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Old Highland Roads
By Alex. Ross


At the Society’s meeting this evening Mr Alex. Ross, architect, read a paper on “ Old Highland Roads.” Mr Ross’s paper was as follows:—

OLD HIGHLAND ROADS.

In the paper I propose reading to you on this occasion it is my intention to try to trace out the progress of road-making as an index to the state of the Highlands, and to show, as far as I can, the bearing they have had on the progress and civilisation of the country, more particularly on this Northern region. The making of roads must have been the first efficient step to the development of the country, for until these and other convenient modes of transport are developed, no country can progress either in wealth or comfort. No doubt it was owing to the want of these that the Highlands of Scotland remained as a whole so far behind the other parts of Britain, and that portion still remains in the rear.

England and the Southern portions of Scotland were until the middle of last century far ahead of the Highlands, and possessed many advantages over our mountainous and rugged country. We find in early history glimpses of culture and comfort in the North, but these were for the upper and ruling classes, not for the great mass of the people. The noble and the chief, being able to visit foreign lands, would naturally gather ideas of culture, and returning to their native land would spread a certain amount of cultivation and improvement around their immediate surroundings ; but without roads or means of communication there can be no advance for the peasant and dependant.

The Romans thoroughly understood and acted on this principle, and as soon as they conquered and over-ran a country, they set about road-making in an extensive and effective manner. We now even find, after a lapse of fifteen centuries, traces of their work, and in some cases their roads are still in use. In the beginning of the third century, Severus opened up the country for his troops by clearing the jungles, forming roads in every direction, and throwing bridges over rivers, so as to penetrate slowly with his troops, and enable them to continue in possession of the districts as they occupied them in their advance. He advanced to the Northern Wall by the road called Watling Street, repairing the fortification of the stations as he passed from the Wall. Near “Falkirk a road proceeds in a direct line to Stirling, where the great pass over the Forth into the north has its locality.” From Stirling he went westward, along the banks of the Forth. Where now are to be seen the Flanders and Kincardine mosses, there must have extended one dense forest, the remains of which are embedded in these mosses. There, at some depth below the present surface, are to be found remains of Roman roads. From Stirling, the Roman road proceeds through Stratheme, to the junction of the Almond with the Tay. Crossing the Tay, it leaves the camp at Grassy Walls, which had been occupied by Agricola, and proceeds in the direction of a large camp near Forfar, termed Battledykes, in the parish of Othlaw. From this the road continues through Forfar, Kincardine, and Aberdeen, and terminates at the shores of the Moray Firth. Their camps were at Wardykes, near Keithock, Raedykes, near Stonehaven, Normandykes on the Dee, and Raedykes on the Ythan. According to Chalmers, the Roman road passed on to Cullen Bay, and then westward to Burghead and Forres or Varis, thence south across the Spey through the Grampians in an almost direct line to the camp at the crossing of the Tay. In this great advance north they were assisted and supported by their fleet, which sailed along the coast.

Traces of the Roman roads remain in various places, and their camps and stations are undoubted. In the South of Scotland the mode of formation is u yet to be seen, especially at Kilcadzow; the Romans appear to have placed broad stones in the bottom of the road where the ground was soft, and broke others very small with which they covered the surface.” The popular name of some of these roads was the “Devil’s Causeway.” In the Statistical Account of Trinity Gask, the writer says that the Roman road or causeway passes along the highest ground in the parish. It is twenty feet broad, and is composed of rough stones closely laid together. It is in entire preservation, as the proprietor of the adjacent grounds, though he enclosed the fields on each side with stone dykes, did not Buffer a stone to be taken from the road. Along the causeway are stations capable of containing ten or twelve men, and they are enclosed by ditches, which are yet very distinct, and seem to have been designed for the accommodation of the men engaged at the work. These roads can be traced distinctly north so far as Stonehaven. It was called the “Long Causeway,” and there are traces of similar roads even as far north as Bennachie, and traces of what are supposed to have been Roman roads are still to be seen by Forres, at Lynbreak, at a height of 1240 feet; Congash, two and a-half miles from Gran town; and at Cromdale ; and some authorities say that even at Bona, at the north end of Lochness, a Roman camp existed. Still more surprising, at Fort-Augustus (Scot. Mag. 1767, p. 326), in digging a trench in 1767 some workmen found an earthem urn of blue colour, with 300 pieces of coin of mixed metal, apparently of the reign of Diocletian. The evidence of any advance west of Forres is very scant, and it requires a stretch of imagination to connect the extreme outpost through Braemar. The camps, however, do not seem to have been constructed of the same massive materials as they were further south.

The roads above mentioned have always been attributed by the country people to the Romans. In Chalmers’s “ Caledonia” they are traced with great minuteness, and the line is given on the map. Skene also concludes that there are indications of Roman works at Pitmain, near Kingussie. These I have not been able to identify.

By means of these roads Severus was able to pass through and possess the country without difficulty, but although, by means of his roads and camps, and the great Wall from the Forth to the Clyde, he was able to maintain the southern portion in security and peace, yet on the departure of the Romans, in 410, the good effects of these roads seem to have ceased, and we do not find any subsequent attempts to form roads or means of communication on a great scale till the beginning of the last century.

The effects of the Roman improvements were, however, very distinct during their occupation, and Britain was described by Cumenius thus—“So productive is it in fruit, and so fertile in pastures, so rich in metals, and valuable for its contributions to the Treasury, surrounded on all sides with abundance of harbours and immense line of coast, that during the reign of Julian it had become of importance as an exporting country, and formed his great resource from whence he drew a large supply of corn during the great scarcity on the Continent.” I have prepared a rough plan showing the extent of the Roman roads according to Camden. It is amazing the extent of works, roads, and fortifications they executed in this country.

