The island of North-Uist lies about three leagues to the south of the island of Harris, being in form of a semicircle, the diameter of which looks to the east, and is mountainous and full of heath, and fitter for pasturage than cultivation. The west side is of a quite different soil - arable and plain. The whole is in length from south to north nine miles, and about thirty in circumference.
There are four mountains in the middle, two lie within less than a mile of each other and are called South and North Lee. All the hills and heath afford good pasturage, though it consists as much of heath as grass. The arable ground hath a mixture of clay in some places; and it is covered all over in summer time and harvest with clover, daisy, and variety of other plants, pleasant to the sight, and of a very fragrant smell; and abounds with black cattle and sheep. The soil is very grateful to the husbandman, yielding a produce of barley from ten to thirty fold in a plentiful year, provided the ground be manured with sea-ware and that it have rain proportionable to the soil. I have upon several occasions enquired concerning the produce of barley in this and the neighboring islands, the same being much doubted in the south of Scotland, as well as in England; and, upon the whole, I have been assured by the most ancient and industrious of the natives that the increase is the same as mentioned before in Harris.
They told me likewise that a plot of ground which hath lain unmanured for some years, would in a plentiful season produce fourteen ears of barley from one grain; and several ridges were then showed me of this extraordinary growth in different places. The grain sown here is barley, oats, rye; and it is not to be doubted but the soil would also produce wheat. The way of village here is commonly by ploughing, and some by digging. The ordinary plough is drawn by four horses, and they have a little plough also called ristle, i.e., a thing that cleaves, the culter of which is in form of a sickle; and it is drawn sometimes by one and sometimes by two horses, according as the ground is. The design of this little plough is to draw a deep line in the ground, to make it the more easy for the big plough to follow, which otherwise would be much retarded by the strong roots of bent lying deep in the ground, that are cut by the little plough. When they dig with spades it produce the more increase. The little plough is likewise used to facilitate digging as well as ploughing. They continue to manure the ground until the tenth of June, if they have plenty of braggir, i.e., the broad leaves growing on the top of the Alga-Marina.
About a league and a half to the south of the island Hermetra in Harris lies Loch Maddy, so-called from the three rocks without the entry on the south side. They are called Maddies from the great quantity of big mussels, called Maddies, that grows upon them. This harbour is capacious enough for some hundreds of vessels of any burden. It hath several isles within it, and they contribute to the security of the harbour, for a vessel may safely come close to the quay. The seamen divide the harbour in two parts, calling the south side Loch Maddy, and the north side Loch Partan. There is one island in the south loch which for its commodiousness is by the English called Nonsuch. This loch hath been famous for the great quantity of herrings yearly taken in it within these fifty years last past. The natives told me, that in the memory of some yet alive, there had been 400 sail loaded in it with herrings at one season; but it is not now frequented for fishing, though the herrings do still abound in it; and on this coast every summer and harvest, the natives sit angling on the rocks, and as they pull up their hooks do many times bring up herrings. That they are always on the coast appears from the birds, whales, and other fishes that are their forerunners everywhere; and yet it is strange that in all this island there is not one herring net to be had; but if the natives saw any encouragement, they could soon provide them. Cod, ling, and all sorts of fish taken in these islands, abound in and about this lake.
In this harbour there is a small island called Vacksay, in which there is still to be seen the foundation of a house, built by the English, for a magazine to keep their casks, salt, etc., for carrying on a great fishery which was then begun there. The natives told me that King Charles the First had a share in it. This lake, with the convenience of its fishings and islands, is certainly capable of great improvement; much of the ground about the bay is capable of cultivation, and affords a great deal of fuel, as turf, peats, and plenty of fresh water. It also affords a good quantity of oysters and clam shell-fish, the former grow on rocks, and are so big that they are cut in four pieces before they are ate.
About half a mile further south is Loch Eport having a rock without the mouth of the entry, which is narrow. The lake penetrates some miles towards the west, and is a good harbour, having several small isles within it. The seals are very numerous here. In the month of July the spring tides carry in a great quantity of mackerel, and at the return of the water they are found many times lying on the rocks. The vulgar natives make use of the ashes of burnt sea-ware, which preserves them for some time instead of salt.
