are annually manufactured. The people manufacture their home woollen and clothing.
Stornoway is the market town of Lewis, and is thirty miles from the manse of Uig. It is also the only place of a post-office in the whole island.
All the people dwell in little farm villages, in several of which are from 40 to 50 families.
Loch Roag is the principal harbour in the Parish: it is covered with islands. One of them, Large Bernera, is about eight miles long, and inhabited. The whole of this curious and interesting arm of the sea abounds with safe places of anchorage, sufficient to hold the whole British Navy.
The Parish church is situated in the most convenient and centrical part of the Parish; notwithstanding of which, those inhabiting the north and north-east coasts of Loch Roag, are thirteen miles from church. The church was built in the year 1829, and affords accommodation for 1,000 sitters. The manse was repaired with additions (as I have already stated) in 1824. The present incumbent has an arable glebe of no great value, and the amount of stipend is L. 150 Sterling per annum. There is one catechist in the Parish, appointed and principally supported by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. The number of communicants is 60. The parishioners, as circumstances permit, and exigencies demand, make collections for religious and charitable purposes; but the amount of these is small, from the extreme poverty of the inhabitants. There is not a mission or a Government church in the Parish; but there is an extensive field for one of those on the north and north-east coasts of Loch Roag. There are no dissenters of any description within the bounds of the Parish. The people’s appreciation of religious instruction is increasing much; and the attendance on the public ordinances of religion here is probably as punctual and full, as in any Parish in Scotland.
There are at present five schools in the Parish, all of which, excepting the parochail school, are supported by Societies. Three of said schools are supported by the Edinburgh Gaelic School Society, and the fourth by the Inverness Education Society. There are two other English schools soon to be opened at the districts of Valtos and Callanish. The ordinary branches of education are taught at the English schools, and the parochial teacher has the legal accommodations. His salary is L. 28, and his fees amount to about L. 5 a year.
Poor and Parochial Funds
There are 50 persons receiving parochial aid in the Parish. The yearly church collections are very inadequate, indeed, for meeting the exigencies of so many paupers, and their is no other fund for their support; but several of them go about, seeking parochial relief; and the whole of them are partly supported by their own relatives.
There is one inn in the Parish.
Peat moss is the fuel made use of here; of which the people have abundance, and at very little expense.
The failure of the herring fishing in Loch Roag for thirty years back, has contributed to impoverish the people of this Parish. The cultivation of the interior parts of Lewis, wherever practicable, the letting of lands at a very low rent, and giving long leases to the occupiers – would greatly improve the Parish, and ameliorate the condition of the population, now settled everywhere on the sea-shore. The country also requires some branches of roads to the interior, so as to cart lime from any of the harbours. Establishing a hemp or cotton manufactory in any part of Lewis would do much for training a people who have so much idle time on hand, to habits of industry, and for ameliorating their condition.
The happiness and comfort of the people would also be promoted were men of capital to engage in the fishing trade. It is a well known fact, that, of late, there were abundance of herring on the whole coast here, which remained for seven or eight weeks; but most of the inhabitants had no nets that could fish so far out from shore. I am confident that, had there been a number of boats and vessels here upon the herring fishing, their success and profits would have been considerable.