NOTES on Kilmuir, Isle of Syke, Property of Major WILLIAM FRASER.
As showing how little the parish of Kilmuir has progressed in point of rental from early times to this date, as compared with the county of Inverness at large, and thus indicating what scope there may be yet in store for its future development, the following comparison is given. It appears that the valuation roll of the whole county in the year 1644, exclusive of the burgh of Inverness, amounted in pounds Scots to £132,225 :17 : 8, the rental in 1881, in pounds sterling, and exclusive of railways and canals, amounting to £322,873 :17 : 9; increase from pounds Scots to pounds sterling from 1644 to 1881 being about 144 per cent. Now in 1644 the valuation roll of the parish of Kilmuir amounted in pounds Scots to just £3866 :13 : 4, whilst in 1881 it amounts in pounds sterling to £5827 :10 : 6, being an increase from pounds Scots to pounds sterling of only 50 per cent, as against 144 on the part of the whole county, [For further information on the subject, wife an interesting little work on the Land Statistics of Inverness, Ross, and Cromarty, by Hugh C. Fraser, Inverness, from which the above information as to the valuation of 1644 is taken.] whilst in such respect Kilmuir will also bear comparison with other districts similarly placed. Of late years, say from 1854, it would appear that the rate of increase on Kilmuir is about the same as the average rate of the whole county, during that time the parish having increased much in value through improved means of communication, local outlays, and other sources, not omitting the increased value of stock.
It may be mentioned that Skye, until railway communication was opened up a few years ago to Strome Ferry, was, as compared with many parts of Invernessshire, very remote, whilst farm husbandry in the island has to a great extent gone on much in the old way, which applies very much to Kilmuir, that parish having only recently been opened up by good roads. It may be also added that in the olden time Kilmuir parish formed a much more important district than of late. Duntulm Castle, known as the ancient seat of the Lords of the Isles, occupied its position in the northern extremity of the parish, whilst a noted monastery, dedicated to St Columba, stood on an island on Loch Columkill, not far from the present residence of Monkstadt, which became the mansion of the Macdonald estates on Duntulm Castle being disused. These great places naturally had their smaller surroundings, and it was probably in part owing to all such, in conjunction with the fact of there being such a great extent of good land throughout the parish, that much attention was at one time drawn to it, whilst the decrease of the importance of the neighbourhood has for a time, perhaps, caused the district to be now comparatively less known and enquired after, unless by those interested in the noted sheep and cattle of the district, and by travellers visiting Quiraing and other spots of interest in that picturesque neighbourhood. It was thus that, owing to its early fame, an attempt was made in 1598 to improve the lands of Kilmuir by letting such to an influential Lowland company, and which transaction might have been attended with good results, were it not that succeeding feuds betwixt the clans of Macdonald and Macleod desolated the district, and in time put an end to the arrangement. Such, indeed, was the character of Kilmuir as an arable district, that it was formerly known as the ' Granary of Skye.' It is so referred to by Pennant, who travelled through it in the year 1772, and it was on his way there that, passing through Uig, he noticed the heavy crops waving with the breeze, and thus described that place as ' laughing with com.' As to Loch Columkill, it is now drained, its former bed forming an expanse of rich alluvial soil, annually yielding great crops of hay. The lake extended to nearly 300 acres; the work of draining it became a heavy one during the years it occupied, the outlet from what was lake to the sea being nearly a mile in length, whilst part of it is 35 feet deep, and 114 feet wide at the top, gradually sloping in to 9 feet wide at the bottom.
Dean Munro, in his work of 1594, refers to the ' fertill land in Skye excelling aney uther ground for grassing and pastoures;' whilst Martin, who writes in 1716, in remarking on the arable land in parts of Skye, speaks of the soil 'as ' very grateful to the husbandman,' and mentions the great returns of oats and barley that he heard of in certain places. He also speaks of ' Lochuge as a proper place for settling a magazine or colony,' being one of the places most abounding with fish. MacCulloch, in his instructive work of 1824, also refers to the ' Plain of Kilmuir, emphatically called the Granary of Skye.' Perhaps the most exhaustive work on the agriculture of the Hebrides yet published is that drawn up under the direction of the Board of Agriculture in the year 1811. The following is an extract from it:—
' In parish of Kilmuir, in the fine district of Trottemish, there are 4000 acres of as fine loam and clay upon a gravelly bottom as are to be found in Scotland. With good management, that land would, in Skye, be worth three guineas per acre, in East Lothian five. Some fields have been under crops of barley and oats without any rest for twenty years, and with scarcely any manure. The whole district is admirably calculated for turnip husbandry, and for the established rotations of crops on the best of soils.' It may be added that the system of farming generally pursued continues much the same as it was in 1811, and consequently portions of the lands have since been almost continuously kept under grain crops, still producing very much better returns than could possibly be expected under such a mode of agriculture. Also, owing to circumstances, the lands generally are not at present laid out to best advantage, but when this is remedied, and a general system of improvement is entered upon, much may be hoped for under it, and the present revenues of the district will then prove no criterion of what they may be brought to, whilst the agriculture and fishing populations may expect to reap as much benefit from the works to be carried out, as may accrue to the employers from their labour. Should any of the minerals prove workable, or should any works be started,—such as the manufacture of Roman cement, as has been already proposed, or of porcelain,—such of course would form invaluable sources of industry in the district. As to harbours, that of Uig, by the erection of suitable quays, might be converted into an excellent one for general purposes; that of Duntulm, overlooked by the ruins of the old castle, is also available, as well as that of Cuidrach, the present residence being on its north side; whilst Castle Uistean lies to the south of it, not far from the ruin of Peinduin, also on the same farm, and once the residence of ' Flora Macdonald.'
The following is a state of the acreage of the farms and townships and average rents per acre, payable by the tenants 'in cumulo' on the estate of Kilmuir, which includes the parish of Kilmuir and a division of the parish of Snizort, also the average rents per acre of the large tenants, or tenants of farms and the average rente per acre of the small tenants, or tenants of townships:—
A. R. P.
Farms Arable, & c , . . . 4,561 – 2 - 33
Farms Pasture, &c., . . . 17,882 - 2 - 26
22,444 - 1 - 19
Townships Arable, &c., . 4,149 - 1 - 0
Townships Pasture, &c, . 18,402 - 3 - 11
22,552 - 0 - 11
44,996 - 1 - 30
Practically, then, the estate consists of say 45,000 acres, of which say one-half, or 22,500 acres, are possessed as farms, and other 22,500 acres as townships. The rental of 22,500 acres of farms as from
Whitsunday 1881 to Whitsunday 1882 is £4071/15/0
And rental of 22,500 acres of townships is £3000/6/6, totalling £7072/1/6
Thus the whole estate pays per acre rather under £0/3/1¾
The farms pay rather under £0/3/7½
The townships pay exactly £0/2/8
About one-fifth of the land of the farms is arable, whilst the proportion of the arable land of the townships is rather less, being betwixt a fifth and a sixth; but nevertheless much more land is tilled by the small tenants than by the large ones, so much of the arable land on the large farms being kept under grass.
For past two years a temporary abatement of twenty-five per cent has been taken off the townships, so that for that period the townships have paid only 2s. per acre over arable and pasture lands, and that notwithstanding the nature of the soil, and the unusually large proportion of arable land to pasture land for a Highland estate.