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Letter XIII: Northern Scotland: Part 3

It is twenty Scots miles from Dundee to Montrose, the way pleasant, the country fruitful and bespangled, as the sky in a clear night with stars of the biggest magnitude, with gentlemen's houses, thick as they can be supposed to stand with pleasure and conveniency. Among these is the noble palace of Penmure, forfeited in the late rebellion by the unfortunate Earl of Penmure, who was himself wounded in the fight near Dumblain, and with that action ruined a noble and ancient family, and a fine estate. The surname of the family is Maul, and Maulsburgh, a small port near Montrose, bears the name still to posterity.

The town and port of Montrose, vulgarly, but ignorantly, called Montross, was our next stage, standing upon the eastmost shore of Angus, open to the German, or, if you please now, the Caledonian ocean, and at the mouth of the little River South Esk, which makes the harbour.

We did not find so kind a reception among the common people of Angus, and the other shires on this side the country, as the Scots usually give to strangers: But we found it was because we were English men; and we found that their aversion did not lye so much against us on account of the late successes at, and after the rebellion, and the forfeiture of the many noblemen's and gentlemen's estates among them as fell on that occasion, though that might add to the disgust: But it was on account of the Union, which they almost universally exclaimed against tho' sometimes against all manner of just reasoning.

This town of Montrose is a sea-port, and, in proportion to its number of inhabitants, has a considerable trade, and is tolerably well built, and capable of being made strong, only that it extends too far in length.

The French fleet made land at this port, when they had the Pretender on board, in the reign of Queen Ann, having overshot the mouth of the firth so far, whither they had first designed: But this mistake, which some thought a misfortune, was certainly a deliverance to them; for as this mistake gave time to the English fleet to come up with them, before they could enter the firth, so it left them time and room also to make their escape, which, if they had been gone up the firth, they could never have done, but must inevitably have been all burnt and destroyed, or taken by the British fleet under Sir George Bing, which was superior to them in force.

From Montrose the shore lies due north to Aberdeen: by the way is the castle of Dunnoter, a strong fortification, upon a high precipice of a rock, looking down on the sea, as on a thing infinitely below it. The castle is walled about with invincible walls, said the honest Scots man that shewed us the road to it, having towers at proper distances, after the old way of fortifying towns.

This was chiefly made use of as a prison for State-prisoners; and I have seen a black account of the cruel usage the unhappy prisoners have met with there; but those times are over with Scotland. The Earl Marshal, of the name of Keith, was the lord of this castle, as also of a good house near it, but not a great estate, and what he had is now gone; for being in the late rebellion his estate is forfeited; and we are told his Lordship, making his escape, is now in the service of Spain, where he commands an Irish regiment of foot.

From hence there is nothing remarkable till we come to Aberdeen, a place so eminent, that it commands some stay upon it; yet, I shall contract its description as much as possible, the compass of my work being so great, and the room I have for it so small.

Aberdeen is divided into two towns or cities, and stands at the mouth of two rivers; the towns are the new and the old Aberdeen, about a mile distant from one another, one situate on the River Don or Dune, the other on the River Dee, from whence it is supposed to take its name; for Aber, in the old British language, signifies a mouth, or opening of a river, the same which in Scotland is understood by a frith or firth: So that both these towns are described in the name: Aberdee, the mouth of the River Dee, and Aberdeen, the mouth of the River Don. So in the south-west part of the shores of Britain, and in Wales, we have Aberconway, the mouth of the River Conway, Aberistwith, and several others.

The old Aberdeen, on the bank of the Don, must, without doubt, be very ancient; for they tell us the new Aberdeen is supposed to be upwards of 1200 years old. Nor do any of their registers tell us the particular time of its being built, or by whom. The cities are equally situated for trade, being upon the very edge of the sea; and 'tis the common opinion, that part of the old city was washed down by the sea; so that it obliged the citizens to build farther off: This part was that they called the monastery, and this may give rise to that opinion, that thereupon they went and built the New Aberdeen upon the bank of the other river, and which, 'tis evident, is built upon a piece of hilly ground, or upon three hills: But this is all conjecture, and has only probability to support it, not any thing of history.