Harbours & Fishing
About two miles to the south of Loch Eport lies the bay called the Kyle of Rona, having the island of that name (which is a little hill) within the bay; there is a harbour on each side of it. This place hath been found of great convenience for the fishing of cod and ling, which abound on this coast. There is a little chapel in the island Rona, called the Lowlanders' Chapel, because seamen who die in time of fishing are buried in that place.
There is a harbour on the south side of the island Borera. The entry seems to be narrower than really it is. The island and the opposite point of land appear like two little promontories off at sea. Some vessels have been forced in there by storm, as was Captain Peters, a Dutchman, and after him an English ship, who both approved of this harbour. The former built a cock-boat there on a Sunday, at which the natives were much offended. The latter having landed in the island happened to come into a house where he found only ten women, and they were employed (as he supposed) in a strange manner,viz.,their arms and legs were bare, being five on a side; and between them lay a board, upon which they had laid a piece of cloth, and were thickening of it with their hands and feet, and singing all the while. The Englishman, presently concluded it to be a little bedlam, which he did not expect in so remote a corner; and this he told to Mr. John Maclean, who possesses the island. Mr. Maclean answered he never saw any mad people in those islands; but this would not satisfy him, till they both went to the place where the women were at work, and then Mr. Maclean having told him that it was their common way of thickening cloth, he was convinced, though surprised at the manner of it.
There is such a number of fresh-water lakes here as can hardly be believed. I myself and several others endeavoured to number them, but in vain, for they are so disposed into turnings that it is impracticable. They are generally well stocked with trouts and eels, and some of them with salmon; and which is yet more strange, cod, ling, mackerel, etc., are taken in these lakes, into which they are brought by the spring tides.
These lakes have many small islands, which in summer abound with variety of land and sea-fowls that build and hatch there. There be also several rivers here, which afford salmon; one sort of them is very singular, that is called marled salmon, or, as the natives call it, Ieskdruimin, being lesser than the ordinary salmon, and full of strong large scales; no bait can allure it, and a shadow frights it away, being the wildest of fishes; it leaps high above water, and delights to be in the surface of it.
There is great plenty of shell-fish round this island, more particularly cockles; the islands do also afford many small fish called eels, of a whitish colour; they are picked out of the sand with a small crooked iron made on purpose. There is plenty of lobsters on the west side of this island, and one sort bigger than the rest, having the toe shorter and broader.
There are several ancient forts in this island, built upon eminences, or in the middle of fresh-water lakes.
Here are likewise several cairns or heaps of stones; the biggest I observed was on a hill near to Loch Eport. There are three stones erected about five feet high, at a distance of a quarter of a mile from one another, on eminences about a mile from Loch-Maddy, to amuse invaders; for which reason they are still called false sentinels.
There is a stone of 24 feet long and 4 in breadth in the hill Criniveal: the natives say a giant of a month old was buried under it. There is a very conspicuous stone in the face of the hill above St. Peter's village, above eight feet high.
There is another about eight feet high at Dunrossel, which the natives call a cross. There are two broad stones about eight feet high, on the hill two miles to the south of Valay.
There is another at the quay, opposite to Kirkibost, 12 feet high: the natives say that delinquents were tied to this stone in time of divine service.
There is a stone in form of a cross in the Row, opposite to St. Mary's Church, about 5 feet high: the natives call it the Water-Cross, for the ancient inhabitants had a custom of erecting this sort of cross to procure rain, and when they had got enough they laid it flat on the ground, but this custom is now disused. The inferior island is the island of Heiskir, which lies near three leagues westward of North Uist, is three miles in circumference, of a sandy soil, and very fruitful in corn and grass, and black cattle. The inhabitants labour under want of fuel of all sorts, which obliges them to burn cow's dung, barley-straw, and dried sea-ware; the natives told me that bread baked by the fuel of sea-ware relishes better than that done otherwise. They are accustomed to salt their cheese with the ashes of barley-straw, which they suffer not to lie on it above 12 hours time, because otherwise it would spoil it. There was a stone chest lately discovered here, having an earthen pitcher in it which was full of bones, and as soon as touched they turned to dust.
