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 Jura

THE isle of Jura is by a narrow channel of about half a mile broad separated from Islay. The natives say that Jura is so called from Dih and Rah, two brethren, who are believed to have been Danes, the names Dih and Rah signifying as much as without grace or prosperity. Tradition says that these two brethren fought and killed one another in the village Knock-Cronm, where there are two stones erected of 7 feet high each, and under them, they say, there are urns, with the ashes of the two brothers; the distance between them is about 60 yards. The isle is mountainous along the middle, where there are four hills of a considerable height. The two highest are well known to sea-faring men by the name of the Paps of Jura. They are very conspicuous from all quarters of sea and land in those parts.

This isle is twenty-four miles long, and in some places six or seven miles in breadth. It is the Duke of Argyll’s property, and part of the Sheriffdom of Argyll.

The mould is brown and greyish on the coast, and black in the hills, which are covered with heath and some grass that proves good pasturage for their cattle, which are horses, cows, sheep, and goats. There is variety of land and water-fowl here. The hills ordinarily have about three hundred deer grazing on them, which are not to be hunted by any without the steward’s license. This isle is perhaps the wholesomest plot of ground either in the isles or continent of Scotland, as appears by the long life of the natives and their state of health, to which the height of the hills is believed to contribute in a large measure, by the fresh breezes of wind that come from them to purify the air; whereas Islay and Gigha, on each side this isle, are much lower, and are not so wholesome by far, being liable to several diseases that are not here. The inhabitants observe that the air of this place is perfectly pure, from the middle of March till the end or middle of September. There is no epidemical disease that prevails here. Fevers are but seldom observed by the natives, and any kind of flux is rare. The gout and agues are not so much as known by them, neither are they liable to sciatica. Convulsions, vapours, palsies, surfeits, lethargies, megrims, consumptions, rickets, pains of the stomach, or coughs, are not frequent here, and none of them are at any time observed to become mad. I was told by several of the natives that there was not one woman died of childbearing there these 34 years past. Bloodletting and purging are not used here.

If any contract a cough, they use brochan only to remove it. If after a fever one chance to be taken ill of a stitch, they take a quantity of ladywrack, and half as much of red-fog, and boil them in water. The patients sit upon the vessel, and receive the fume, which by experience they find effectual against this distemper. Fevers and the diarrhœas are found here only when the air is foggy and warm, in winter or summer.

The inhabitants for their diet make use of beef and mutton in the winter and spring, as also of fish, butter, cheese, and milk. The vulgar take brochan frequently for their diet during the winter and spring; and brochan and bread used for the space of two days restores lost appetite.

The women of all ranks eat a lesser quantity of food than the men. This and their not wearing anything strait about them is believed to contribute much to the health of both the mothers and children.

There are several fountains of excellent water in this isle. The most celebrated of them is that of the mountain Beinbrek in the Tarbat, called Toubir ni Lechkin, that is, the well in a stony descent. It runs easterly, and they commonly reckon it to be lighter by one half than any other water in this isle; for though one drink a great quantity of it at a time, the belly is not swelled, or any ways burdened by it. Natives and strangers find it efficacious against nauseousness of the stomach and the stone. The river Nissa receives all the water that issues from this well, and this is the reason they give why salmon here are in goodness and taste far above those of any other river whatever. The river of Crockbreck affords salmon also, but they are not esteemed so good as those of the river Nissa.

Several of the natives have lived to a great age. I was told that one of them, called Gillouir MacCrain, lived to have kept one hundred and eighty Christmasses in his own house. He died about fifty years ago, and there are several of his acquaintances living to this day, from whom I had this account.

Bailiff Campbell lived to the age of one hundred and six years; he died three years ago; he passed the thirty-three last years before his death in this isle. Donald MacNamill, who lives in the village of Killearn at present, is arrived at the age of ninety years.

A woman of the Isle of Scarba, near the north end of this isle, lived seven score years, and enjoyed the free use of her senses and understanding all her days; it is now two years since she died.