Old Aberdeen is also on one side the county, and new Aberdeen on another, though both in that which is called in general the county of Marr. The extraordinaries of Aberdeen, take both the cities together, are


The fishery is very particular; the salmon is a surprising thing, the quantity that is taken in both rivers, but especially in the Dee, is a kind of prodigy; the fishing, or property, is erected into a company, and divided into shares, and no person can enjoy above one share at a time; the profits are very considerable, for the quantity of fish taken is exceeding great, and they are sent abroad into several parts of the world, particularly into France, England, the Baltick, and several other parts.

The herring-fishing is a common blessing to all this shore of Scotland, and is like the Indies at their door; the merchants of Aberdeen cannot omit the benefit, and with this they are able to carry on their trade to Dantzick and Koningsberg, Riga and Narva, Wybourgh and Stockholm, to the more advantage.

They have a very good manufacture of linnen, and also of worsted stockings, which they send to England in great quantities, and of which they make some so fine, that I have seen them sold for fourteen, and twenty shillings a pair. They alsa send them over to Holland, and into the north and east seas in large quantities.

They have also a particular export here of pork, pickled and packed up in barrels, which they chiefly sell to the Dutch for the victualling their East-India ships and their men of war, the Aberdeen pork having the reputation of being the best cured, for keeping on very long voyages, of any in Europe.

They export also corn and meal, but they generally bring it from the Firth of Murray, or Cromarty, the corn coming from about Inverness where they have great quantities.

In a word, the people of Aberdeen are universal merchants, so far as the trade of the northern part of the world will extend. They drive a very great trade to Holland, to France, to Hambrough, to Norway, to Gottenburgh, and to the Baltick; and it may, in a word, be esteemed as the third city in Scotland, that is to say, next after Edinburgh and Glasgow.

From Aberdeen the coast goes on to a point of land, which is the farthest north-east part of Britain, and is called by the sailors Buchanness, being in the shire or county of Buchan. It was to this point the French squadron, with the Pretender on board, in the reign of Queen Ann, kept their flight in sight of the shore, being thus far pursued by Sir George Bing with the English fleet: But from hence steering away north-east, as if for the Norway coast, and the English admiral seeing no probability of coming up with them, gave over the chase, when they, altering their course in the night, stood away south, and came back to Dunkirk where they set out.

Upon this part are several good towns; as particularly Peter-Head; a good market-town, and a port with a small harbour for fishing vessels, but no considerable trade, Aberdeen being so near.

This country, however remote, is full of nobility and gentry, and their seats are seen even to the extremest shores: The family of Frazer carrys its name to Fraserburgh, on the very norther-most point of the county. Ereskines, Earls of Marr, have their family seat at Kildrummy, in the county of Marr, a little south of this part of the country, where the late unhappy earl first set up his standard of the Pretender. The Hayes, Earls of Errol, are in Buchan; and the family of Forbes, Lord Forbes, and Forbes Lord Pitsligo, are still farther, and the latter on the very shore of the Caledonian Ocean.

Nor does the remote situation hinder, but these gentlemen have the politest and brightest education and genius of any people so far north, perhaps, in the world, being always bred in travel abroad, and in the universities at home. The Lord Pitsligo, just mentioned, though unhappily drawn into the snare of the late insurrection, and forfeiting his estate with the rest, yet carries abroad with him, where-ever he goes, a bright genius, a head as full of learning and sound judgment, and a behaviour as polite, courtly, and full of all the good qualities that adorn a noble birth, as most persons of quality I ever saw.

Mr. Cambden relates, that on the coast of this country a great piece of amber was driven on shore by the force of the sea, as big, to use his own words, as a horse. I shall add nothing to the story, because 'tis hard to give credit to it; it is enough that I name my author, for I could not learn from the inhabitants that they ever saw any more of it.