After the departure of the Romans, Britain was in a manner given over to conflicting partiel, viz., the Britons, the Picts, the Scots, and the Saxons or Angles, and a long period of darkness succeeds. One writer (Procopius) described it in the sixth century as two islands, the region to the west of the Wall (by which he indicates Caledonia, or the district north of the Forth and Clyde), “ as a region infested by wild beasts, and with an atmosphere so tainted that human life could not exist,” and he repeats a fable derived, he says, from the inhabitants, that this region was the place of departed spirits.

After the Romans, the country as a whole seems to have sunk into a hopeless state of anarchy; and though no doubt in the great towns and their immediate vicinity roads may have been formed, there is no evidence to show that any general scheme of communication was carried out. The native Britons seem to have done something, however. They made many hill forts to defend themselves against the Norsemen and Scandinavians, and in the Mearas there are tracks which are called traditionally Picts’ roads by the country people; and the famous “catrail” or Picts-work ditch, a line of defence by a ditch or rampart running through Selkirk, Roxburgh, and Galashiels, a distance of forty-five miles, is supposed to have been a line of defence between the Britons and the Saxons. Chalmers says—“ It is as different from a Roman road as a crooked from a straight line, or a concave from a convex,” and he refers it to the Pictish or second period. There is a similar work near the Eildon Hills which tradition has associated with King Arthur; but the whole is involved in obscure mist of tradition, and is still a puzzle to antiquarians.

Chalmers in his “Caledonia” divides the history of Scotland into various periods. 1st, the Roman, from a.d. 80 till 446; 2nd, Pictish, 446 till 843, comprehending the affairs of the Picts, state of the Romanized Britons, the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons on the Tweed, adventures of the Scandinavians in the Orkney and Western Isles; 3rd, the Scottish period, from 843 till 1097 ; and 4th, the Scottish Saxon, 1097 till 1306. With this period, he says, began a dynasty of kings, who introduced new people, new manners, new usages, and new establishments. “ In this period the Saxon colonisation of Scotland proper was begun. In this period originated her agriculture, commerce, shipping, and fishing, her manufactures and her coins.”

We have no very distinct account of the roads or means of communications, yet from incidental reference to them we know they existed in one shape or other, but they could have been little better than drove roads or tracks in most places. An old custom, which gave the right to travellers passing through the country to quarter for one night on any estate and there pasture their beasts, Baying only growing com and hay, was confirmed, and received the Royal sanction of Alexander III. in the 13th century. In contemporary charters reference is often made to “Via Virides,” “Alta Via,” “Via Regia,” “Via Regalis,” showing that, whatever their quality, such roads existed.

This ancient right of way and pasture was common, and is often referred to in the times of Alexander II. The Monks of Newbattle going between there and their Abbey lands in Clydesdale, had the privilege of going and returning through the lands of Retrevyer by the road they had used in times past with their cattle and carriages, and also of unyoking their beasts from their waggons and pasturing in the pasturage of that land as often as they required, avoiding corn and meadow, and passing the night there once in going and once in returning. For this the monks agreed to pay “a new wraggon such as they manufactured for their own use in Clydesdale laden with timber or building material of any kind.” This would indicate roads in this district at any rate, and rather a good model of a waggon.

Yet the roads seem to have been few and far between. Bridges seem to have received early attention, and to have been recognised as important factors in the trade of the country. The ferry and the bridge were of the utmost importance. The road could be varied according to its condition and the state of the weather, but the ford and ferry were fixed. Accordingly, we find at very early dates good bridges were erected over many of the principal rivers, and as early as 1220 we find the bridge over the South Esk at Brechin was of such importance that Stephen, of Kinnairdesley, dispones of the land of Drumslied to Gregory, Bishop of Brechin, for the sustentation of the Bridge of Brechin, and for the chaplain praying for the dead. There is record of the repairs of this bridge from this date down to the present day, and Andrew Jervise, in his account of Angus and Mearns, says the south existing arch is the original one of 1220, and hence this is one of the oldest bridges in Scotland. I examined this bridge lately, and a portion of it does seem very ancient, though much altered to make it match with the newer portions, the old rib being cut away on the underface, and the edge splayed so as to destroy its original mould and beauty. About the same period there existed similar bridges over the Tay at Perth, the Esk at Logie-Pert, the Dee at Kincardine O’Neill, and another near Aberdeen, and one over the Spey at Orkill. Cosmo Innes says that, during the reign of William and the two Alexanders, Scotland was more advanced and prosperous than she was at any time afterwards down till the Union in 1707.

The bridge across the Ness was one of some importance, but it was not till 1680 that we had a great stone one. At that date the matter was considered of such importance that on 3rd March, 1680, printed papers remitted by the Lords of his Majesty’s Privy Council, appointing a voluntary contribution to be collected in this kingdom for building a stone bridge upon the great River Ness, near the famous city of Inverness, were dispersed this day through the Presbytery, and through ministers, appointed to make intimation thereof in their respective bounds. “ 29th March, 1682.—The Moderator recommended the upgatliering of the voluntary contributions for the bridge at Inverness to the ministers of the Presbytery according to counsel.” The bridges at Inverness up to this time seem always to have been of timber; the earliest of which we have any notice was burned by Donald of the Isles in 1410, and the last of these stood a little below the site of the present bridge. This is characterised by one of the officers of Cromwell’s army as “the weakest that ever straddled over so strong a stream.” It fell September 28, 1664, with 200 people upon it, none of whom were killed. The scene is thus described— “The great old wooden bridge of Inverness was repairing, and by the inadvertency of a carpenter cutting a beam that lay betwixt two couples, the bridge tending that way, ten of the old couples fell flat on the river with about 200 persons—men, women, and children—on it. Four of the townsmen broke legs and thighs; some sixteen had their heads, arms, and thighs bruised; all the children safe without a scart. A signal providence and a dreadful sight at ten forenoon.” The next bridge was of stone, consisting of seven arches. The stones for building it were got mainly from Cromwell’s Fort. It was very graceful. The arches were semicircular, and carried on fine moulded arch ribs, which gave the intrados of the arches a most pleasing appearance.

