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A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland

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

A Description of the Isle of Skye

SKYE (in the ancient language Skianach, i.e., winged) is so called because the two opposite northern promontories (Vaterness lying north-west, and Trotterness north-east) resemble two wings. This isle lies for the most part half-way in the Western Sea, between the mainland on the east, the shire of Ross, and the western isle of Lewis, &c.

This isle is very high land, as well on the coast as higher up in the country; and there are seven high mountains near one another, almost in the centre of the isle.

This island is forty miles in length from south to north, and in some places twenty, and in others thirty in breadth; the whole may amount to a hundred miles in circumference.

The channel between the south of Skye and opposite mainland (which is part of the shire of Inverness) is not above three leagues in breadth; and where the ferry-boat crosseth to Glenelg it is so narrow that one may call for the ferry-boat and be easily heard on the other side. This isle is a part of the sheriffdom of Inverness, and formerly of the diocese of the isles, which was united to that of Argyll: a south-east moon causeth a spring-tide here.

The mould is generally black, especially in the mountains; but there is some of a red colour, in which iron is found.

The arable land is for the most part black, yet affords clay of different colours, as white, red, and blue; the rivulet at Dunvegan church, and that of Nisbost, have fuller’s-earth.

The villages Borve and Glenmore afford two very fine sorts of earth, the one red, the other white; and they both feel and cut like melted tallow. There are other places that afford plenty of very fine white marle, which cuts like butter; it abounds most in Corchattachan, where an experiment has been made of its virtue: a quantity of it being spread on a sloping hill, covered with heath, soon after all the heath fell to the ground, as if it had been cut with a knife. They afterwards sowed barley on the ground, which, though it grew but unequally, some places producing no grain, because perhaps it was unequally laid on; yet the produce was thirty-five fold, and many stalks carried five ears of barley. This account was given me by the present possessor of the ground, Lauchlin Mackinnon.

There are marcasites black and white, resembling silver ore, near the village Sartle: there are likewise in the same place several stones, which in bigness, shape, &c., resemble nutmegs, and many rivulets here afford variegated stones of all colours. The Applesglen near Loch-Fallart has agate growing in it of different sizes and colours; some are green on the outside, some are of a pale sky colour, and they all strike fire as well as flint: I have one of them by me, which for shape and bigness is proper for a sword handle. Stones of a purple colour flow down the rivulets here after great rains.

There is crystal in several places of this island, as at Portree, Quillin, and Mingis; it is of different sizes and colours, some are sexangular, as that of Quillin, and Mingis; and there is some in Mingis of a purple colour. The village Torrin in Strath affords a great deal of good white and black marble; I have seen cups made of the white, which is very fine. There are large quarries of freestone in several parts of this isle, as at Suisness in Strath, in the south of Borrie and isle of Raasay. There is abundance of limestone in Strath and Trotterness: some banks of clay on the east coast are overflowed by the tide, and in these grow the lapis ceranius, or cerna amomis, of different shapes; some of the breadth of a crown-piece, bearing an impression resembling the sun; some are big as a man’s finger, in form of a semi-circle, and furrowed on the inner side; others are less, and have furrows of a yellow colour on both sides. These stones are by the natives called cramp-stones; because (as they say) they cure the cramp in cows, by washing the part affected with water in which this stone has been steeped for some hours. The velumnites grow likewise in these banks of clay; some of them are twelve inches long, and tapering towards one end: the natives call them bot-stones, because they believe them to cure the horses of the worms which occasion that distemper, by giving them water to drink in which this stone has been steeped for some hours.

This stone grows likewise in the middle of a very hard grey stone on the shore. There is a black stone in the surface of the rock on Rigshore, which resembles goats’ horns.

The lapis hecticus, or white hectic stone, abounds here both in the land and water: the natives use stone as a remedy against dysentery and diarrhœa; they make them redhot in the fire, and then quench them in milk, and some in water, which they drink with good success. They use this stone after the same manner for consumptions, and they likewise quench these stones in water with which they bathe their feet and hands.

The stones on which the scurf called corkir grows are to be had in many places on the coast, and in the hills. This scurf dyes a pretty crimson colour; first well dried, and then ground to powder, after which it is steeped in urine, the vessel being well secured from air; and in three weeks it is ready to boil with the yarn that is to be dyed. The natives observe the decrease of the moon for scraping this scurf from the stone, and say it is ripest in August.