There is a large cave, called King’s Cave on the west side of the Tarbat, near the sea; there is a well at the entry which renders it the more convenient for such as may have occasion to lodge in it.

About two miles further from the Tarbat, there is a cave at Corpich which hath an altar in it; there are many small pieces of petrified substance hanging from the roof of this cave.

There is a place where vessels used to anchor on the west side of this island, called Whitfarlan, about 100 yards north from the porter’s house.

About four leagues south from the north end of this isle, lies the bay Da’l Yaul, which is about half a mile in length; there is a rock on the north side of the entry, which they say is five fathom deep, and but three fathom within.

About a league further to the south, on the same coast, lies the small isles of Jura, within which there is a good anchoring-place; the south entry is the best: island Nin Gowir must be kept on the left hand; it is easily distinguished by its bigness from the rest of the isles. Conney Isle lies to the north of this island. There are black and white spotted serpents in this isle; their head being applied to the wound, is by the natives used as the best remedy for their poison. Within a mile of the Tarbat there is a stone erected about eight feet high. Loch-Tarbat on the west side runs easterly for about five miles, but is not a harbour for vessels, or lesser boats, for it is altogether rocky.

The shore on the west side affords coral and coralline. There is a sort of dulse growing on this coast, of a white colour.

Between the north end of Jura, and the isle Scarba, lies the famous and dangerous gulf, called Cory Vrekan, about a mile in breadth; it yields an impetuous current, not to be matched anywhere about the isle of Britain. The sea begins to boil and ferment with the tide of flood, and resembles the boiling of a pot; and then increases gradually, until it appears in many whirlpools, which form themselves in sort of pyramids, and immediately after spout up as high as the mast of a little vessel, and at the same time make a loud report. These white waves run two leagues with the wind before they break; the sea continues to repeat these various motions from the beginning of the tide of flood, until it is more than half-flood, and then it decreases gradually until it hath ebbed about half an hour, and continues to boil till it is within an hour of low water. This boiling of the sea is not above a pistol-shot distant from the coast of Scarba Isle, where the white waves meet and spout up: they call it the Kaillach, i.e., an old hag; and they say that when she puts on her kerchief, i.e., the whitest waves, it is then reckoned fatal to approach her. Notwithstanding this great ferment of the sea, which brings up the least shell from the ground, the smallest fisher-boat may venture to cross this gulf at the last hour of the tide of flood, and at the last hour of the tide of ebb.

This gulf hath its name from Brekan, said to be son to the King of Denmark, who was drowned here, cast ashore in the north of Jura, and buried in a cave, as appears from the stone, tomb, and altar there.

The natives told me that about three years ago an English vessel happened inadvertently to pass through this gulf at the time when the sea began to boil; the whiteness of the waves, and their spouting up, was like the breaking of the sea upon a rock; they found themselves attracted irresistibly to the white rock, as they then supposed it to be: this quickly obliged them to consult their safety, and so they betook themselves to the small boat with all speed, and thought it no small happiness to land safe in Jura, committing the vessel under all her sails to the uncertain conduct of tide and wind. She was driven to the opposite continent of Knapdale, where she was no sooner arrived than the tide and wind became contrary to one another, and so the vessel was cast into a creek, where she was safe; and then the master and crew were, by the natives of this isle, conducted to her, where they found her as safe as they left her, though all her sails were still hoisted.

The natives gave me an account, that some years ago a vessel had brought some rats hither, which increased so much that they became very uneasy to the people, but on a sudden they all vanished; and now there is not one of them in the isle.

There is a church here called Ilillearn, the inhabitants are all Protestants, and observe the festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Michaelmas; they do not open a grave on Friday, and bury none on that day, except the grave has been opened before.

The natives here are very well proportioned, being generally black of complexion and free from bodily imperfections. They speak the Irish language, and wear the plaid, bonnet, etc., as other islanders.

The Island of Islay


Copyright © Scotland from the Roadside 2016