1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nairnshire

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NAIRNSHIRE, a north-eastern county of Scotland, bounded W. and S. by Inverness-shire, E. by Elginshire and N. by the Moray Firth. It has an area of 103,429 acres or 161.6 sq. m., and a coast line of 9 m. and is the fourth smallest county in Scotland. The seaboard, which is skirted by sandbanks dangerous to navigation, is lined by low dunes extending into Elginshire. Parallel with the coast there is a deposit of sand and gravel about 90 ft. high stretching inland for 4 or 5 m. This and the undulating plain behind are a continuation westward of the fertile Laigh of Moray. From this region southward the land rises rapidly to the confines of Inverness-shire, where the chief heights occur. Several of these border hills exceed 2000 ft. in altitude, the highest being Cam Glas (2162 ft.). The only rivers of importance are the Findhorn and the Nairn, both rising in Inverness-shire. The Findhorn after it leaves that county takes a mainly north-easterly direction down Strathdearn for 17 m. and enters the sea to the north of Forres in Elginshire after a total course of 70 m. The Nairn, shortly after issuing from Strathnairn, flows towards the N.E. for 12 m. out of its complete course of 38 m. and falls into the Moray Firth at the county town. There are eight lochs, all small, but the loch of Clans is of particular interest because of its examples of crannogs, or lake-dwellings. Nairnshire contains many beautiful woods and much picturesque and romantic scenery.

Geology. — The county is divided geologically into two clearly-marked portions. The southern and larger portion is composed of the eastern, Dalradian or younger Highland schists with associated granite masses; this forms all the higher ground. The low-lying northern part of the country bordering Moray Firth is occupied by Old Red Sandstone. The schistose rocks are mainly thin bedded micaceous gneisses, schists and quartzites; between Dallaschyle and Creag an Daimb a more massive higher horizon appears in the centre of a synclinal fold. Porphyritic gneiss is found on the flanks of Carn nan tri-tighearnan. The schists are frequently intersected by dikes of granite, amphibolite, &c. Three masses of granite are found penetrating the schists; the largest lies on the eastern boundary and extends from about Lethen Bar Hill southward by Ardclach and Glenferness to the Bridge of Dulsie. The second mass on the opposite side of the county belongs mainly to Inverness but the granite reaches into Nairn on the slopes of Bein nan Creagan and Ben Buidhe Mhor. A smaller mass near Rait Castle, with large pink crystals of orthoclase, has been employed as a building stone. On the denuded surface of the schists the Old Red Sandstone was deposited and formerly doubtless covered most of the county; outlying patches still remain near Drynachan Lodge and near Highland Boath in Muckle Burn. The Lower Old Red rocks are basal breccias followed by shales with calcareous nodules containing fossil fish. The Upper Old Red, which is found usually nearer the coast, is unconformable on the Lower series; it consists of red shales and clays and obliquely bedded sandstones. Glacial deposits are widely spread; they comprise a Lower Boulder Clay, a series of gravels and sands, followed by an Upper Boulder Clay, above which comes a series of gravel deposits forming ridges on the moorland between the Nairn and Findhorn rivers. A fine kame, resting on the plain of sand and gravel, lies between Meikle Kildrummie and Loch Flemington, south of the railway. Traces of the old marine terraces at 100 ft., 50 ft. and 25 ft. are found near the coast, as well as considerable accumulations of blown sand.

Climate and Industries. —The climate is healthy and equable. The temperature for the year averages 47° F., for January 38° F., and for July, 58° F. The mean annual rainfall is 25 in. The soil of the alluvial plain, or Laigh, is light and porous and careful cultivation has rendered it very fertile; and there is some rich land on the Findhorn. Although the most advanced methods of agriculture are in use, but a small proportion of the surface is capable of tillage, only one-fifth of the whole area being under crops. The hills are mostly covered with heath and pasture, suitable for sheep, and cattle are kept on the lower lying ground. The county accords many facilities for sport. A few distilleries, some sandstone and granite quarries and the sea and salmon fisheries of the Nairn practically represent the industries of the shire, apart from agriculture. The Highland Railway from Forres to Inverness crosses the north of the shire.

Population and Government. — In 1891 the population numbered 9155 and in 1901 it was 9291, or 57 persons to the sq. m. Besides the county town of Nairn (pop. 5089), there are the parishes of Ardclach (pop. 772), and Auldearn (pop. of parish 1292, of village 313). Nairn and Elgin shires combine to return one member to parliament, arid the county town belongs to the Inverness district group of parliamentary burghs (Forres, Fortrose, Inverness and Nairn). The shire forms a sheriffdom with Inverness and Elgin and a sheriff-substitute sits alternately at Nairn and Elgin.

History. — The country was originally peopled by the Gaelic or northern Picts. Stone circles believed to have been raised by them are found at Moyness, Auldearn, Urchany, Ballinrait, Dalcross and Croy, the valley of the Nairn being especially rich in such relics. To the north of Dulsie Bridge is a monolith called the Princess Stone. A greater number of the mysterious prehistoric stones with cup-markings occur in Nairn than anywhere else in Scotland. Mote hills are also common. Whether there was any effective Roman occupation of the land so far north is an open question, but there is little evidence of it in Nairn, beyond the occasional finding of Roman coins. Columba and his successors made valiant efforts to Christianize the Picts, but it was long before their labours began to tell, although the saint's name was preserved late in the 19th century in the annual fair at Auldearn called “St Colm's Market,” while to his biographer Adamnan — corrupted into Evan or Wean — was dedicated the church at Cawdor, where an old Celtic bell also bears this name. By the dawn of the 10th century the Picts had been subdued with the help of the Norsemen, and Nairn, which was one of the districts colonized by the Scandinavians, as part of the ancient province of Moray, soon afterwards became an integral portion of the kingdom of Scotland. Macbeth was one of the kings that Moray gave to Scotland, and his name and memory survive to the present day. Hardmuir, between Brodie and Nairn, is the reputed heath where Macbeth met the witches. Territorially Moray was greatly contracted in the reign of David I., and thenceforward the history of Nairn merges in the main in that of the bishopric and earldom of Moray (see Elgin). The thane of Cawdor was constable of the king's castle at Nairn, and when the heritable sheriffdom was established towards the close of the 14th century this office was also filled by the thane of the time.

Bibliography. — Charles J. G. Rampini, History of Moray and Nairn (Edinburgh, 1897); Book of the Thanes of Cawdor (Spalding Club) (Edinburgh, 1859); Brodie Cruickshank, Place Names of Nairnshire (1897); G. Bain, The Clova Cairns and Circles (Nairn, 1899).