There are many white scurfs on stone, somewhat like these on which the corkir grows, but the corkir is white and thinner than any other that resembles it.

There is another coarser scurf called crostil. It is of a dark colour, and only dyes a philamot.

The rocks in the village Ord have much talk growing on them like the Venice-talk.

This isle is naturally well provided with variety of excellent bays and harbours. In the south of it lies the peninsula called Oronsa, alias island Dierman. It has an excellent place for anchorage on the east side, and is generally known by most Scotch seamen. About a league more easterly in the same coast there is a small rock, visible only at half low water, but may be avoided by steering through the middle of the channel. About a league more easterly in the same coast there is an anchorage pretty near the shore. Within less than a mile further is the narrow sound called the Kyle, in order to pass which it is absolutely necessary to have the tide of flood for such as are northward bound, else they will be obliged to retire in disorder, because of the violence of the current; for no wind is able to carry a vessel against it. The quite contrary course is to be observed by vessels coming from the north. A mile due east from the Kyle there is a big rock on the south side the point of land on Skye side, called Kaillach, which is overflowed by the tide of flood; a vessel may go near its outside. Above a mile further due north there are two rocks in the passage through the Kyle; they are on the castle side, and may be avoided by keeping the middle of the channel. About eight miles more to the northward, or the east of Skye, there is secure anchorage between the isle Scalpa and Skye, in the middle of the channel; but one must not come to it by the south entry of Scalpa; and in coming between Raasay and this isle there are rocks without the entry, which may be avoided best by having a pilot of the country. More to the north is Loch-Sligachan, on the coast of Skye, where is good anchorage. The entry is not deep enough for vessels of any burden, except at high water; but three miles further north lies Loch-Portree, a capacious and convenient harbour of above a mile in length.

The island Tulm, which is within half a mile of the northernmost point of Skye, has a harbour on the inside. The entrance between the isle and Duntulm Castle is the best.

On the west of the same wing of Skye, and about five miles more southerly, lies Loch-Uig, about a mile in length, and a very good harbour for vessels of the greatest burden. About two miles on this coast further south is Loch-Snizort. It is three miles in length and half a mile in breadth; it is free from rocks, and has convenient anchorage.

On the west side the promontory, at the mouth of Loch-Snizort, lies Loch-Arnizort, being about two miles in length, and half a mile in breadth. There are two small isles in the mouth of the entry, and a rock near the west side, a little within the entry.

Some five miles to the west of Arnizort lies Loch-Fallart; the entry is between Vaterness Head on the east side, and Dunvegan Head on the west side. The loch is six miles in length, and about a league in breadth for some miles; it hath the island Isa about the middle, on the east side. There is a rock between the north end and the land, and there vessels may anchor between the N.E. side of the isle and the land; there is also good anchorage near Dunvegan Castle, two miles further to the southward.

Loch-Brakadil lies two miles south of Loch-Fallart; it is seven miles in length, and has several good anchoring places. On the north side the entry lie two rocks called Macleod’s Maidens. About three miles south-west is Loch-Einard, a mile in length; it has a rock in the entry, and is not visible but at an ebb.

About two miles to the eastward there is an anchoring place for barks, between Skye and the isle Soa.

About a league further east lie Loch-Slapan and Loch-Essort. The first reaches about four miles to the north, and the second about six miles to the east.

There are several mountains in the isle of a considerable height and extent ----- as Quillin, Scornifiey, Bein-store, Bein-vore-scowe, Bein-chro, Bein-nin-Kaillach. Some of them are covered with snow on the top in summer, others are almost quite covered with sand on the top, which is much washed down with the great rains. All these mountains abound with heath and grass, which serve as good pasturage for lack cattle and sheep.

The Quillin, which exceeds any of those hills in height, is said to be the cause of much rain, by breaking the clouds that hover about it, which quickly after pour down in rain upon the quarter on which the wind then blows. There is a high ridge of one continued mountain of considerable height, and fifteen miles in length, running along the middle of the east wing of Skye called Trotterness, and that part above the sea is faced with a steep rock.