In England the old Roman roads were allowed to fall into decay, and the earliest legislation we have on the subject is in 1285, when it was ordered that all bushes and trees along the road leading from one market to another should be cut down for 200 feet on either side to prevent robbers lurking therein, but nothing was proposed for mending the ways themselves.

Referring back to the 12tli century, from this period onward till the 16tli century there is little to record but occasional glimpses showing how little the country progressed. Charches were built and mills established. There seems to have been no combined action for furthering trade and commerce, though shipping no doubt increased and various industries flourished. Woollen and flax were manufactured in the times of David I., and saltworks flourished and were profitable to the king, nobles, and monks. Yares and stells were abundant in the 13tli century, but means of communication seem to have been neglected. The Flemish merchants were settling in the country in the time of David I. and Malcolm at St Andrews, and there was trade with the Continent in wine and corn. The burghs were granted special privileges for trade in William the Lion’s time, and coal began to be dug in 1291 as an article of trade ; but even in 1563 the only mode of transporting it was in creels on horseback. No mechanical contrivance had been invented for excavating it.

During the Scots-Saxon period horses began to be extensively reared, and were employed as well as oxen in carts, from which the inference is that there must have been roads, and they are mentioned incidentally in the chartularies. The monks cultivated the wastes and subdued the woodlands, “they rendered what was already arable more productive, and those improvements which are called in the chartularies incrementum and wainagia.” They enclosed by lining hedges and often by wooden fences. “They know and practice the modern art of making roads, they cut ditches on either side to carry oil' water, and covered the roadway with hard material. They made the roads on the Roman models, and built bridges for passing torrents/’ (See Chart, of Melrose).

I will now quote a few incidental references to roads and means of communications When Malcolm in 1164 gave the privilege of sanctuary to his hospital at Solairs Hill between the Lothians and Lauderdale, a path was made to Melrose through the moors called “Girth Gateway meaning the Sanctuary roads. Cosmo limes, ill his “Scotch Legal Antiquities,” says of the monks of Kelso— “They had waggons for their harvest and wains of some sort for bringing peats from the moss, and over sea commodities from Berwick, which implies there then were roads passable for such carriages ; but, indeed, we have evidence of the existence of such loads in that country a good deal earlier, as early as William the Lion ; and it is worth noting the mention of Kings’ high roads in the time of Alexander all through Scotland from Berwick to Inverness, although it may he doubtful whether these were in all eases roads for wheel carriages, or were rather in many cases only for horses, whether for saddle or pack horses.”

We have in the foregoing reference to waggons. As yet coaches had not been introduced, and it was only in 1594 that Guillan Broomu, a Dutchman, brought a coach for Queen Elizabeth. It was an affair without springs, the body resting on solid axles, and it must have been thoroughly uncomfortable, “and after a while divers great ladies, with as great jealousy of the Queen’s displeasure, made them coaches, and rid in them up and down the countries to the great admiration of the beholders, and then by little and little they grew usual among the nobility and others of sort, and within twenty years became a great trade in coachbuilding.” The post, which was only established in London and Edinburgh in 1635, was carried on horseback. Travelling day and night, the post went and returned in six days.

In 1635 the Marquis of Huntly, when summoned to Edinburgh to answer for having “receipted and supplied broken men,” travelled in the dead of the year, cold, tempestuous, and stormy. He and his lady, however, travelled by chariot, on his return being weaker and weaker. He set out for his northern castle “in a wand bed within his chariot, his lady still with him. He died on the journey in an inn at Dundee, whence his body was brought in a horse litter to Strathbogie for burial.”

During the latter part of the seventeenth century :i largo trade in cattle began to be carried 011 between Scotland and England, and the transporting of these became a matter of importance. In 1697 the matter came before the Privy Council, and “it was represented that between New Galloway and Dumfries there was no defined or made road. It was the line of passage taken by immense herds of cattle which were continually passing from the green pastures of the Galloway hills into England, a branch of economy held to be the main support of the inhabitants of the district, and the grand source of its rents.” Droves of cattle are, however, apt to be troublesome to the owners and tenants of ground through which they pass, and such was the case here. “Several debates have happened of late in the passage of droves from New Galloway to Dumfries. The country people endeavoured by violence to stop the droves and impose illegal exaction of money u]>on the cattle, to the great damage of the trade, whereby also riots and bloodshed have been occasioned, which had gone greater length if those who were employed to carry up the cattle had not managed with great moderation and prudence. The result of the petition was that a Commission was appointed by the Privy Council to make and mark a highway for drovers frae New Galloway to Dumfries, holding the high and accustomed travelling way betwix the said two burghs.”