From hence, the east shore of Scotland being at an end, the land trends away due west; and the shire of Bamf beginning, you see the towns of Bamff, Elgin, and the famous monastery of Kinloss, where the murthered body of King Duff was, after many years, dug up, and discovered to be the same by some tokens, which, it seems, were undoubted.

From this point of the land, I mean Buchan-Ness, the ships take their distances, or accounts, for their several voyages; and what they call their departure: As in England, they do from Winterton-Ness, on the north-east part of Norfolk, or in the Downs for the voyages to the Southward.

From Fifeness, which is the northermost point, or head land on the mouth of Edinburgh Firth, being the southermost land of Fife, to this point of Buchan-Ness, the land lyes due north and south, and the shore is the eastermost land of Scotland; the distance between them is thirty-three leagues one mile, that is just 100 miles; though the mariners say that measuring by the sea it is but twenty-eight; and from Winterton-Ness, near Yarmouth, to this point called Buchan-Ness, is just 300 miles.

The river, or Firth of Tay, opens into the sea, about four leagues north from Fife-Ness; and as there is a light-house on the Isle of May, in the mouth of the Firth of Forth of Edinburgh, a little south of this point called Fife-Ness; so there are two light-houses at the entrance of the Firth of Tay, being for the directions of the sailors, when they are bound into that river; and particularly for their avoiding and sailing between two sands or shoals, which lye off from the south side of the entrance.

This point of land, called Buchan-Ness, is generally the first land of Great Britain, which the ships make in their voyages home from Arch-Angel in Russia, or from their whale-fishing-voyages to Greenland and Spits-Berghen in the north seas; and near this point, namely, at Pitsligo, a great ship was cast away in Queen Elizabeth's time, bound home from Arch-Angel, in which was the first ambassador, which the great Duke of Muscovy sent to any of the Christian princes of Europe, and who was commissioned to treat with Queen Elizabeth for a league of peace and commerce; and on board which was a most valuable present to the queen of rich and costly furrs; such as sables, errnine, black fox skins, and such like, being in those days esteemed inestimable. The ambassadors, it seems, were saved and brought on shore by the help of the people of Pitsligo; but the ship and all the goods, and among them the rich furrs, intended for the queen, were all lost, to her Majesty's great disappointment; for the queen valued such fine things exceedingly.

At the town of Peter-Head there is a small harbour with two small piers; but it is all dry at low-water: So that the smallest ships lye a-ground, and can only go in and out at high-water, and then only small vessels.

From this point of easterly land all that great bay, or inlet of the sea, reaching quite to the north of Scotland, is called Murray Firth; and the northermost point is Dungsby Head, which is the east point of Caithness, and opens to Pentland Firth. By Pentland Firth you are to understand the passage of the sea beyond Caithness, that is to say between Scotland and the Isles of Orkney. This bay, called Murray-Firth, is not in the nature of a firth, as that of Edinburgh or Tay, being the mouths of rivers; as the Humber, or the mouth of Thames in England: but it is an open gulph or bay in the sea; as the Bay of Biscay, or the Gulph of Mexico are, and such-like: and though it may receive several rivers into it, as indeed it does, and as those bays do; yet itself is an open sea, and reaches from, as I have said, Peter-Head to Dungsby Head, opposite to the Orkneys; the distance upon the sea twenty-six leagues one mile, or seventy-nine miles; but it is almost twice as far by land, because of the depth of that bay, which obliges us to travel from Pitsligo, west, near seventy miles, till we come to Inverness.

This country of Buchan, is, indeed, more to be taken notice of from what is to be seen on the sea-shore than in the land; for the country is mountainous, poor, and more barren than its neighbours; but as we coasted along west, we came into a much better country, particularly the shires of Bamff, Elgin, and the country of Murray, from whence the bay, I just now mentioned, is called Murray Firth.