The arable ground is generally along the coast and in the valleys between the mountains, having always a river running in the middle. The soil is very grateful to the husbandman. I have been shown several places that had not been tilled for seven years before, which yielded a good product of oats by digging, though the ground was not dunged, particularly near the village Kilmartin, which the natives told me had not been dunged these forty years last. Several pieces of ground yield twenty, and some thirty, fold when dunged with sea-ware. I had an account that a small tract of ground in the village Skorybreck yielded an hundred fold of barley.

The isle of Altig, which is generally covered with heath, being manured with sea ware, the owner sowed barley in the ground, and it yielded a very good product ----- many stalks had five ears growing upon them. In plentiful years Skye furnishes the opposite continent with oats and barley. The way of tillage here is after the same manner that is already described in the isles of Lewis, &c; and digging doth always produce a better increase here than ploughing.

All the mountains in this isle are plentifully furnished with variety of excellent springs and fountains, some of them have rivulets with water mills upon them. The most celebrated well in Skye is Loch-Siant Well. It is much frequented by strangers, as well as by the inhabitants of the isle, who generally believe it to be a specific for several diseases ----- such as stitches, headaches, stone, consumptions, megrim. Several of the common people oblige themselves by a vow to come to this well and make the ordinary tour about it, called dessil, which is performed thus: They move thrice round the well, proceeding sunways from east to west, and so on. This is done after drinking of the water; and when one goes away from the well it is a never-failing custom to leave some small offering on the stone which covers the well. There are nine springs issuing out of the hill above the well, and all of them pay the tribute of their water to a rivulet that falls from the well. There is a little fresh-water lake within ten yards of the said well. It abounds with trouts, but neither the natives nor strangers will ever presume to destroy any of them, such is the esteem they have for the water.

There is a small coppice near to the well, and there is none of the natives dare venture to cut the least branch of it, for fear of some signal judgment to follow upon it.

There are many wells here esteemed effectual to remove several distempers. The lightest and wholesomest water in all the isle is that of Toubir Tellibreck in Uig. The natives say that the water of this well and the sea plant called dulse would serve instead of food for a considerable time, and own that they have experienced it in time of war. I saw a little well in Kilbride, in the south of Skye, with one trout only in it. The natives are very tender of it and although they often chance to catch it in their wooden pails they are very careful to preserve it from being destroyed. It has been seen there for many years. There is a rivulet not far distant from the well, to which it hath probably had access through some narrow passage.

There are many rivers on all quarters of the isle. About 30 of them afford salmon, and some of them black mussels, in which pearl do breed, particularly the river of Kilmartin and the river Ord. The proprietor told me that some years ago a pearl had been taken out of the former valued at £20 sterling. There are several cataracts, as that in Sker-horen, Holm, Rig, and Tout. When a river makes a great noise in time of fair weather it is a sure prognostic here of rain to ensue.

There are many fresh-water lakes in Skye, and generally well stocked with trout and eels. The common fly and the earth worms are ordinarily used for angling trout. The best season for it is a calm, or a south-west wind.

The largest of the fresh-water lake is that named after St. Columba, on the account of the chapel dedicated to that saint. It stands in the isle, about the middle of the lake.

There is a little fresh-water lake near the south side of Loch-Einordstard, in which mussels grow that breed pearl.

This isle hath anciently been covered all over with woods, as appears from the great trunks of fir trees, &c., dug out of the bogs frequently, &c. There are several coppices of wood scattered up and down the isle. The largest, called Lettir-hurr, exceeds not three miles in length.

Herrings are often taken in most or all the bays mentioned above; Loch-Essort, Slapan, Loch-Fallart, Loch-Scowsar, and the Kyle of Scalpa, are generally known to strangers, for the great quantities of herring taken in them. This sort of fish is commonly seen without the bays, and on the coast all the summer. All other fish follow the herring and their fry, from the whale to the least fish that swims; the biggest still destroying the lesser.

The fishers and others told me that there is a big herring almost double the size of any of its kind, which leads all that are in a bay, and the shoal follows it wherever it goes. This leader is by the fishers called the king of herring, and when they chance to catch it alive, they drop it carefully into the sea; for they judge it petty treason to destroy a fish of that name.