These cattle raikes, as they are now called in the South, became common, and were so broad that cattle could feed by the way; considerable portions still exist, and held as right of way. I lately examined some in Forfarshire, notably at Trinity Muir, near Brechin, and at Little Brechin. They are from 50 to 100 feet broad, with turf dykes on each side, and the track meanders along it, occupying only a very narrow breadth, the margins being overgrown with whins and grass, but affording in summer a very substantial bite for the cattle. These “rakes” are rapidly being curtailed and absorbed in the adjoining lands, and of the road, which, in the memory of my informant, extended from Perth to the “Mearns,” only a small fragment remains here and there to indicate its existence.

These cattle tracks, which became common, and were in use from all parts of the North, literally gave the guiding lines to General Wade for his great system of military roads. We have a very good specimen in our own neighbourhood going over the Leachkin. The space between the bounding dykes, however, is so considerable that squatters settle on the margin and build houses. This formed a few years ago the subject of a very interesting law plea, in which the squatters were successful, as against Mr Baillie, the proprietor of the adjoining lands, who sought to have them removed, but it was proved that he at any rate had no claim on the ground. This cattle track, or common, is shown on the Ordnance Survey as extending up to the Caiplach, or near where the townspeople at one time cut their peats and fed their cattle. It appears, however, to have extended to Bcauly, and parts of it are to be seen at Inchberry and Lentran. Many of these drove roads are yet in use, a main one running from the Wrest Highlands, from Skye, via Kyle Rhea, through Glenshiel, by Tomindoun, Glengarry, Loch Arkaig, and Lochaber, branching through behind P>en Nevis to Loch Rannoch and on to Crieff. Another main line led from Fort-Augustus, Corryirrick, to Dalwhinnie, through Drumochter to Aberfeldy and Crieff, passing on its way, near Taymouth, the door of the famous old lady, “ Roy’s Wife,” who became, it is said, really the landlady of the inn, and finally reaching the famous Falkirk market stance. Similar lines of traffic led through Grantown by Speyside and Tomintoul into Forfar, and yet remain ;us great rights-of-way. From Strathspey there were several roads into Forfarshire by Tomintoul, over the Caim-na-Month, the Firmonth, and Mount Kean. These roads were frequented by the natives passing with their cattle, and also going to and returning from Dundee and the other Lowland towns. The Highlanders brought for sale their “hame art,” cloth, stockings, and other home-made stuffs, also wooden implements, which they disposed of to the people ; in return, buying such articles as they required for use in their homes. They generally marched with their ponies tied head and tail in long lines. On these lines of march, many of them to be yet traced across the country, there were change-houses at every three Scotch miles, in which bawTbee ale was brewed. In the more unfrequented paths there were rough shelter-houses, where the drovers took shelter, and enjoyed such entertainment as they may have carried along with them; and some of the old drovers could tell wonderful stories of the carousals they held in them wThen two or three kindred spirits met, with a sufficient supply of drink and other good things. One remarkable fact in connection with these lines of roads was that they always led past good springs. They were in stages from spring to spring. The following account I received from a valued correspondent I give in full:—

“MEMORANDUM—ROADS, ETC., FORFARSHIRE.

“Roads were in a very miserable state up to the end of last century, and even into the present. They were little more than cattle and horse tracks, improved a little from time to time by rough stones gathered from adjoining fields. These cattle tracks or raikes ran through the country in different directions, being fed by connection with the great passes into Aberdeen, Banff, and Moray. They were five in number—1st, the Drove Road, from lower Deeside, getting into the lower country at Stonehaven; 2nd, the Cairn o’ Mount Road, joining at Fettereairn; 3rd, the Mount Kean Road, joining at Edzell ; 4th, the Capel Mount, joining at Kirriemuir; 5th, the Glenshee Road, from Castletown of Braemar. The raikes seem to have been formed with reference to good watering and common grazing fur stock resting. They had a division into stages, where refreshment could be got for man and beast at the ‘ Change Houses,’ as they were called. Bawbee ale was brewred, that is, ale sold at id a bottle, but they brewed also penny ale, and at most of them a glass of smuggled gin could be got. The great goods traffic from the North was carried on by horses and panniers. The load was equal to 2 bolls of meal or 256 lbs. These Change Houses were about three Scots miles apart, and the remains of them are still to be seen. There are two of them on this farm. My grandfather minded of as many as 10 horses passing in front of this house, loaded with north country home-wrought woollen goods for the Dundee market. They travelled in numbers for safety, robbing being often attempted on the return journey. In the reign of Charles II. an Act was passed empowering lairds, of a certain valuation, to call out the people for six days’ work on the roads in summer. Persons who had carts and horses were also bound to furnish their labour. The roads so formed were called ‘ Statute Labour Roads.’ An Act was passed in 1790 converting the statute labour into money in Forfarshire. It was directed by trustees, being proprietors of land. This gave a great impetus to road improvement. Then another Act was passed in 1811, being an improvement on tlie former. In 1878 the county adopted the Roads and Bridges Act for Scotland. The tolls were abolished, and now, under an assessment of l£d per £, our roads have been brought into a good state of repair. The burghs keen their own roads.

W. S.
“February, 1888.”

Similar tracks or drove roads existed in the North, and I remember well old W. Macleod of Ivingsburgh pointing out the stages on the Lochcarron road, where he used to breakfast by a well near Auchnasheen after an early march of eight or ten miles ; for the drover in the Highlands always made out a good stage before breakfast.

In the beginning of the present century the mode of travelling and traffic similar to that referred to in Forfarshire obtained in the Highlands, and the laird of Appleeross had an understanding with his crofters when they came to Inverness to take home his winter supply of groceries. The ponies went in line, head and tail, each with two small wooden boxes, painted red, slung over their barks. The pay was Os for the journey to and from Inverness, and included all expenses and charges.

