1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Skye

SKYE, the largest island of the Inner Hebrides, Inverness-shire, Scotland. From the mainland it is separated by the Sound of Sleat, Kyle Rhea, Loch Alsh and the Inner Sound, and from the Outer Hebrides by the Minch and Little Minch. At Kyle Rhea and Kyle akin, on the western end of Loch Alsh, the channel is only about 1/4 m. wide, and there is a ferry at both points. The length of the island from S.E. to N.W. is 485 m., but its coast is deeply indented, so that no part of the interior is more than 5 m. from the sea. It has a total area of 411,703 acres or 643 sq. m. From 20,627 in 1821 its population had grown to 23,082 in 1841, but since that date it has steadily diminished and was 15,763 in 1891, and in 1901 only 13,833 (or 21 to the sq. m.), 2858 of whom spoke Gaelic only and 9837 Gaelic and English. The chief arms of the sea are Lochs Snizort and Dunvegan in the N., Loch Bracadale in the W., Lochs Scavaig and Eishort in the S. and Loch Sligachan in the E. The mountains generally assume commanding and picturesque shapes. The jagged mass of the Cuillins (Coolins) dominates the view whether by land or sea. Their highest point is Sgurr na Banachdich (3234 ft.), and at least six other peaks exceed 3000 ft. To the north of Loch Slapin stands the group of Red Hills, of which the highest points are Ben Caillich (2403) and Ben Dearg More (2323 ft.), and north of Lord Macdonald's forest near Loch Ainort rises Ben Glamaig (2537 ft.). About 8 m. N. of Portree is the curious basaltic group of the Storr (2360), consisting of pinnacles and towers, the most remarkable of which, " The Old Man," forms a landmark for sailors. Towards the north of the island, not far from Staffin Bay, is Quiraing (1779 ft.), a basaltic mass with a variety of quaint shapes, of which the best known are " The Needle," " The Prison " and " The Table," the last named a plateau of level turf 1500 ft. above sea-level, measuring 120 ft. by 60 ft. In the peninsula of Duirinish are the two circular hills of Healaval More (1538 ft.) and Healaval Beg (1601), usually styled " Macleod's Tables," while the two pyramidal rocks rising out of the sea, near the southernmost point of Duirinish, are called " Macleod's Maidens." The only important lake is the wild and gloomy Loch Coruisk, overshadowed by the precipices of the Cuillin. It is commonly approached by boat from Loch Scavaig, from the shore of which it is about 1 m. distant. It is 1/2 m. long by 1/3 m. broad.

The greater part of the island, all the western and central part, is occupied by igneous plateaux consisting of basaltic lava flows of Tertiary age alternating with intrusive sills of dolerite; they are penetrated by numerous basic dikes and by a smaller number of acid ones. The Cuillin hills owe their striking features to the intrusion of a great laccolitic mass of gabbro within the basalts. East of these hills a large area is covered by acid intrusions—granite felsite, &c.—including the Red Hills, Marsco and Glamaig. The western portion of the island has suffered the disturbances of the N.W. highland thrusting. Torridonian rocks occupy the whole of Sleat, with the exception of a strip between the Point of Sleat and Ormsay Island which is composed of Dalradian schists. In the north of Sleat the Torridonian Sandstones have been thrust on top of Cambrian Durness limestones. Soay is wholly Torridonian. In the narrow part of the island between Broadford Bay on the N.E. and Lochs Staffin, Eishart and Scavaig on the S.W., and in a narrow strip on the east coast, also in Loch Bay, there is an interesting series of Mesozoic rocks beginning with Triassic conglomerates and marls, and passing upwards through Rhaetic, Lower Lias (Broadford Bay), Middle Lias and Upper Lias (Strathaird, Portsea, Prince Charlie's Cove), to beds representing the Great Oolite and Oxford Clay (Loch Staffin, Uig, &c). A lignite bed of Tertiary age has been worked in a small way at Portsea, and diatomite is excavated from some ancient lake deposits at Loch Cuithir, Loch Monkstadt, Loch Mealt and other places. There is abundant evidence of glacial action on the lower ground.