Murray is, indeed, a pleasant country, the soil fruitful, watered with fine rivers, and full of good towns, but especially of gentlemen's seats, more and more remarkable than could, indeed, be expected by a stranger in so remote a part of the country. The River Spey, which even Mr. Cambden himself calls a noble river, passes through the middle of the country. Upon the bank of this river the Duke of Gordon has a noble seat called after his name, Castle-Gordon. It is, indeed, a noble, large, and ancient seat; as a castle much is not to be said of it, for old fortifications are of a small import, as the world goes now: But as a dwelling or palace for a nobleman, it is a very noble, spacious, and royal building; 'tis only too large, and appears rather as a great town than as a house.

The present duke has been embroiled a little in the late unhappy affair of the Pretender; but he got off without a forfeiture, having prudently kept himself at a distance from them til he might see the effect of things. The duke has several other seats in this part of the country; and, which is still better, has a very great estate.

All the country, on the west side of the Spey, is surprisingly agreeable, being a flat, level country, the land rich and fruitful, well peopled, and full of gentlemen's seats. This country is a testimony how much the situation of the land is concerned in the goodness of the climate; for here the land being level and plain, for between twenty and thirty miles together, the soil is not only fruitful and rich, but the temperature of the air is softened, and made mild and suitable to the fruitfulness of the earth; for the harvest in this country, and in the vale of Strath-Bogy, and all the country to Inverness, is not only forward and early, as well as rich and strong; but 'tis more early than in Northumberland, nay, than it is in Darbyshire, and even than in some parts of the most southerly counties in England; as particularly in the east of Kent.

As a confirmation of this, I affirm that I have seen the new wheat of this country and Innerness brought to market to Edinburgh, before the wheat at Edinburgh has been fit to reap; and yet the harvest about Edinburgh is thought to be as forward as in most parts, even of England itself. In a word, it is usual for them to begin their harvest, in Murray and the country about it, in the month of July, and it is not very unusual to have new corn fully ripe and threshed out, shipped off, and brought to Edinburgh to sale, within the month of August.

Nor is the forwardness of the season the only testimony of the goodness of the soil here; but the crops are large, the straw strong and tall, and the ear full; and that which is still more the grain, and that particularly of the wheat, is as full, and the kind as fine, as any I have seen in England.

In this rich country is the city, or town rather, of Elgin; I say city, because in ancient time the monks claimed it for a city; and the cathedral shews, by its ruins, that it was a place of great magnificence. Nor must it be wondered at, if in so pleasant, so rich, and so agreeable a part of the country, all the rest being so differing from it, the clergy should seat themselves in a proportioned number, seeing we must do them the justice to say, that if there is any place richer and more fruitful, and pleasant than another, they seldom fail to find it out.

As the country is rich and pleasant, so here are a great many rich inhabitants, and in the town of Elgin in particular; for the gentlemen, as if this was the Edinburgh, or the court, for this part of the island, leave their Highland habitations in the winter and come and live here for the diversion of the place and plenty of provisions; and there is, on this account, a great variety of gentlemen for society, and that of all parties and of all opinions. This makes Elgin a very agreeable place to live in, notwithstanding its distance, being above 450 measured miles from London, and more, if we must go by Edinburgh.

This rich country continues with very little intermission, till we come to Strath-Nairn, that is the valley of Nairn, where it extends a little farther in breadth towards the mountains. Nor is Strath-Nairn behind any of the other in fruitfulness: From the western part of this country you may observe that the land goes away again to the north; and, as if you were to enter into another island beyond Britain, you find a large lake or inlet from the Sea of Murray, mentioned above, going on west, as if it were to cut through the island, for we could see no end of it; nor could some of the country people tell us how far it went, but that it reached to Loquabre: so that we thought, till our maps and farther inquiries informed us, it had joined to the western ocean.

After we had travelled about twelve miles, and descended from a rising ground, which we were then upon, we perceived the lake contracted in one particular place to the ordinary size of a river, as if designed by nature to give passage to the inhabitants to converse with the northern part; and then, as if that part had been sufficiently performed, it opened again to its former breadth, and continued in the form of a large lake, as before, for many more miles than we could see; being in the whole, according to Mr. Cambden, twenty-three miles long; but if it be taken on both sides the pass, 'tis above thirty-five miles in length.