It is interesting to watch how the old and new roads run together at various points, and particularly along the course of the Highland Railway, where, at a point near Blair-Athole, the old cattle ti.u k may be seen by the line. General Wade’s road and round-aphed bridge's are well up the hill, rising and falling with its undulations, while a little below the road made by the Commission! of Highland Roads and Bridges, with its low crowned and flattened winds along its comparatively level course, while we run along the fourth line of communication in a comfortable railway c image; and we can well imagine some of the forts and perils of our ancestors.

A traveller, Moivr, who came to Scotland ill 1702, says: — “Stage coaches did not exist, but there were a few hackneys at Edinburgh which mi^ht be hired into the country upon urgent orra>ioiis The truth is the roads will hardly allow them to conveniences, with the reason that the gentry, men and women, chose rather to u>e their horses. However, the great men often travel with coach and six, but ith so great caution that, besides their other attendants, they have a running footman on each side of the coach to manage and keep it up in rough places.’’

The state of the roads are discused in a poem in 1737. It describes the roads to Kintail in connection with the famous Donald Murchison, :—

“Keppoch, Rob Roy, and Daniel Murchison,
Cadets or servants to some Chief of clan ;
From thefts or robbings scarce did ever cease,
Yet ’scaped the halter each and died in peace.
This last his exiled master’s rents collected,
Nor into king or law would be subjected ;
Tho’ veteran troops upon the confines lay,
Sufficient to make lord and tribe a prey.
Yet passes strong through which no roads were cut,
Safe guarded Seaforth’s clan each in his hut;
Thus in stronghold the rogue securely lay,
Neither could they by force be driven away ;
Till his attainted Lord and Chief of late
By ways and means repurchased his estate.”

I may quote a bit of description from Smiles’ “Lives of the Engineers,” taken from OgiIvy’s “Britannia Depieta” :—

“In the latter part of the 17th century the roads at a distance from the metropolis were in many cases but rude tracks across heaths and commons, as furrowed with deep ruts as ploughed fields, and in winter to pass along them was like travelling in a ditch. The attempts made by the adjoining occupiers to mend them were, for the most part, confined to throwing large stones into the bigger holes to fill them up.”

It was easier to allow new tracks to be made than to mend the old ones. The lauds of tho country were still mostly unenclosed, and it was thus possible, in fine weather, to get from place to place, in one way or another, with the help of a guide. In the absence of bridges guides were necessary to point out the safest fords as well as to pick out the least mi rev tracks. The most frequented lines of “roads were struck out from time to time by the drivers of pack horses, who, to avoid the bogs and sloughs, were usually careful to keep along the high grounds; but to prevent those horsemen who departed from the beaten tracks being swallowed up in quagmires, beacons were erected to warn them against the most dangerous places.”

In some of the older settled districts of England the old roads are still to be traced in the hollow ways or lanes which are to be met with in some places eight or ten feet deep. Horse tracks in summer and rivulets in winter, the earth became gradually worn into these deep furrows, many of which, in Wilts and Somerset and Devon, represent the tracks of roads as old as, if not older than, the Conquest.

Many instances might be quoted of the difficulties of travel in the Highlands during the last century or two. The following letter from John Dickson to the laird of Glenorquhay shows how personal luggage was conveyed :—

“I have been telling your man that I have a mind to send a little tronk with some of my wifes, and my own best clothes to the Highlands. And, therefore, as I desire rather to be beholden to you than others, so I must in this calamitous tyme crave pardon to be so far troublesome to you as to desire that you would at any time within this fortnight send one of your tenants with a naig and creiles on him with the bearer hereof, also to carry the said little tronk to your house of Finlarg, &c.”

The following remarks occur in Dr Chaphane’s journal of a journey to Kilravock in 1750 :—“From Strathbogy to Keith, six very long miles, and two bad stonnv hills, from Keith six miles to Fochabers are not so long, pretty good road.” To Elgin, six miles good road. Short miles. [N.B.—Milos very long in this country, cannot go above three miles journey riding. Why miles so long ?] A certain Lord having asked “a gentleman what great advantages Murravshire had over other counties, was told it had three—that they had 40 miles of better road than in most counties; almost always better weather; and the third was they had but one Lord among them (Lord Murray), and he had no interest or following.”

Burt says of the roads about Inverness (1725)—“There is little need for carts for the business of the town, and when a hogshead of wine has to be carried to any part not far distant, it has been placed on a kind of frame between four horses, two on a side following each other. For not far off, except along the sea coast and some new roads, the ways are so rough and rocky that no wheel has ever turned up<>u them since the formation of the globe ; and, therefore, if the townsmen were furnished with sufficient wheeled carriages for goods of great weight, they would seldom be useful.’’

For hill travelling the sleigh was more useful, and this contrivance is still in use for peat carriage and agricultural purposes. You are all familiar with the luipen or conical basket placed in a frame between two trains, and drawn by the garron along the hillside. Though now disused, I have often seen them in use for peats in the suburbs of this town, and when on wheels in the streets. Burt further describes the wheels in his day as made of a broad board, which wore down irregularly, and made a most uncomfortable and jolting contrivance.

It was not, however, till the rebellion of 1715 that the full effect of the want of means of communication with the Highlands was felt, when the Royal troops could not penetrate further than Blair-Athole ; and so active were the Government in this matter that, before the rebellion of 1745, roads had been earned through from Stirling to Inverness, and from Inverness to Fort-William, and these were found so useful that the work was carried on till 1770, when the annual sum required for their repair was replaced by annual grants, and the roads ceased, in a large measure, to be of a military character. At this time there had been about 800 miles of roads made, and 1000 bridges.