Islands West of North Uist
There are two small islands separated by narrow channels from the north-west of this island, and are of the same mould with the big island. The natives say that there is a couple of ravens there, which suffer no other of their kind to approach this island, and if any such chance to come this couple immediately drive them away with such a noise as is heard by all the inhabitants; they are observed likewise to beat away their young as soon as they be able to purchase for themselves. The natives told me that when one of this couple happened to be wounded by gun-shot, it lay still in the corner of a rock for a week or two, during which time its mate brought provision to it daily until it recovered perfectly. The natives add further that one of these two ravens having died some time after, the surviving one abandoned the island for a few days, and then was seen to return with about ten or twelve more of its kind, and having chosen a mate out of this number, all the rest went quite off, leaving these two in possession of their little kingdom. They do by a certain sagacity discover to the inhabitants any carcass, on the shore or in the fields, whereof I have seen several instances: the inhabitants pretend to know by their noise whether it be flesh or fish. I told them this was such a nicety that I could scarcely give it credit; but they answered me that they came to the knowledge of it by observation, and that they make the loudest noise for flesh. There is a narrow channel between the island of Heiskir and one of the lesser islands, in which the natives formerly killed many seals in this manner: They twisted together several small ropes of horse-hair in form of a net, contracted at one end like a purse; and so by opening and shutting this hair net, these seals were caught in the narrow channel. On the south side of North Uist are the islands of Illeray, which are accessible at low water; each of them being three miles in compass, and very fertile in corn and cattle.
Seals & Seal Hunting
On the western coast of this island lies the rock Eousmil, about a quarter of a mile in circumference, and it is still famous for the yearly fishing of seals there, in the end of October. This rock belongs to the farmers of the next adjacent lands: there is one who furnisheth a boat, to whom there is a particular share due on that account, besides his proportion as tenant. The parish minister hath his choice of all the young seals, and that which he takes is called by the natives Cullen-Mory, that is, the Virgin Mary's seal. The steward of the island hath one paid to him, his officer hath another, and this by virtue of their offices. These farmers man their boat with a competent number fit for the business, and they always embark with a contrary wind, for their security against being driven away by the ocean, and likewise to prevent them from being discovered by the seals, who are apt to smell the scent of them, and presently run to sea.
When this crew is quietly landed, they surround the passes, and then the signal for the general attack is given from the boat, and so they beat them down with big staves. The seals at this onset make towards the sea with all speed, and often force their passage over the necks of the stoutest assailants, who aim always at the forehead of the seals, giving many blows before they be killed; and if they be not hit exactly on the front, they contract a lump on their forehead, which makes them look very fierce; and if they get hold of the staff with their teeth, they carry it along to sea with them. Those that are in the boat shoot at them as they run to sea, but few are caught that way. The natives told me that several of the biggest seals lose their lives by endeavoring to save their young ones, whom they tumble before them towards the sea. I was told also that 320 seals, young and old, have been killed at one time in this place. The reason of attacking them in October is because in the beginning of this month the seals bring forth their young on the ocean side; but those on the east side, who are of the lesser stature, bring forth their young in the middle of June.
The seals eat no fish till they first take off the skin: they hold the head of the fish between their teeth, and pluck the skin off each side with their sharp-pointed nails; this I observed several times. The natives told me that the seals are regularly coupled, and resent an encroachment on their mates at an extraordinary rate: the natives have observed that when a male had invaded a female already coupled to another, the injured male, upon its return to its mate, would by a strange sagacity find it out, and resent it against the aggressor by a bloody conflict, which gives a red tincture to the sea in that part where they fight. This piece of revenge has been often observed by seal-hunters, and many others of unquestionable integrity, whose occasions obliged them to be much on this coast. I was assured by good hands, that the seals make their addresses to each other by kisses: this hath been observed often by men and women as fishing on the coast in a clear day. The female puts away its young from sucking as soon as it is able to provide for itself; and this is not done without many severe blows.
There is a hole in the skin of the female, within which the teats are secured from being hurt as it creeps along the rocks and stones; for which cause nature hath formed the point of the tongue of the young one cloven, without which it could not suck.