This situation must necessarily make the narrow part be a most important pass, from the south part of Scotland to the northern countries, which are beyond it. We have been told the Romans never conquered thus far; and those that magnify the conquests of Oliver Cromwell in Scotland to a height beyond what was done by the Romans, insist much upon it, that the Romans never came into this part of the country: But, if what Mr. Cambden records, and what is confirmed by other accounts from the men of learning and of observation, this must be a mistake; for Mr. Cambden says, that near Bean-Castle in the county of Nairn, there was found, in the year 1460, a fine marble vessel finely carved, which was full of Roman coins of several sorts; also several old forts or mounts have been seen here, which, by their remains, evidently shewed themselves to be Roman: But that enquiry is none of my work.

In the narrow pass (mentioned above over the lake) stands the town and fortress of Inner-Ness, that is a town on the inner bank of the River Ness. The situation of it, as I have said before, intimates that it is a place of strength; and accordingly it has a castle, founded in ancient times to command the pass: And some authors write that it was anciently a royal house for the kings of Scotland. Be that as it will, Oliver Cromwell thought it a place of such importance, that he built a strong citadel here, and kept a stated garrison always in it, and sometimes more than a garrison, finding it needful to have a large body of his old veteran troops posted here to preserve the peace of the country, and keep the Highlands in awe, which they did effectually ail his time.

Here it is observed, that at the end of those troublesome days, when the troops on all sides came to be disbanded, and the men dispersed, abundance of the English soldiers settled in this fruitful and cheap part of the country, and two things are observed from it as the consequence.

They have also much of the English way of living among them, as well in their manner of dress and customs, as also of their eating and drinking, and even of their dressing and cookery, which we found here much more agreeable to English stomachs than in other parts of Scotland; all which, and several other usages and customs, they retain from the settling of three regiments of English soldiers here, after they were disbanded, and who had, at least many of them, their wives and children with them.

The fort, which was then built, and since demolished, has been restored since the revolution; and a garrison was always kept here by King William, for the better regulating the Highlands; and this post was of singular importance in the time of the late insurrection of the Lord Marr for the Pretender; when, though his party took it, they were driven out again by the country, with the assistance of the Earl of Sutherland, and several other of the nobility and gentry, who stood fast to the king's interest.

Here is a stately stone bridge of seven large arches over the River Ness, where, as I said above, it grows narrow between the sea and the lake; small vessels may come up to the town, but larger ships, when such come thither, as they often do for corn, lye at some distance east from the town.

When you are over this bridge you enter that which we truly call the north of Scotland, and others the north Highlands; in which are several distinct shires, but cannot call for a distinct description, because it is all one undistinguished range of mountains and woods, overspread with vast, and almost uninhabited rocks and steeps filled with deer innumerable, and of a great many kinds; among which are some of those the ancients called harts and roebucks, with vast overgrown stags and hinds of the red deer kind, and with fallow-deer also.

And here, before I describe this frightful country, it is needful to observe that Scotland may be thus divided into four districts, or distinct quarters, which, however, I have not seen any of our geographers do before me, yet, I believe, may not be an improper measurement for such as would form a due idea of the whole in their minds, as follows:

Upon the foot of this division I am now, having passed the bridge over the Ness, entered upon the third division of Scotland. called the North Land; and it is of this country that, as I am saying, the mountains are so full of deer, harts, roe-bucks etc.

Here are also a great number of eagles which breed in the woods, and which prey upon the young fawns when they first fall. Some of these eagles are of a mighty large kind, such as are not to be seen again in those parts of the world.

Here are also the best hawks of all the kinds for sport which are in the kingdom, and which the nobility and gentry of Scotland make great use of; for not this part of Scotland only, but all the rest of the country abounds with wild-fowl.

The rivers and lakes also in all this country are prodigiously full of salmon; it is hardly credible what the people relate of the quantity of salmon taken in these rivers, especially in the Spey, the Nairn, the Ness, and other rivers thereabout. The several countries beyond the Ness are: Ross; Sutherland; Caithness; Strathnaver; and beyond those the islands of Orkney and Shetland.