Although these good military roads were made, the people were not disposed to avail themselves of them, for Burt says, “the people say the bridges in particular will render the ordinary people effeminate and less fit to pass the waters in other places where there are none.”

The middling orders say that to them the roads are an inconvenience instead of being useful, as they have turned them out of their old ways, for their horses being never shod, the gravel would soon whet away their hoofs, so as to render them unsuitable, w'hereas the rocks and moor stones, though together they make a rough way, yet, considered separately, they arc generally pretty smooth on the surface where they tread, and the heath is always easy to the feet. To this I have been inconsiderately asked, Why, then, do they not shoe their horses?

“This question is easily put, and costs nothing but a few various sounds; but where is the iron, the forge, the farrier, the people, within a reasonable distance to maintain them? and, lastly, where is the principal requisite—money?

“The lowest class, who, many of them at some times cannot compass a pair of shoes for themselves, allege that the gravel is intolerable to their naked feet, and the complaint has extended to their thin brogues.

“It is true they do sometimes, for these reasons, go without the road, and ride or walk in very incommodious ways. This has induced some of our countrymen, especially such as have been in Minorca (where roads of thi* kind have likewise been made), to accuse the Highlanders of Spanish obstinacy in refusing to make use of so great a convenience, purely because it is a novelty introduced by the English. But why do the black cattle do the same thing? Certainly for the ease of their feet.”

The Parliamentary grants from 1770 to 1783 amounted to £7000, and for the next twenty years to £4700. The roads being made at first partly for military purposes and by military engineers, the question of gradient was not so fully taken into account, and they were often exposed to mountain torrents, and carried up ascents so steep as to render them useless for traffic. Accordingly, when they began to be used for commercial purposes, it was found necessary to alter the lines, and cheaper to do so than to continue the repairs year after year.

In 1708 the Lords of the Treasury caused a letter to be written to the Commander-in-Chief in Scotland enquiring whether the grant might be immediately discontinued, and asking him what suggestions he might have to make. Sir Ralph Abercromby, the then < ’ouimander in Chief, says that the roads ill question are no longer necessary in a military point of view, and is inclined to believe that the counties through which the roads pass are now in a situation to maintain them. The bridges were erected without any Parliamentary aid, but he believes it impossible that they can be supported unless Government will allow a certain sum annually to the counties through which the military roads run. The result was that the Government did not at once abandon the roads, but gradually diminished the mileage till it was reduced to about 530 miles. Amongst those so abandoned was the road from Fort-Augustus to Glenshiel, which was, however, only a partially made road at best.

In 1S02 a Select Commission was appointed to investigate the whole question of Naval Stations of the Caledonian Canal, the Fisheries, and Emigration (which was then prevalent), and Thomas Telford was appointed their engineer. The result of this was the Highland Roads and Bridges Act in 1803. The military roads kept in repair bv the Government in the various counties were as follows: Perth, 118 miles; Elgin, 41; Nairn, 16; Argyll, 77: Aberdeen, 37 : Banff, 10; Inverness, 181 ; Dumbarton, 20— Total, 530. The annual average cost was per mile. Tin' returns in is 11 show about 833 miles of new roads made and maintained in the Highlands, or in all (including the military roads which were finally taken over bv the Commission in 1814) 1363 miles. The maintenance of these roads continued in the hands of the Commissioners till August, 1S62, when the grants were finally withdrawn, and the burden of maintaining the road and bridges transferred to the counties.

The character of the old military roads differ much from those afterwards constructed by the Commissioners. They were essentially military, and their use is well put in a report by the Highland Society of Scotland in 1814, in arguing for keeping in repair the old roads at the public expense :—

“Though these roads are not necessary for the purpose of military communication, yet if they be not kept in repair the intercourse betwixt the Highlands of Scotland and the Southern part of the kingdom will in a great degree be at an end, to the great disadvantage of both, as the South receives annually by the conveyance of these roads a great supply of sheep, cattle, wool, and other articles from the Northern and Highland districts, &c.

“Besides, if these roads were allowed to fall into disrepair, it would be in some places impracticable, and in others tedious and difficult, to march troops from the South to the important Northern and Western stations on the coast of Scotland, or for the judge to run the circuits, &c.

“In populous and cultivated districts, roads not only serve as the means of communication from other parts of the country, but are highly valuable for agricultural, commercial, and other local purposes. In the Highlands the case is widely different. Roads are there signally valuable to the country at large by affording means of communication between distant parts of the kingdom, and opening up tracts capable of improvement and increased population; but to the barren districts through which they pass, capable of no agricultural improvement, inhabited only by the shepherd and his dog, they are of comparatively little value, in some instances actually none, and therefore incapable of being maintained by the locality through which they pass.”

The making of these military roads, or General Wade’s roads, as they are called, occupied the soldiers from about the year 1722 and 1723, till near the end of the century, and I may here give a sketch of the mode in which they were carried out. General Wade having taken careful surveys in the Highlands, was prepared to set to work in 172”). His plan was founded on the old Roman method of doing the work by the soldiers, and allowing them extra pay. Five hundred men were selected for the purpose, and engineers and surveyors sent from England, one of these being the well-known Captain Burt, whose account of the Highlands has ever since formed a valuable source for modern investigators. In the summer season (during eleven years) 500 men were employed. The privates were allowed (id a-day over and above their pay, a corporal 8d, and a searjeant 1s ; this extra pay being only for working days.