The natives salt the seals with the ashes of burnt sea-ware, and say they are good food: the vulgar eat them commonly in the springtime with a long pointed stick instead of a fork, to prevent the strong smell which their hands would otherwise have for several hours after. The flesh and broth of fresh young seals is by experience known to be pectoral; the meat is astringent, and used as an effectual remedy against the diarrhoea and dysentery; the liver of a seal being dried and pulverized, and afterwards a little of it drunk with milk, aquavitæ, or red wine, is also good against fluxes.
Some of the natives wear a girdle of the seal-skin about the middle, for removing the sciatica, as those of the shire of Aberdeen wear it to remove the chin-cough. This four-footed creature is reckoned one of the swiftest in the sea; they say likewise, that it leaps in cold weather the height of a pike above water, and that the skin of it is white in summer, and darker in winter; and that their hair stands on end with the flood, and falls again at the ebb. The skin is by the natives cut in long pieces, and then made use of instead of ropes to fix the plough to their horses, when they till the ground.
The seal, though esteemed fit only for the vulgar, is also eaten by persons of distinction, though under a different name, to wit, ham: this I have been assured of by good hands, and thus we see that the generality of men are as much led by fancy as judgment in their palates, as well as in other things. The Popish vulgar, in the islands southward from this, eat these seals in Lent instead of fish. This occasioned a debate between a Protestant gentleman and a Papist of my acquaintance: the former alleged that the other had transgressed the rules of his church, by eating flesh in Lent: the latter answered that he did not; for, says he, I have eat a sea-creature, which only lives and feeds upon fish. The Protestant replied, that this creature is amphibious, lies, creeps, eats, sleeps, and so spends much of its time on land, which no fish can do and live. It hath also another faculty that no fish has, that is, it breaks wind backward so loudly, that one may hear it at a great distance. But the Papist still maintained that he must believe it to be fish, till such time as the Pope and his priests decide the question.
About three leagues and a half to the west, lie the small islands called Hawsker-Rocks, and Hawsker-Eggath, and Hawsker-Nimannich, id est. Monks-Rock, which hath an altar in it. The first called so from the ocean, as being near to it; for haw or thau in the ancient language signifies the ocean: the more southerly rocks are six or seven big ones nicked or indented, for eggath signifies so much. The largest island, which is northward, is near half a mile in circumference, and it is covered with long grass. Only small vessels can pass between this and the southern rocks, being nearest to St. Kilda of all the west islands: both of them abound with fowls as much as any isles of their extent in St. Kilda. The coulterneb, guillemot, and scarts, are most numerous here; the seals likewise abound very much in and about these rocks.
The island of Valay lies on the West, near the main land of North-Uist; it is about four miles in circumference, arable and a dry, sandy soil, very fruitful in corn and grass, clover and daisy. It hath three chapels, one dedicated to St. Ulton, and another to the Virgin Mary. There are two crosses of stone, each of them about seven feet high, and a foot and a half broad.
There is a little font on an altar, being a big stone, round like a cannon-ball, and having in the upper end a little vacuity capable of two spoonfuls of water. Below the chapels there is a flat thin stone called Brownie's Stone, upon which the ancient inhabitants offered a cow's milk every Sunday; but this custom is now quite abolished. Some thirty paces on this side is to be seen a little stone house under ground; it is very low and long, and having an entry on the sea-side. I saw an entry in the middle of it, which was discovered by the falling of the stones and earth.
About a league to the north-east of Valay is the island of Borera, about four miles in circumference. The mould in some places is sandy, and in others black earth. It is very fruitful in cattle and grass. I saw a mare here, which I was told brought forth a foal in her second year.
There is a cow here that brought forth two female calves at once, in all things so very like one another, that they could not be distinguished by any outward mark, and had such a sympathy that they were never separate, except in time of sucking, and then they kept still their own side of their dam, which was not observed until a distinguishing mark was put upon one of their necks by the milkmaid. In the middle of this island there is a fresh-water lake, well stocked with very big eels, some of them as long as cod or ling fish. There is a passage under the stony ground, which is between the sea and the lake, through which it is supposed the eels come in with the springtides. One of the inhabitants called MacVanich, i.e., Monk's-Son, had the curiosity to creep naked through this passage.