The fishers say that all sorts of fish, from the greatest to the least, have a leader, who is followed by all of its kind.

It is a general observation all Scotland over, that if a quarrel happen on the coast where herring is caught, and that blood be drawn violently, then the herring go away from the coast, without returning during that season. This, they say, has been observed in all past ages, as well as at present; but this I relate only as a common tradition, and submit it to the judgment of the learned.

The natives preserve and dry their herring without salt, for the space of eight months, provided they be taken after the tenth of September, they use no other art in it but take out their guts, and then tying a rush about their necks, hang them by pairs upon a rope made of heath cross a house; and they eat well, and free from putrefaction, after eight months keeping in this manner. Cod, ling, herring, mackerel, haddock, whiting, turbot, together with all other fish that are in the Scots seas, abound on the coasts of this island.

The best time of taking fish within angle is in warm weather, which disposes them to come near the surface of the water; whereas in cold weather, or rain, they go to the bottom. The best bait for cod and ling is a piece of herring, whiting, thornback, haddock, or eel. The grey-lord, alias black-mouth, a fish of the size and shape of a salmon, takes the limpet for bait. There is another way of angling for this fish, by fastening a short white down of a goose behind the hook; and the boat being continually rowed, the fish run greedily after the down, and are easily caught. The grey-lord swims in the surface of the water, and then is caught with a spear; a rope being tied to the further end of it, and secured in the fisherman’s hand.

All the bays and places of anchorage here abound with most kinds of shell-fish. The Kyle of Scalpa affords oysters in such plenty that commonly a spring tide of ebb leaves fifteen, sometimes twenty, horse load of them on the sands.

The sands on the coast of Bernstill village at the spring tides afford daily such plenty of mussels, as is sufficient to maintain sixty persons per day: and thus was a great support to many poor families of the neighbourhood, in the late years of scarcity. The natives observe that all shell-fish are plumper at the increase than decrease of the moon; they observe likewise that all shell-fish are plumper during a south-west wind, than when it blows from the north or north-east quarters.

The limpet being parboiled with a very little quantity of water, the broth is drank to increase milk in nurses, and likewise when the milk proves astringent to the infants. The broth of the black periwinkle is used in the same cases. It is observed that limpets being frequently eaten in June are apt to occasion the jaundice; the outside of the fish is coloured like the skin of a person that has the jaundice: the tender yellow part of the limpet, which is next to the shell, is reckoned good nourishment, and very easy of digestion.

I had an account of a poor woman who was a native of the isle of Jura, and by the troubles in King Charles the First’s reign was almost reduced to a starving condition; so that she lost her milk quite, by which her infant had nothing proper for its sustenance: upon this she boiled some of the tender fat of the limpets, and gave it to her infant, to whom it became so agreeable that it had no other food for several months together; and yet there was not a child in Jura, or any of the adjacent isles, wholesomer than this poor infant, which was exposed to so great a strait.

The limpet creeps on the stone and rock in the night-time, and in a warm day; but if anything touch the shell it instantly clings to the stone, and then no hand is able to pluck it off without some instrument; and therefore such as take them have little hammers, called limpet-hammers, with which they beat it from the rock; but if they watch its motion and surprise it the least touch of the hand pulls it away: and this that is taken creeping, they say, is larger and better than that which is pulled off by force. The motion, fixation, taste and feeding, etc., of this little animal is very curious.

The pale whelk, which in length and smallness exceeds the black periwinkle, and by the natives called gil-fiunt, is by them beat in pieces, and both shell and fish boiled. The broth being strained, and drank for some days together, is accounted a good remedy against the stone. It is called a dead man’s eye at Dover. It is observed of cockles and spout fish that they go deeper in the sands with north winds than any other; and, on the contrary, they are easier reached with south winds, which are still warmest.

It is a general observation of all such as live on the sea coast that they are more prolific than any other people whatsoever.

The Sea Plants Here are as Follows

LINARICH, a very thin small green plant, about eight, ten, or twelve inches in length. It grows on stone, on shells, and on the bare sand. This plant is applied plaister-wise to the fore-head and temples to procure sleep for such as have a fever, and they say it is effectual for this purpose.