By 1735 the greater part of the roads were finished. One of the first roads made was from Fort-William to Inverness, and Lord Townshend, Secretary of State, 011 16th August, 1720, writing from Killiwhimmen (Fort-Augustus), says—“I have inspected the new road between this place and Fort> William, and ordered it to be enlarged and carried on for wheeled carriages over the mountains on the south side of Lochness, so that before midsummer next there will be a good coach road from that place, which before was not passable on horseback in many places.”

In 172G Lord Townshend drove in his coach and six from Inverness to Fort-William, to the great wonder and delight of the people. This was the same machine, as Burt tells us, that was brought by the coast road to Inverness from the South, and of which, he said, the people saluted the driver, and little regarded the great folk inside. In 1728 the great road from Inverness to Dunkcld was made, a distance of 90 miles; about 300 men were employed on it. Speaking of provisions, Wade says—“There is so great a scarcity of them in this barren country I am obliged to bring my biscuits, cheese, etc., for the support of the workmen from Edinburgh by land carriage, which, though expensive, is of absolute necessity.” One of the most difficult bits ot road making was the pass of Corryarrick, winch leads from Dalwhinnie to Fort-August us. General Wade was keenly alive to the importance of getting the roads opened up for traffic, and was in correspondence with Culloden (President Forbes), and stationed himself, in 1729, at Dalnacardoch, in order to get the main road pushed on. Both President Forbes and General Wade had their eyes open to the plotting going on amongst the .Jacobites. In this year the great wheeled carriage was for the first time seen in Badenoch. The General and Culloden met at Ruthven in Badenoch, and held a consultation. The former returned to Dalnacardoch and the latter to Inverness.

The climate and isolation seem to have told on the men, and the General had to give them an entertainment from time to time. One of these is described as taking place at a spot near Dalnaspidal, opposite the opening of Loch Garry. The working parties met under their officers, and formed a square surrounding a tent. Four oxen were roasted whole, “in great order and solemnity, and four ankers of brandy were broached.” The men dined al fresco, the General and officers in their tents. The beef was excellent, and loyal toasts were drunk. The guests were Sir Robert Clifton, Sir Duncan Campbell, Colonel Guest, and Major Duroure. A similar entertainment was given at Corryarrick in October, 1731. It is thus described by a Mr Macleod, probably the laird of Dun-vegan. “Upon entering,” he says, ua little glade among the hills, lately called Laggan-a’-Bhainne, but now by the soldiers Sungburgh, I heard the noise of many people, and saw six great fires, about which a number of soldiers were very busy. During my wonder at the cause of this, an officer invited me to drink their Majesties’ healths. I attended him to each fire, and found that there were six working parties of Tatton’s, Montague’s, Mark Ker’s, Harrison’s, and Hampside’s regiments, and the party from the Highland companies, making in all about 500 men, who had this summer, with indefatigable pains, completed the great road for wheeled carriages between Fort-Augustus and Ruthven. Being the King’s birthday, General Wade had given the detachment a feast; six oxen were roasted, one for each party.”

Perhaps the most graphic, as well as amusing, account of travelling and the roads in the beginning of the last century is that given by Lord Lovat on his way south in 1740. He says, writing from Edinburgh, u I took a journey from my own house to come up here the 30th of July with both my daughters, but if I was as much of an observer of freits as I used to be I would not have taken journey. For two days before I came away one of my coach mares, as she was stepping into the park, droped down dead, as if she had been shot with a cannon ball. The next day, when I went to bid farewell, one of the hind wheels of my chariot broke in pieces, that kept me two days to get new wheels.” He then says, “I came off on Wednesday, the 30th of July, from my own house; dined at your sister’s, and did not halt at Inverness, but came all night to Corribrough with Evan Baillie and Duncan Fraser, and my chariot did very well. I brought my wheelwright with me the length of Aviemore in case of accidents, and there I parted with him, because he declared my chariot would go safe enough to London ; but I was not eight miles from the place when, on the plain road, the axletree of the hind wheels broke in two, so that my girles were forced to go on bare horses behind footmen, and I was obliged to ride myself, tho’ I was very tender, and the day very cold. I came with that equipage to Ruthven late at night, and my chariot was pulled there by force of men, where I got an English wheelwright and a smith, who wrought two days mending my chariot; and after paying very dear for their work, and for my quarters two nights, I was not gone four miles from Ruthven when it broke again, so that I was in a miserable condition till I came to Dalnakeardach, where my honest landlord, Charles M‘Glassian, told me that the Duke of Athole had two as good workmen at Blaire as were in the kingdom, and that I would get my chariot as well mended there as at London; accordingly I went there, and stayed a night, and got my chariot very well mended by a good wright and good smith. I thought then I was pretty secure till I came to this place. I was storm-stayed two days at Castle Drummond by the most tempestuous weather of wind and rain that I ever remember to see. The Dutches of Perth and Lady Mary Drummond were excessively kind and civil to my daughters and to me, and sent their chamber-laine to conduct me to Dunblane, who happened to be very useful to us that day, for I was not three miles gone from Castle Drummond when the axletre of my fore wheels broke in two, in the midst of the Hill betwixt Drummond and the bridge of Erdoell, and we were forced to sit in the Hill with a Boisterous day till Chamberlain Drummond was so kind as to go down to the Strath and bring wrights, and carts, and smiths, to our assistance, who ragged us to the plain, where we were forced to stay five or six hours till there was a new axletre made, so that it was dark night before we came to Dunblaine, which is but eight miles from Castle Drummond, and we were all much fatigued. The next day we came to Lithgow, and the day after that we arrived here, so that we were twelve days oil our journey by our misfortunes, which was seven days more than ordinary; and I bless God we were all in pretty good health, and 1 found my son in good health and much improven.”