The rainfall amounts to 80 in. for the year. The mean temperature for the year is 47°.5 F., for January 39°.5 F. and for July 56°.5 F. Most of the land is moor and hill pasture, with cultivated patches here and there, chiefly on Lochs Snizort and Bracadale, the Sound of Sleat, Kyleakin and Portree. The crofters do best with turnips and potatoes. The climate is better adapted for sheep and cattle (West Highland) than for crops, and the sheep farms include some of the finest in Scotland and carry famous stocks, principally black-faced with some Cheviots. The condition of the crofters, which was pitiable in the extreme, has been improved by the Crofters' Holdings Act of 1886. The old black huts have been replaced, in those parishes where stone is obtainable, by well-built houses. Between 1840 and 1880 ejection had certainly been carried to great lengths. and, in consequence of the emigration that followed, was mainly responsible for the serious decline of the population. The railways to Strome Ferry, Kyle of Loch Alsh and Mallaig, by rendering markets more accessible, effected an improvement in the fisheries, which have always been a mainstay of the inhabitants. The fisheries include herring, cod, ling and salmon, and oysters are reared in some places. Seals are not uncommon at certain points, but the walrus and sperm whale, once occasional visitants, are now rarely if ever seen. It is significant of the change in the circumstances 'of the people that recruiting is now sluggish, though once Skye supplied more soldiers to the British army than any other area of similar size and population. Whisky is distilled at several places, the Talisker brand of the distillery at Carbost, on the western shore of Loch Harport, being well known.

The inhabited isles off the coast of Skye are mainly situated near the eastern shore. Of thes6 the principal is Raasay (pop. 419). Brochel Castle, now a ruin, stands on the eastern coast. The island is 13 m. long, by about 31/2 m. at its widest. Off its north-western shore lies the isle of Flodda. To the north of Raasay, separated by a narrow strait; is South Rona (Seal Island, from the Gaelic ron, a seal), 41/2 m. long with a maximum breadth of 11/4 m. , and is a lighthouse, the light of which is visible for 21 m. Scalpay, immediately south of Raasay, has a hill of 1298 ft., and the Sound of Scalpay, parting it from the mainland, abounds with oysters, The other isles are Pabbay in Broadford Bay, Ornsay in the Sound of Sleat, and Soay near Loch Scavaig.

Portree (pop. 872), the capital, lies at the head of a fine harbour about the middle of the eastern seaboard. Steamers run daily in connexion with the mail train at Mallaig, and there is, besides, other communication by steamer with Oban and other ports on the mainland and in the islands. Among the buildings in the town are the Episcopal church of St Columba, erected in 1884 to the memory of Bishop George R. Mackarness, the Ross Cottage Hospital, the Combination poorhouse and the court-house, and there is a factory for tweeds, plaids, carpets and other woollens. The exports are principally sheep, cattle, wool, salmon and other fish. The name, of the town was derived from the fact that James V. landed there on the occasion of his tour in the Western Highlands. The place thus became, in Gaelic, Port-an Righ, or the King's Harbour. It was to Portree that Flora Macdonald (1722–1790) conducted Prince Charles Edward when he escaped from Benbecula, Prince Charlie's Cave is situated on the coast about 5 m. north of the harbour. Among other places in Skye associated with the Young Pretender are Prince Charles's Point near Monkstadt, on the west of the peninsula of Trotternish, where he landed with Flora Macdonald, and Kingsburg, on the eastern shore of Loch Snizort. The castle at Dunvegan, of the Macleods of Macleod, was erected in the 9th century and extended by, later chieftains, especially by Alastair Crotach, or the Humpback, in 1458, and by Rory (Roderick) More, who was knighted by James VI. Built on a rocky promontory which is difficult of access, the fortress must have been almost impregnable in the era of clan warfare. Among the interesting relics preserved in it are the Fairy Flag, a yellow silk banner captured from a Saracen general by a crusading Macleod, and Rory More's drinking-horn, which held two quarts and had to be drained at a single draught by the new chief before he could wield authority. The MacCrimmons, the famous race of hereditary pipers, hailed from this quarter of Skye and were attached to the Macleods of Dunvegan. At Duntulm is the ancient castle of the Macdonalds, another of the great Skye chieftains. Close to it is the Hill of Pleas, where, in former days, the chieftain sat dispensing justice in the fashion of primitive times. The modern seat of Lord Macdonald is Armadale Castle, a fine Gothic mansion on the shore of the Sound of Sleat.