A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland

The following is from A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland by Martin Martin:

The Island of Bute

THE Isle of Bute, being ten miles in length, lies on the west side of Cowal, from which it is separated by a narrow channel, in several parts not a mile broad. The north end of this isle is mountainous and heathy, being more designed for pasturage than cultivation. The mould is brown or black, and in some parts clayey. The ground yields a good produce of oats, barley, and pease. There is but little wood growing there, yet there is a coppice at the side of Loch-Fad. The ground is arable from the middle to the southward; the hectic-stone is to be had in many parts of this isle, and there is a quarry of red stone near the town of Rosa, by which the fort there, and the chapel on its north side, have been built. Rothesay, the head town of the shire of Bute and Arran, lies on the east coast of Bute, and is one of the titles of the Prince of Scotland. King Robert the Third created his son Duke of Rothesay and Steward of Scotland; and afterwards Queen Mary created the Lord Darnley Duke of Rothesay before her marriage with him. This town is a very ancient royal borough, but thinly peopled, there not being above a hundred families in it, and they have no foreign trade. On the north side of Rothesay there is a very ancient ruinous fort, round in form, having a thick wall, and about three stories high, and passages round within the wall. It is surrounded with a wet ditch; it has a gate on the south and a double gate on the east, and a bastion on each side the gate, and without these there is a draw-bridge, and the sea flows within 40 yards of it. The fort is large enough for exercising a battalion of men; it has a chapel and several little houses within, and a large house of four stories high fronting the eastern gate. The people here have a tradition that this fort was built by King Rosa, who is said to have come to this isle before King Fergus the First. The other forts are Dun-Owle and Dun-Allin, both on the west side.

The churches here are as follow: ----- Kilmichael, Kilblain, and Kil-Chattan, in the South Parish; and Lady Kirk in Rothesay is the most northerly parish. All the inhabitants are Protestants.

The natives here are not troubled with any epidemical disease. The small-pox visits them commonly once every sixth or seventh year. The oldest man now living in this isle is one Fleming, a weaver in Rothesay. His neighbours told me that he could never ease nature at sea, who is 90 years of age. The inhabitants generally speaking the English and Irish tongue, and wear the same habit with those of the other islands. They are very industrious fishers, especially for herring, for which use they are furnished with about 80 large boats. The tenants pay their rent with the profit of herrings, if they are to be had anywhere on the western coast.

The principal heritors here are Stuart of Bute, who is the hereditary Sheriff of this shire, and hath his seat in Rosa; Ballantine of Kames, whose seat is at the head of the bay of that name, and has an orchard by it; Stuart of Estick, whose seat has a park and orchard. And about a mile to the South of Rothesay, next lies two isles called Cumbrae the greater, and the lesser; the former is within a league of Bute. This island has a chapel and a well, which the natives esteem a catholicon for all diseases. This isle is a mile in length, but the other isle is much less in compass. Both isles are the property of Montgomery of Skelmorlie.

The Island of Arran


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