In 1720 Sir Archibald Grant of Monvmusk says:—“In my early days, soon after the Union, husbandry and manufactures were in low esteem. Tin nips in field for cattle by Erie of Rothes and very few others, were wondered at. Wheat almost confined to Hast Lothian, inclosures few, and planting very little, no repair of n ads, all bad, and very few wheeled carriages. No coach, chariote, or chaise, and few carts north the Tay. In 1720 I could not in chariote get my wife from Aberdeen to Monvmusk. Collonel Midleton, the first who used carts or waggons there.”

It is extremely interesting to trace out the roads now, and I had the pleasure of going over many miles of them during the past season. They seem to have been well made and bottomed, and the bridges well built, generally with a semi-circular arch of the roughly blocked whin and gneiss stone of the locality, and they stand well even to this day. When a broad burn liable to a spate crossed the road, it was carried over the road by a carefully pitched causeway, and it is extraordinary hov; well these pitching* have stood. I crossed many of them between Fort-William and the Devil’s Staircase, at the head of Glencoe, and they are as good now as when laid. The ordinary portion of the road has been much damaged through neglect, and the soil has been in a large measure washed out between the stones, so that, though looking satisfactory at a distance and well marked over the landscape, yet when one comes to examine them carefully and closely one finds the roads are much weathered, and the soil washed out from between the stones, making the walking fully as rough as the ordinary hill side, and more like the bed of a mountain torrent. So much for the up-keep of these roads. In fact, it would seem that one or two seasons of neglect are sufficient to render them almost useless for anything but a cattle track. Along the line of these old tracks one can trace the signs of the encampments, and often the more melancholy remains of the grave yards, where many of the soldiers died. This is very evident at Kinlochmore, where in a little park near the bridge the lines of graves are yet to be seen, and some remains of bones may be seen about. The road through by King’s House and Glencoe must have been one of great labour and difficulty, and the portion called the Devil’s Staircase a series of traverses even more difficult than the far-famed Corryarrick. Some of the bridges were of remarkable size, and required great skill in construction, and are wonderful monuments of perseverance and skill, notably that at High Bridge, Lochaber.

One of the most remarkable old bridges is at Carr-Bridge, of which only the arch ring now remains. “The span of this bridge,” says a correspondent, “is 34 feet; width over softet, 9 feet 3 inches; and within parapet walls, 7 feet. The bridge is founded on rock, and from the pieces of timber yet seen a little above the springing of the arch, the centres used in throwing the arch were supported on the north side by beams built into the masonry, and on the south side were supported by uprights resting on a ledge of rock. As to its history, I doubt you will not get any authentic record anywhere, unless, perhaps, among the old papers in Castle Grant. Old Peter Grant of Sluggan, who died la*t year, aged 96, stated some years ago that the grandfather of Mr Cumming, the present tenant of Lethendry (who is a man between fifty and sixty years of age), told him that he crossed this old bridge with a wedding party, but that the bridge was then in a very dilapidated condition. We may, therefore, safely take for granted that the bridge was in ruins for the last century. This being the case, the building must date far back from General Wade's time.” It is possible that the bridge may have been erected by Churchmen before the Reformation.

It is unnecessary for me to go into any lengthened account of the work of the Highland Roads and Bridges Committee. They are well known to you all, and are splendid monuments of the skill of Telford and the late Mr Joseph Mitchell. They have lasted the greater part of a century, and look as if they might well stand many centuries more.

I proposed to myself at the outset of this paper to discuss the effect of these roads on the Highlands; but really I think it is almost unnecessary, as the evidences of material prosperity and advancement are round us in every direction, and although placed at some disadvantage at present from the keen competition which transport has brought with it, yet, on the whole, the state of the working man and crofter is infinitely better now than ever it was in olden times. It is mainly in those districts where roads are few and far between that the population is congested and non-progressive. Whether in some case it would be worth while to make roads may be doubted, yet the benefit of such communication is undeniable so far as the immediate district is concerned. The expenditure on Military and Commissioners’ Roads has been of infinite service to this country. I refer you to a map giving the roads made and under consideration in 1805, which shows better than I can explain the distribution of the roads and the extent of road-making.

Although the roads were available and stage coaches were running in the beginning of this century, yet the great county families did not always avail themselves of the public coaches, but continued the old practice of posting with the same horses all the way to London. While looking over a wonderful collection of old carriages in the coach-house of the late Sir George Dunbar, with great C springs and rumble behind, I remember remarking to the old coachman that these carriages were worthy of being put in a museum, he replied, “Many’s the time I have driven them to London all the way.” On expressing my astonishment that they should have been so recently in use, he said,  Ah, sir, these were the fine old times. We used to leave here about the end of October and reach London in about two months, travelling each day about 30 miles, and staying ten days or a fortnight in Edinburgh to dine with the lawyers and settle our law pleas. When we got near London we would meet other families also going in, and the young folks would have rare times. We left London about the beginning of April, and took a similar time to reach home. Of course,” he said, “we often had to rest the horses and get them shod, and such events lost us a day now and then.” Travelling, though more comfortable now, has, I fear, lost much of its picturesqueness; and though the tourist sees more of the country, he knows less of it and the people than in the good old slow-going days, when men took time to look at the country and to know the people.


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