The Earl of Sutherland has a castle beyond Innerness, called Dunrobin, situate on the eastern shore, which his lordship was sent down by sea to take an early possession of in the late rebellion; and which, if he had not done, would soon have fallen into the hands of the late Earl of Marr's party; but by his coming timely thither it was prevented, and the country on that side kept from joining the troops of the Pretender, at least for that time.

Innerness is a pleasant, clean, and well built town: There are some merchants in it, and some good share of trade. It consists of two parishes, and two large, handsome streets, but no public buildings of any note, except as above, the old castle and the bridge.

North of the mouth of this river is the famous Cromarty Bay, or Cromarty Firth, noted for being the finest harbour, with the least business, of, perhaps, any in Britain; 'tis, doubtless, a harbour or port, able to receive the Royal Navy of Great Britain, and, like Milford-Haven in Wales, both the going in and out safe and secure: But as there is very little shipping employed in these parts, and little or no trade, except for corn, and in the season of it some fishing, so this noble harbour is left intirely useless in the world.

Our geographers seem to be almost as much at a loss in the description of this north part of Scotland, as the Romans were to conquer it; and they are obliged to fill it up with hills and mountains, as they do the inner parts of Africa, with lyons and elephants, for want of knowing what else to place there. Yet this country is not of such difficult access, as to be passed undescribed, as if it were impenetrable; here being on the coast Dornoch a Royal Burgh, situate upon the sea, opposite to that which they call Tarbat Bay, eminent for the prodigious quantity of herrings taken, or, which rather might be taken here in their season. There is a castle here belonging also to the Earl of Sutherland, and it was the seat of a bishop; but the cathedral, which is but mean, is now otherwise employed.

All the country beyond this river, and the Loch flowing into it, is called Caithness, and extends to the northermost land in Scotland.

Some people tell us they have both lead, copper, and iron in this part of Scotland, and I am very much inclined to believe it: but it seems reserved for a future, and more industrious age to search into; which, if it should happen to appear, especially the iron, they would no more have occasion to say, that nature furnished them with so much timber, and woods of such vast extent to no purpose, seeing it may be all little enough to supply the forges for working up the iron stone, and improving that useful product: And should a time come when these hidden treasures of the earth should be discovered and improved, this part of Scotland may no longer be called poor, for such a production would soon change the face of things, bring wealth and people, and commerce to it; fill their harbours full of ships, their towns full of people; and, by consuming the provisions, bring the soil to be cultivated, its fish cured, and its cattle consumed at home, and so a visible prosperity would shew itself among them.

Nor are the inhabitants so wild and barbarous as, perhaps, they were in those times, or as our writers have pretended. We see every day the gentlemen born here; such as the Mackenzies, McLeans, Dundonalds, Gordons, McKays, and others, who are named among the clans as if they were barbarians, appear at court, and in our camps and armies, as polite, and as finished gentlemen as any from other countries, or even among our own; and, if I should say, outdoing our own in many things, especially in arms and gallantry, as well abroad as at home. But I am not writing panegyricks or satyrs here, my business is with the country. There is no room to doubt, but in this remote part of the island the country is more wild and uncultivated, as it is mountainous, and (in some parts) thinner of inhabitants, than in the more southern parts of the island.

Here are few towns, but the people live dispersed, the gentry leading the commons or vassals, as they are called, to dwell within the respective bounds of their several clans, where they are, as we may say, little monarchs, reigning in their own dominions; nor do the people know any other sovereign, at least many of them do not.

This occasions the people to live dispersed among the hills without any settled towns. Their employment is chiefly hunting, which is, as we may say, for their food; though they do also breed large quantities of black cattle, with which they pay their lairds or leaders the rent of the lands: And these are the cattle which, even from the remotest parts, as well as from other in the west and south, are driven annually to England to be sold, and are brought up even to London, especially into the countries of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex.