This island affords the largest and best dulse for eating; it requires less butter than any other of this sort, and has a mellowish taste.
The burial-place near the houses is called the Monks' Field, for all the monks that died in the islands that lie northward from Egg were buried in this little plot. Each grave hath a stone at both ends, some of which are 3 and others 4 feet high. There are big stones without the burial-place even with the ground. Several of them have little vacuities in them as if made by art; the tradition is that these vacuities were dug for receiving the monks' knees when they prayed upon them.
The island Lingay lies half a league south on the side of Borera. It is singular in respect of all the lands of Uist and the other islands that surround it, for they are all composed of sand, but this on the contrary is altogether moss, covered with heath, affording five peats in depth, and is very serviceable and useful, furnishing the island Borera, &c., with plenty of good fuel. This island was held as consecrated for several ages, insomuch that the natives would not then presume to cut any fuel in it.
The cattle produced here are horses, cows, sheep and hogs, generally of a low stature. The horses are very strong, and fit for pads, though exposed to the rigour of the weather all the winter and spring in the open fields. Their cows are also in the fields all the spring, and their beef is sweet and tender as any can be. They live upon sea-ware in the winter and spring, and are fattened by it, nor are they slaughtered before they eat plentifully of it in December. The natives are accustomed to salt their beef in a cow's hide, which keeps it close from air, and preserves it as well, if not better, than barrels, and tastes, they say, best when this way used. This beef is transported to Glasgow, a city in the west of Scotland, and from thence (being put into barrels there) exported to the Indies in good condition. The hills afford some hundreds of deer, who eat sea-ware also in winter and spring time.
The amphibia produced here are seals and otters. There is no fox or venomous creature in this island. The great eagles here fasten their talons in the back of fish, and commonly of salmon, which is often above water and in the surface. The natives, who in the summer time live on the coast, do sometimes rob the eagle of its prey after its landing.
Here are hawks, eagles, pheasants, moor-fowls, ptarmigan, plover, pigeons, crows, swans, and all the ordinary sea-fowls in the West Islands. The eagles are very destructive to the fawns and lambs, especially the black eagle, which is of a lesser size than the other. The natives observe that it fixes its talons between the deer's horns, and beats its wings constantly about its eyes; which puts the deer to run continually till it fall into a ditch, or over a precipice, where it dies, and so becomes a prey to this cunning hunter. There are at the same time several other eagles of this kind, which fly on both sides of the deer, which fright it extremely, and contribute much to its more sudden destruction.
The forester and several of the natives assured me that they had seen both sorts of eagles kill deer in this manner. The swans come hither in great numbers in the month of October, with north-east winds, and live in the fresh lakes, where they feed upon trout and water plants till March, at which time they fly away again with a south-east wind. When the natives kill a swan it is common for the eaters of it to make a negative vow (i.e., they swear never to do something that is in itself impracticable) before they taste of the fowl.
The bird corn-craker is about the bigness of a pigeon, having a longer neck, and being of a brown colour, but blacker in harvest than in summer. The natives say it lives by the water, and under the ice in winter and spring.
The colk is a fowl somewhat less than a goose, hath feathers of divers colours, as white, gray, green, and black, and is beautiful to the eye. It hath a tuft on the crown of its head like that of a peacock, and a train longer than that of a house cock. This fowl loseth its feathers in time of hatching, and lives mostly in the remotest islands, as Heiskir and Rona.
The gawlin is a fowl less than a duck. It is reckoned a true prognosticator of fair weather; for for when it sings, fair and good weather always follows, as the natives commonly observe. The piper of St. Kilda plays the notes which it sings, and hath composed a tune of them, which the natives judge to be very fine music.
The rain goose, bigger than a duck, makes a doleful noise before a great rain. It builds its nest always upon the brink of fresh-water lakes, so as it may reach the water.
The bonnivochill, so called by the natives, and by the seamen bishop and carara, as big as a goose, having a white spot on the breast, and the rest partly coloured. It seldom flies, but is exceedingly quick in diving. The minister of North-Uist told me that he killed one of them, which weighed sixteen pounds and an ounce. There is about an inch deep of fat upon the skin of it, which the natives apply to the hip bone, and by experience find it a successful remedy for removing the sciatica.
