Wick River

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Wick (Scand. vik, 'a bay'), a large coast parish containing a royal burgh of the same name, and also a river in the NE of the county of Caithness. It is bounded N by the parishes of Bower and Canisbay, E by the outer Moray Firth, S by the parish of Latheron, and W by the parishes of Latheron, Watten, and Bower. The boundary line for 5½ miles along the N and W sides at the NW corner is formed by the Kirk Burn and its continuation the Burn of Lyth, and for ½ mile near the centre of the W side by Wick Water; elsewhere it is artificial, except along the sea coast, and at one or two points where, for short distances, it follows the courses of small burns. The extreme length of the parish, from the point on the N where the boundary reaches the sea ¼ mile N of Brough Head, S by W to the point where the boundary again reaches the sea at Bruan, is 15½ miles; the breadth varies from 2½ miles from E to W, across the centre of the Loch of Wester, to 73/8 miles measuring straight W from the projecting land S of Staxigoe; and the area is 48, 627.696 acres, of which 715.213 are water, 570.189 are foreshore, and 78.073 are tidal water. Following windings the length of the coast-line is about 27 miles, and includes in its northern portion the large sweep of Sinclair or Ackergill Bay, and near the centre Wick Bay, 7/8 mile wide in a straight line across the mouth, and ¾ mile deep from this line to the town of Wick. Immediately N of Wick Bay is the smaller bay of Broad Haven, and all along the coast from Noss Head-on the SE of Sinclair Baysouthward are a number of narrow creeks with steep rocky sides, and locally known as goes. The northern portion of the coast has a low sloping shore line, while round the greater part of Sinclair Bay there is a low sandy beach; but from the S side of this, round Noss Head and all the way southwards, there is a line of cliffs which are at many places very lofty and picturesque, rising at some points sheer from the sea to a height of over 200 feet. Close inshore, but detached, there are a number of stacks, one of which, called The Brough, 1½ mile S of Wick, is perforated by a long narrow cave which passes right through the mass of rock. Near the centre the roof of the cave has fallen in, so that an oval opening runs from the top to the sea below. A quarter of a mile N of The Brough is the Brig o' Trams- the name given to a narrow natural bridge of rock which connects an outlying stack with the mainland. There is another natural arch called the Needle E'e near Ires Goe, 1½ mile farther S, and near the South Head of Wick on the S side of the bay are several caves. The whole of the rock scenery is good, and on the S side of the South Head there is a heap of stones called the Grey Stones, which illustrate in a noteworthy manner the immense power of the waves on this exposed coast. ` To the S of the town of Wick,' says Dr Archibald Geikie, ` the waves have quarried out masses of Old Red Sandstone, and piled them up in huge heaps on the top of the cliff, sixty or a hundred feet above high-water mark. Some of the blocks of stone, which have been moved from their original position at the base or on the ledges of the cliffs, are of great size. My friend, Mr C. W. Peach, has been so kind as to send me some notes regarding them. " The largest disturbed mass," he says, "contains more than 500 tons, and is known as Charlie's Stone. Others, varying in bulk from 100 to 5 tons or less, lie by hundreds piled up in all positions in high and long ridges, which, before the march of improvement began in the district, extended far into the field above the cliff. Near the old limekiln, South Head, similar large blocks of sandstone have been moved by the gales of the last three years [1862-64]." ' The caves already mentioned are generally inhabited by tinkers, an interesting description of whose ways as modern ` cave-dwellers ' is given by Dr Arthur Mitchell in The Past in the Present (Edinb. 1880). The surface of the parish is gently undulating, and nowhere rises to any great height. In the division to the N of the valley of Wick Water the highest point is Hill of Quintfall (190 feet) in the NW; while S of the river no portion of the surface is less than 90 feet above sea-level; and towards the south-western border are Blingery Hill (340), Tannach Hill (457), Hill of Oliclett (462), Hill of Yarehouse or Yarrows (696)-which is the highest point-Whiteleen Hill (464), and Hill of Warehouse (513). Along the shore the highest point is Hill of Toftcarl (229 feet). About one-fourth of the parish, mostly near the coast and along the valley of Wick Water in the centre, is cultivated; but the rest of the surface is a bleak bare moorland, with extensive tracts of moss in the N and W of the northern district and in the centre and SW of the southern district. Across the centre of the northern section is a hollow occupied by Wester Water, Loch of Wester, and-extending along the NW corner-Burn of Lyth; another strath, occupied by the deep and extensive moss of Kilminster, stretches southward along the middle part of the western border; and a third strath, traversed by Wick Water, extends across the centre of the parish. The soil varies from light sand to good loam, but is mostly a stiff hard clay or peaty earth. The underlying rocks are flaggy beds belonging to the Old Red Sandstone, and are quarried for building purposes. Near the centre of the northern division is Loch of Wester (7/8 x ¼ mile), 21/8 miles SSW is Loch of Kilminster, and 11/8 mile farther SSW Loch of Winless (1 mile x 150 yards). In the southern division are Loch of Hempriggs, 2 miles S by W of the town of Wick; Loch of Yarehouse (½ x ¼ mile; 301 feet), 5 miles S by W of the town; Loch Sarclet (½ x 1/8 mile; 130 feet), 