The Parish of Duffus

Situation, Soil, Climate - In every region of the earth where the clime and soil do not spontaneously afford the subsistence of man, it appears, by the earliest notices of history, that society were at first supported chiefly by means of hunting; that from the hunter state, they made in general a sudden advance to that of the pastoral, indispensable to the more perfect state of agriculture.

In a country so narrow as this, it may be presumed, that its different quarters, even in the hunter state, would be distinguished by names, which, though not appropriate now, have been without change preserved. The name of Duffus, signifying in the Gaelic black water, carries back the imagination to that early state of society, when this flat country was an uncultivated forest, almost every where deformed by gloomy black pools of stagnant water. The plain between the lake of Spynie and the sea, continued for about five miles westward from Drainie, forms the whole extent of the Parish of Duffus. Since taking off the water from the lake, it extended about three miles in breadth: but the lake is not continued now, far upon the south side, and the ridge along the coast is stretched only about one-third of the length, westward of which the shore is sandy and flat, raised only a few feet above the level of the sea. Toward the midst both of the plain and the Parish, at a little distance from the coast, the green arable hill of Roseisle embellishes the landscape. It is not doubted but the sea once communicated with the lake, along the west and south sides of this eminence, which then formed the termination of the isle, extended eastward to the head-land of the Coulard of Lossiemouth. Along the coast, the whole length of the Parish, for the breadth of half a mile, may be considered as downs, the soil sandy, mixed with stone, in some places rising in green ridges, composed of lime-stone rock. Towards the middle of this poor benty pasturage, between the hill of Roseisle and the sea, some detached fields are cultivated, and one farm, of considerable extent, offers a solitary but commodious and pleasing residence. The rest of the Parish is an unbroken arable field, for the greater part a deep rich clay, of the same kind with the carse soil of Gowrie or Falkirk, producing weighty crops of wheat, pease, and beans. Towards its western end, the soil is black earth, very fertile, yielding crops of barley not to be surpassed in arliness, quality, or increase, in any part of Scotland. In some places of this quarter, the soil is so mixed with sand as to be deprived of much of its fertility, and a great proportion of it hath been deeply covered in dry sand, drifted almost ten miles from Coulbin, and its cultivation by man for several generations suspended, except a few small patches, which have of late been recovered by bringing the soil above the sand by the spade.

State of Property - The valued rent of the Parish, amounting to L.3120. 6s. 1d. Scots, is shared among 5 proprietors, of whom Sir Archibald Dunbar only is resident, in a handsome modern seat, placed in a small park, sheltered on the north by the church and the village of Duffus, and on the other three sides bounded by fields, and stripes of plantation. It commands an extensive landscape, embellished by every rural decoration. His property in this Parish is valued at L. 1800 Scots. A considerable part of the estate of Gordonstoun, lately augmented by the purchase of the lands of Roseisle, with which a part of it lay blended, lies also in this Parish, amounting now to the value of L. 1019 Scots. Mr. Brander of Pitgaveny, as was observed, holds a considerable part of the extent of this Parish, but yet so incompletely drained, as not to admit to perfect cultivation: it is valued at L. 244. 18s. 11d. Scots. The other two properties are inconsiderable: the one belonging to Mr. Baron Gordon of Clunie is valued at L. 36. 7s. 2d. Scots, and the other appertaining to Mr. Lewis Kay only at L. 20. The farms are but of small extent: two only exceed 100 acres. A great proportion of the Parish is rented at L. 1 Sterling the acre, and the average equals three-fourths of that rate.

Miscellaneous Information. - The people, although poor and depressed, are not querulous: they are peaceable and well-disposed and the dislike of each other, on the account of diversity of religious opinions and modes of worship, has greatly subsided among them. They are sober, and but little addicted to the intemperate use of spirituous liquors. The village of Burgh-head on the coast, the property of Sir Archibald Dunbar, contains about 400 souls. A small number of the men are quarriers and stone-cutters; but the greater number follow a sea-faring life: 7 large boats, with 6 people on board, are hired for the Western Fishery; 5 of the same kind are employed in freighting commodities along the coast; 2 sloops, besides, are employed in transporting grain to the south of Scotland, and in bringing back coals; and there are a few small boats employed in fishing. At this village, nature has pointed out a station for a deep, capacious, and safe harbour. It could be formed at a moderate expense, the stone just waiting to be cut from the adjoining rock; and, with little precaution, success would be certain. Along the whole southern coast of the Moray Firth, from Buchan-ness, upwards of 100 miles, to Inverness, there is no good or safe harbor. The advantage, therefore, of this undertaking appears in the strongest light, there being water of any necessary depth, on a fine bottom of blue clay, moss, or sand, and shelter from every dangerous wind. It is nearly at equal distance from Elgin and Forres, and, with a good harbour, it would soon become the port of both towns. Commerce and manufacture would of consequence settle in this part of the country, and, with an increasing rise in the value of the neighboring farms, all the various advantages arising from them would quickly follow. Here at present there is only a fishery, and of but small consideration. Cod, skate, ling, are sold at 1d. and 1 1/2d. the lb. There are also hollibut, mackerel, faith, and whiting. Turbot are on the coast; but the people are not instructed in the art of fishing for them. Haddocks have been for years in fewer numbers, and farther from the land, in deeper water than formerly. They sell at 1d. each, six times dearer than before. The ancient fortifications of Old Duffus and Burgh-head have been already described. Near the western end of the ridge along the shore, where rocks rise to a great height, the foundation of a castle called Inverugie remains. It was occasionally the residence of the family of Marischal, who once held the third part of the property of the Parish, and was named after their chief seat in Buchan. It appears that in this Parish many battles had in former times been fought: burying ground is to be found about almost every hamlet; and in many of them skeletons of human bodies have been accidentally dug up, and this has given rise to many fairy hillocks and grounds where witches met together. Near the western end of the Parish, there had been a place of worship at a farm called Kirkhill, where the remains of the cross and some of the buildings are still visible.

In several places are indications of iron ore and coal: near Duffus House, there is a strong chalybeate spring; near to which appears a black hard earth, mixed with stone resembling the refuse of a forge

Although now there is no natural wood in the Parish, yet from old tradition, and from rotten logs of wood found in the corn-fields and pastures, throughout the whole lower grounds, and even in the stiffest clay soil, this part of the country must have once been an entire forest, of different kinds of timber, oak, aller, birch, hazel, and fir: and it is reported, that the oppressed inhabitants were compelled by the Danes to carry oak from the valley near Roseisle to build their ships at Burghhead."