The bird goylir, about the bigness of a swallow, is observed never to land but in the month of January, at which time it is supposed to hatch. It dives with a violent swiftness. When any number of these fowls are seen together it is concluded to be an undoubted sign of an approaching storm; and when the storm ceases they disappear under the water. The seamen call them malifigies, from mali-effigies, which they often find to be true.
The bird sereachan-aittin is about the bigness of a large mall, but having a longer body, and a bluish colour. The bill is of a carnation colour. This bird shrieks most hideously, and is observed to have a greater affection for its mate than any fowl whatsoever: for when the cock or hen is killed the surviving one both for eight or ten days afterwards make a lamentable noise about the place.
The bird faskidar, about the bigness of a sea maw of the middle size, is observed to fly with greater swiftness than any other fowl in those parts, and pursues lesser fowls, and forces them in their flight to let fall the food which they have got, and by its nimbleness catches it before it touch the ground.
The natives observe that an extraordinary heat without rain, at the usual time the sea fowls lay their eggs, hinders them from laying any eggs for about eight or ten days; whereas warm weather accompanied with rain disposes them to lay much sooner.
The wild geese are plentiful here, and very destructive to the barley, notwithstanding the many methods used for driving them away both by traps and gun shot. There are some flocks of barren fowls of all kinds, which are distinguished by their not joining with the rest of their kind, and they are seen commonly upon the bare rocks, without any nest.
The air is here moist and moderately cold, the natives qualify it sometimes by drinking a glass of usquebaugh. The moisture of this place is such that a loaf of sugar is in danger to be dissolved, if it be not preserved by being near the fire, or laying it among oatmeal, in some close place. Iron here becomes quickly rusty; and iron which is on the sea side of a house grows sooner rusty than that which is on the land side.
The greatest snow falls here with the south-west winds, and seldom continues above three or four days. The ordinary snow falls with the north and north-west winds, and does not lie so deep on the ground near the sea as on the tops of mountains.
The frost continues till the spring is pretty far advanced, the severity of which occasions great numbers of trouts and eels to die; but the winter frosts have not this effect, for which the inhabitants give this reason, viz., that the rains being more frequent in October do in their opinion carry the juice and quintessence of the plants into the lakes, whereby they think the fish are nourished during the winter; and there being no such nourishment in the spring, in regard of the uninterrupted running of the water, which carries the juice with it to the sea, it deprives the fish of this nourishment, and consequently of life. And they add further, that the fish have no access to the superficies of the water, or to the brink of it, where the juice might be had. The natives are the more confirmed in their opinion that the fishes in lakes and marshes are observed to outlive both winter and spring frosts. The east-north-east winds always procure fair weather here, as they do in all the north-west islands; and the rains are more frequent in this place in October and February than at any other time of the year.
Fountain-water drunk in winter is reckoned by the natives to be much more wholesome than in the spring; for in the latter it causeth the diarrha and dysentery.
The diseases that prevail here are fevers, diarrha, dysentery, stitch, cough, sciatica, megrim, the smallpox which commonly comes once in 17 years time. The ordinary cure for fevers is letting blood plentifully; the diarrha is cured by drinking aquavitæ, and the stronger the better. The flesh and liver of seals are used as abovementioned, both for the diarrha and dysentery. Milk, wherein hecticstone has been quenched, being frequently drunk, is likewise a good remedy for the two diseases last mentioned.
The kernel of the black nut found on the shore, being beat to powder and drunk in milk or aquavitæ: is reckoned a good remedy for the said two diseases; stitches are cured sometimes by letting blood.