The linarich is likewise applied to the crown of the head and temples for removing the megrim, and also to heal the skin after a blister plaister of flammula Jovis.

Slake, a very thin plant, almost round, about ten or twelve inches in circumference, grows on the rocks and sands. The natives eat it boiled, and it dissolves into oil. They say that if a little butter be added to it, one might live many years on this alone, without bread or any other food, and at the same time undergo any laborious exercise. This plant, boiled with some butter, is given to cows in the spring, to remove costiveness.

Dulse is of a reddish brown colour, about ten or twelve inches long, and above half an inch in breadth. It is eaten raw, and then reckoned to be loosening and very good for the sight; but if boiled, it proves more loosening if the juice be drank with it. This plant applied plaister-wise to the temples is reckoned effectual against the megrim. The plant boiled and eaten with its infusion is used against the colic and stone; and dried without washing it in water, pulverized and given in any convenient vehicle fasting, it kills worms. The natives eat it boiled with butter, and reckon it very wholesome. The dulse recommended here is that which grows on stone, and not that which grows on the alga marina, or sea tangle: for though that be likewise eaten, it will not serve in any of the cases above-mentioned.

The alga marina or sea tangle, or, as some call it, sea ware, is a rod about four, six, eight or ten feet long having at the end a blade commonly slit into seven or eight pieces, and about a foot and half in length. It grows on stone. The blade is eaten by the vulgar natives. I had an account of a young man who had lost his appetite and taken pills to no purpose; and being advised to boil the blade of the alga and drink the infusion boiled with a little butter, was restored to his former state of health.

There is abundance of white and red coral growing on the south and west coast of this isle. It grows on the rocks, and is frequently interwoven with the roots of the alga. The red seems to be a good fresh colour when first taken out of the sea, but in a few hours after it becomes pale. Some of the natives take a quantity of the red coral, adding the yolk of an egg roasted to it, for the diarrhœa. Both the red and white coral here is not above five inches long, and about the bigness of a goose quill.

There are many caves to be seen on each quarter of this isle, some of them are believed to be several miles in length. There is a big cave in the village Bornskittag, which is supposed to exceed a mile in length. The natives told me that a piper, who was over-curious, went into the cave with a design to find out the length of it; and after he entered began to play on his pipe, but never returned to give an account of his progress.

There is a cave in the village Rigg, wherein drops of water that issue from the roof petrify into a white limy substance, and hang down from the roof and sides of the cave.

There is a cave in the village Holm, having many petrified twigs hanging from the top; they are hollow from one end to the other, and from five to ten inches in length.

There is a big cave in the rock on the east side of Portree, large enough for eighty persons; there is a well within it, which, together with its situation and narrow entry, renders it an inaccessible fort. One man only can enter it at a time, by the side of a rock, so that with a staff in his hand he is able by the least touch to cast over the rock as many as shall attempt to come into the cave.

On the south side Loch Portree, there is a large cave, in which many sea cormorants do build. The natives carry a bundle of straw to the door of the cave in the night-time, and there setting it on fire, the fowls fly with all speed to the light, and so are caught in baskets laid for that purpose. The Golden Cave in Sleat is said to be seven miles in length, from the west to east.

There are many cairns or heaps of stones in this island. Some of the natives say they were erected in the times of heathenism, and that the ancient inhabitants worshipped about them. In Popish countries the people still retain the ancient custom of making a tour round them.

Others say these cairns were erected where persons of distinction, killed in battle, had been buried, and that their urns were laid in the ground under the cairns. I had an account of a cairn in Knapdale, in the shire of Argyll, underneath which an urn was found. There are little cairns to be seen in some places on the common road, which were made only where corps happened to rest for some minutes; but they have laid aside the making such cairns now.

There is an erected stone in Kilbride, in Strath, which is ten feet high, and one and a half broad.

There is another of five feet high, placed in the middle of the cairn, on the south side Loch Uig and is called the High Stone of Uig.

There are three such stones on the sea-coast opposite to Skeriness, each of them three feet high. The natives have a tradition that upon these stones a big caldron was set, for boiling Fin-Mac-Coul’s meat. This gigantic man is reported to have been general of a militia that came from Spain to Ireland, and from thence to those isles. All his soldiers are called Fienty from Fiun. He is believed to have arrived in the isles in the reign of King Evan. The natives have many stories of this general and his army, with which I will not trouble the reader. He is mentioned in Bishop Leslie’s History.