Having thus, as I say, few or no towns to describe north of Innerness, it must suffice that I thus give a just description of the country in general: For example, it is surrounded with the sea, and those two great inlets of water, mentioned above, called the Ness and the Abre: So that except a small part, or neck of land, reaching from one to the other, and which is not above six miles, I mean that country which Mr. Cambden calls the Garrow, or Glengarrough, others Glengary; I say, this neck of land excepted, the whole division, as formed above under the head of the North Land, would be a distinct island, separated from all the rest of Great Britain, as effectually as the Orkneys or the Isle of Skey is separated from this.

In a word, the great Northern Ocean surrounds this whole part of Scotland; that part of it to the east, mentioned just now, lyes open to the sea without any cover; the west and north parts are, as it were, surround-ed with out-works as defences, to break off the raging ocean from the north; for the western islands on one side, and the Orkneys on the other, lye as so many advanced fortifications or redoubts, to combat that enemy at a distance. I shall view them in their course.

From Dunrobin Castle, which, I mentioned before, you have nothing of note offers itself, either by sea or land; but an extended shore lying north and south without towns and without harbours, and indeed, as there are none of the first, so there are wanting none of the last; for, as I said Cromarty Bay, there is a noble harbour without ships or trade; so here nature, as if providentially foreseeing there was no room for trade, forbore giving herself the trouble to form harbours and creeks where they should be useless, and without people.

The land thus extended as above, lyes north and south to Dungsby-Head, which is the utmost extent of the land on the east side of Britain, north, and is distant from Cromarty eighteen leagues north. This point of Dingsby, or Dungsby-Head, is in the north part, as I observed of Buchan and Winterton before; 'tis the place from whence the sailors take their distances, and keep their accounts in their going farther north; as for example; From this point of DDungsby-Head to the Fair Isle, which is the first of Shetland, or the last of the Orkneys, call it which we will, for it lyes between both, is 25 leagues, 75 miles.

From the same Dingsby-Head to Sumburgh-Head, that is to Shetland, is 32 leagues, 96 miles, and to Lerwick Fort in Shetland no miles.

Thus from Buchan-Ness to Sumburgh-Head, in Shetland, is 47 leagues.

And from Winterton Ness near Yarmouth, on the coast of Norfolk, to Buchan Ness, on the coast of Aberdeen, is just 100 leagues. So from Winterton to Shetland is 147 leagues, 441 miles.

But this is the proper business of the mariners. I am now to observe that we are here at the extreme end or point of the island of Great Britain; and that here the land bears away west, leaving a large strait or sea, which they call Pentland Firth, and which divides, between the island of Great Britain, and the isles of the Orkneys; a passage broad and fair, for 'tis not less than five leagues over, and with a great depth of water; so that any ships, or fleets of ships may go thro' it: But the tides are so fierce, so uncertain, and the gusts and suddain squalls of wind so frequent, that very few merchants-ships care to venture thro' it; and the Dutch East-India ships, which come north about, (as 'tis called) in their return from India, keep all farther off, and choose to come by Fair Isle, that is to say, in the passage between the islands of Orkney and Shetland. And here the Dutch send their squadron of men of war generally to meet them, because, as if it were in a narrow lane, they are sure to meet with them there.

Here the passage is not only broader; for it is at least nine leagues from north Ranalsha, the farthest island of the Orkneys, to Fair Isle, and five more from Fair Isle to Shetland: So that they have a passage of fourteen leagues between the Orkneys and Shetland, with only a small island in the way, which has nothing dangerous about it; also the mountainous country being now all out of reach; the sea is open and calm, as in other places; nor is there any dangerous current or shoals to disturb them.

In the passage, between the lands end of Britain and the Orkneys, is a small island, which our mariners call Stroma, Mr. Cambden and others Sowna; 'tis spoken much of as dangerous for ships: But I see no room to record any thing of that kind any more than that there are witches and spirits haunting it, which draw ships on shore to their misfortunes. Such things I leave to the people who are of the opinion the Devil has such retreats for doing mischief; for my own part I believe him employed in business of more moment.

Letter 13 Part 4

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