Their common cure for coughs is brochan, formerly mentioned. The case of the carrara-fowl, with the fat, being powdered a little and applied to the hipbone is an approved remedy for the sciatica. Since the great change of the seasons, which of late years is become more piercing and cold, by which the growth of the corn, both in the spring and summer seasons are retarded; there are some diseases discovered which were not known here before, viz., a spotted fever which is commonly cured by drinking a glass of brandy or aquavitæ liberally when the disease seizes them, and using it till the spots appear outwardly. This fever was brought hither by a stranger from the Island of Mull, who infected these other islands. When the fever is violent the spots appear the second day, but commonly on the fourth day, and then the disease comes to a crisis the seventh day, but if the spots do not appear the fourth day, the disease is reckoned mortal; yet it has not proved so here, though it has carried off several in the other adjacent southern islands. The vulgar are accustomed to apply Flamula Jovis for evacuating noxious humours, such as cause the head-ache, and pains in the arms or legs; and they find great advantage by it. The way of using it is thus: They take a quantity of it, bruised small and put into a patella, and apply it so to the skin, a little below the place affected: in a small time it raises a blister about the bigness of an egg, which, when broke, voids all the matter that is in it; then the skin fills and swells twice again, and as often voids this matter. They use the sea-plant linarich to cure the wound, and it proves effectual for this purpose, and also for the megrim and burning.
The broth of a lamb, in which the plants Shunnish and Alexander have been boiled, is found by experience to be good against consumption. The green sea-plant linarich is by them applied to the temples and forehead to dry up defluxions, and also for drawing up the tonsils. Neil Macdonald in the island Heiskir is subject to the falling of the tonsils at every change of the moon, and they continue only for the first quarter. This infirmity hath continued with him all his days, yet he is now 72 years of age.
John Fake who lives in Pabble, in the parish of Kilmoor, alias St. Mary's, is constantly troubled with a great sneezing a day or two before rain; and if the sneezing be more than usual, the rain is said to be the greater: therefore he is called the Rain-Almanac. He has had this faculty these nine years past.
There is a house in the village called Ard-Nimboothin in the parish of St. Mary's; and the housecock there never crows from the tenth of September till the middle of March. This was told me two years ago, and since confirmed to me by the natives and the present minister of the parish.
Residents of North Uist
The inhabitants of this island are generally well-proportioned, of an ordinary stature, and a good complexion; healthful, and some of them come to a great age: several of my acquaintance arrived at the age of 90, and upwards; John Macdonald of Griminis was of this number, and died lately in the 93rd year of his age. Donald Roy, who lived in the Isle of Sand, and died lately in the hundredth year of his age, was able to travel and manage his affairs till about two years before his death. They are a very charitable and hospitable people, as is anywhere to be found. There was never an inn here till of late, and now there is but one which is not at all frequented for eating, but only for drinking; for the natives by their hospitality render this new-invented house in a manner useless. The great produce of barley draws many strangers to this island, with a design to procure as much of this grain as they can; which they get of the inhabitants gratis, only for asking, as they do horses, cows, sheep, wool, &c. I was told some months before my last arrival there, that there had been ten men in that place at one time to ask corn gratis, and every one of these had some one, some two, and others three attendants; and during their abode there, were all entertained gratis, no one returning empty.
This is a great, yet voluntary tax, which has continued for many ages; but the late general scarcity has given them an occasion to alter this custom, by making acts against liberality, except to poor natives and objects of charity.
The natives are much addicted to riding, the plainness of the country disposing both men and horses to it. They observe an anniversary cavalcade on Michaelmas Day, and then all ranks of both sexes appear on horseback. The place for this rendezvous is a large piece of firm sandy ground on the sea-shore, and there they have horse-racing for small prizes, for which they contend eagerly. There is an ancient custom, by which it is lawful for any of the inhabitants to steal his neighbour's horse the night before the race, and ride him all next day, provided he deliver him safe and sound to the owner after the race. The manner of running is by a few young men, who use neither saddles nor bridles, except two small ropes made of bent instead of a bridle, nor any sort of spurs, but their bare heels: and when they begin the race, they throw these ropes on their horses' necks, and drive them on vigorously with a piece of long seaware in each hand instead of a whip; and this is dried in the sun several months before for that purpose. This is a happy opportunity for the vulgar, who have few occasions for meeting, except on Sundays: the men have their sweethearts behind them on horseback, and give and receive mutual presents; the men present the women with knives and purses, the women present the men with a pair of fine garters of divers colours, they give them likewise a quantity of wild carrots. This isle belongs in property to Sir Donald Macdonald of Sleat: he and all the inhabitants are Protestants, one only excepted; they observe Christmas, Good Friday, and St. Michael's Day.
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