There are many forts erected on the coast of this isle, and supposed to have been built by the Danes. They are called by the name of Dun, from Dain, which in the ancient language signified a fort; they are round in form, and they have a passage all round within the wall; the door of them is low, and many of the stones are of such bulk that no number of the present inhabitants could raise them without an engine.

All these forts stand upon eminences, and are so disposed that there is not one of them which is not in view of some other; and by this means, when a fire is made upon a beacon in any one fort, it is in a few moments after communicated to all the rest; and this hath been always observed upon sight of any number of foreign vessels, or boats approaching the coast.

The forts are commonly named after the place where they are, or the person that built them; as Dun-Skudborg, Dun-Derig, Dun-Skeriness, Dun-David, &c.

There are several little stone houses, built underground, called earth-houses, which served to hide a few people and their goods in time of war. The entry to them was on the sea or river side. There is one of them in the village Lachsay, and another in Camstinvag.

There are several little stone houses built above ground, capable only of one person, and round in form. One of them is to be seen in Portree, another at Lincro, and at Culuknock. They are called Tey-nin-druinich, i.e., Druid’s House. Druinich signifies a retired person, much devoted to contemplation.

The fuel used here is peats dug out of the heaths. There are cakes of iron found in the ashes of some of them, and at Flodgery village there are peats from which saltpetre sparkles. There is a coal lately discovered at Holm, in Portree, some of which I have seen; there are pieces of coal dug out likewise of the sea-sand in Heldersta of Vaternish, and some found in the village Mogstat.

The cattle produced here are horses, cows, sheep, goats, and hogs. The common work-horses are exposed to the rigour of the season during the winter and spring; and though they have neither corn, hay, or but seldom straw, yet they undergo all the labour that other horses better treated are liable to.

The cows are likewise exposed to the rigour of the coldest seasons, and become mere skeletons in the spring, many of them not being able to rise from the ground without help; but they recover as the season becomes more favourable and the grass grows up: then they acquire new beef, which is both sweet and tender. The fat and lean is not so much separated in them as in other cows, but as it were larded, which renders it very agreeable to the taste. A cow in this isle may be twelve years old, when at the same time its beef is not above four, five, or six months old. When a calf is slain it is an usual custom to cover another calf with its skin, to suck the cow whose calf hath been slain, or else she gives no milk, nor suffers herself to be approached by anybody; and if she discover the cheat, then she grows enraged for some days, and the last remedy used to pacify her is to use the sweetest voice and sing all the time of milking her. When any man is troubled with his neighbour’s cows by breaking into his inclosures he brings all to the utmost boundary of his ground, and there drawing a quantity of blood from each cow he leaves them upon the spot, from whence they go away, without ever returning again to trouble him during all that season. The cows often feed upon the alga marina, or sea ware; and they can exactly distinguish the tide of ebb from the tide of flood, though at the same time they are not within view of the sea; and if one meet them running to the shore at the tide of ebb and offer to turn them again to the hills to graze they will not return. When the tide has ebbed about two hours, so as to uncover the sea ware, then they steer their course directly to the nearest coast in their usual order ----- one after another ----- whatever their number be. There are as many instances of this as there are tides of ebb on the shore. I had occasion to make this observation thirteen times in one week; for though the natives gave me repeated assurances of the truth of it, I did not fully believe it till I saw many instances of it in my travels along the coast. The natives have a remark, that when the cows belonging to one person do of a sudden become very irregular, and run up and down the fields, and make a loud noise without any visible cause, that it is a presage of the master’s or mistress’s death, of which there were several late instances given me. James Macdonald of Capstil having been killed at the battle of Killicrankie, it was observed that night that his cows gave blood instead of milk. His family and other neighbours concluded this a bad omen. The minister of the place and the mistress of the cows, together with several neighbours, assured me of the truth of this.

There was a calf brought forth in Vaterness without legs. It leaped very far, bellowed louder than any other calf, and drank much more milk. At last the owner killed it. Kenneth, the carpenter, who lives there, told me that he had seen the calf. I was also informed that a cow in Vaternish brought forth five calves at a time, of which three died.