5 miles S of the town; and the small Loch Watenan and Groats Loch, 6½ miles S by W at Ulbster. The drainage is carried off in the N by Burn of Lyth flowing to, and Wester Water flowing from, Loch of Wester-the latter stream reaching the sea near the centre of Sinclair Bay -and by smaller streams flowing to these or direct to the loch; in the centre by Wick Water, in the W and SW of the southern division by the Achairn Burn, and in the NE of it by a burn carrying off the surplus water of Loch of Yarehouse and Loch of Hempriggs, both streams flowing to Wick Water. Loch Sarclet and Loch Watenan both drain direct to the sea. There is good fishing on the lochs and streams, but the trout are small. Wick Water has its principal source in Loch Watten (55 feet), and has thence a course of a little over 4 miles E by S to the sea, which it reaches at the head of Wick Bay. Immediately after leaving Loch Watten it receives from the S the stream formed by the joint waters of the Burn of Acharole from Loch of Toftingale and Strath Burn from the southern part of the parish of Watten; and farther down on the same side are the Achairn Burn and a burn from Hempriggs Loch. On the N side the principal tributary is a small stream from Loch of Winless. It is a sluggish stream, and though little over 30 feet in mean breadth it is subject to such heavy floods during rainy weather that it then lays s a large part of its strath under water. The fishing is poor and the trout small. The principal antiquities are remains of Pictish towers at several places-a very well preserved one being on the shore of Loch of Yarehouse-and there are also cairns and traces of stone circles and weems. There are a number of ancient burial mounds along the margin of Sinclair Bay. On a headland 1¼ mile SSW of the town is the castle of Old Wick, known locally as ` The Auld Man of Wick.' It is a ruined square tower, and is of unknown antiquity; but it must be older than the 14th century, when it was the residence of Sir Reginald de Cheyne, the last of the male line of a once powerful Norman family who held large possessions in the N of Scotland. After his death it passed to the husband of his second daughter, Nicholas, second son of Kenneth, Earl of Sutherland, and was afterwards in the possession of the Oliphants, from whom it passed to Lord Duffus, and so to Dunbar of Hempriggs. Ackergill and Girnigoe and Sinclair Castles are separately noticed. There were a number of chapels in the district, one at Ulbster being dedicated to St Martin, one at Hauster to St Cuthbert, one at Head of Wick to St Ninian, one at Sibster to St Mary, one at Kirk of Moss to St Duthac; and St Tears, on the S shore of Sinclair Bay, was associated with the Holy Innocents. Curious observances connected with Innocents' Day and Christmas Day are noticed in the New Statistical Account. The Moor of Tannach was in 1464 the scene of a clan battle between the Gunns on the one hand and the Keiths of Ackergill and the Mackays of Strathnaver on the other; and Allt-namarlach, to the W of the town, was in 1678 the scene of the defeat of the Sinclairs by Lord Glenorchy and a body of Highlanders he had mustered to enforce his claims to the earldom of Caithness. The parish is traversed for 6 miles by the Georgemas Junction and Wick section of the Highland Railway, with stations at Bilbster-9 miles ESE of Georgemas and 5 WNW of Wick-and at the town of Wick. It is also traversed by two main roads to Thurso, by one northward along the coast to Huna and Dunnet, and by one along the coast southward by Lybster to Sutherland; and there are a number of excellent district roads. The industries other than farming are connected with the town of Wick, under which they are noticed. Besides the town of Wick the parish contains also the villages of Broadhaven, Keiss, Newton, Reiss, and Staxigoe. The principal mansions are Ackergill, Bilbster, Hempriggs, Keiss, Reiss, Stirkoke, Thrumster, and Thuster.

Wick is in the presbytery of Caithness and synod of Sutherland and Caithness, and the living is worth £445 a year. The church is noticed in connection with the town. Ecclesiastically the parish is divided into Wick, Pulteneytown, and Keiss, and besides the churches noticed under the town there are Free churches at Keiss and Bruan, and a Baptist church at Keith. Under the landward school board Bilbster, Kilminster, Staxigoe, Tannach, Thrumster, West Banks, Whaligoe, and Wick schools, with accommodation for 80, 160, 120, 80, 200, 350, 80, and 110 pupils respectively, had, in 1883, attendances of 27, 69, 69, 45, 55, 190, 40, and 90, and grants of £28, 19s. 4d., £56, 9s., £38, 15s., £31, 17s. 6d., £42, 2s. 1d., £161, 16s., £29, 4s. 10d., and £77, 11s. Wick unites with Latheron to form the Latheron combination which has a poorhouse, with accommodatioin for 50, but the number of inmates seldom exceeds 10. The chief proprietor is Garden Duff-Dunbar, Esq. of Hempriggs; and 7 others hold each an annual value of £500 or upwards, 17 hold each between £500 and £100, and 116 hold each between £50 and £20. The land rental increased between the middle of last century and the middle of the present century nearly twelve-fold, but during that time large outlays were made by the proprietors for improvements. Valuation (1885) £24, 561, 7s., exclusive of the town, but inclusive of £604 for the railway. Pop. (1801) 3986, (1831) 9850, (1861) 12, 841, (1871) 13, 291, (1881) 12,822, of whom 6079 were males and 67 43 females, of whom 4769 (2269 males and 2500 females) were in the landward portion, while 6820 were in the ecclesiastical parish. Houses in the landward part (1881) 991 inhabited, 29 uninhabited, and 1 being built.—Ord. Sur., shs. 116, 110, 1878-77.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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