There was a calf at Skeriness, having all its legs double, but the bones had but one skin to cover both. The owner, fancying it to be ominous, killed it, after having lived nine months. Several of the natives thereabouts told me that they had seen it.

There are several calves that have a slit in the top of their ears; and these the natives fancy to be the issue of a wild bull that comes from the sea or fresh lakes; and this calf is by them called corky-fyre.

There is plenty of land and water fowl in this isle ----- as hawks, eagles of two kinds (the one grey and of a larger size, the other much less and black, but more destructive to young cattle), black cock, heath-hen, plovers, pigeons, wild geese, ptarmigan, and cranes. Of this latter sort I have seen sixty on the shore in a flock together. The sea fowls are malls of all kinds ----- coulterneb, guillemot, sea cormorant, &c. The natives observe that the latter, if perfectly black, makes no good broth, nor is its flesh worth eating; but that a cormorant, which hath any white feathers or down, makes good broth, and the flesh of it is good food; and the broth is usually drunk by nurses to increase their milk.

The natives observe that this fowl flutters with its wings towards the quarter from which the wind is soon after to blow.

The sea fowl bunivochil, or, as some seamen call it, carara, and others bishop, is as big as a goose, of a brown colour, and the inside of the wings white; the bill is long and broad, and it is footed like a goose; it dives quicker than any other fowl whatever; it is very fat. The case of this fowl being flayed off with the fat, and a little salt laid on to preserve it, and then applied to the thigh bone, where it must lie for some weeks together, is an effectual remedy against the sciatica, of which I saw two instances. It is observed of fire arms that are rubbed over (as the custom is here) with the oil or fat of sea fowls, that they contract rust much sooner than when done with the fat of land fowl; the fulmar oil from St. Kilda only excepted, which preserves iron from contracting rust much longer than any other oil or grease whatsoever. The natives observe that when the sea pye warbles its notes incessantly, it is a sure presage of fair weather to follow in a few hours after.

The amphibia to be seen in this isle are seals, otters, vipers, frogs, toads, and asps. The otter shuts its eyes when it eats; and this is a considerable disadvantage to it, for then several ravenous fowls lay hold on this opportunity, and rob it of its fish.

The hunters say there is a big otter above the ordinary size, with a white spot on its breast, and this they call the king of otters; it is rarely seen, and very hard to be killed. Seamen ascribe great virtues to the skin; for they say that it is fortunate in battle, and that victory is always on its side. Serpents abound in several parts of this isle; there are three kinds of them, the first black and white spotted, which is the most poisonous, and if a speedy remedy be not made use of after the wound given, the party is in danger. I had an account that a man at Glenmore, a boy at Portree, and a woman at Loch-Scahvag, did all die of wounds given by this sort of serpents. Some believe that the serpents wound with the sting only, and not with their teeth; but this opinion is founded upon a bare conjecture, because the sting is exposed to view, but the teeth very rarely seen; they are secured within a hose of flesh, which prevents their being broke; the end of them being hooked and exceeding small, would soon be destroyed, if it had not been for this fence that nature has given them. The longest of the black serpents mentioned above is from two to three, or at most four feet long.

The yellow serpent with brown spots, is not so poisonous, nor so long as the black and white one.

The brown serpent is of all three the least poisonous and smallest and shortest in size.

The remedies used here to extract the poison of serpents are various. The rump of a house-cock stript of its feathers and applied to the wound, both powerfully extract the poison, if timely applied. The cock is observed after this to swell to a great bulk, far above its former size, and being thrown out into the fields, no ravenous bird or beast will ever offer to taste of it.

The forked sting taken out of an adder’s tongue, is by the natives steeped in water, with which they wash and cure the wound.

The serpent’s head that gives the wound, being applied, is found to be a good remedy.

New cheese applied timely extracts the poison well.

There are two sorts of weasels in the isle, one of which exceeds that of the common size in bigness; the natives say that the breath of it kills calves, and lambs, and that the lesser sort is apt to occasion a decay in such as frequently have them tame about them; especially such as suffer them to suck and lick about their mouths.

The Inferior Isles About Skye


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