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Early Public and Private Transport in Scotland
by R. S. Rodger
Part 2: Transport In The Highlands


Mailcoach late 1830's By 1800, some 122 years after the Glasgow magistrates approved the first stagecoach service between there and Edinburgh, there was still no transport of any kind in the Highlands. In that year, however, a brave attempt was made at establishing coaching links between Inverness and Perth, and between Inverness and Aberdeen. Both ventures were doomed from the start, not through lack of interest or support, but because of the state of the roads. In the previous year, Colonel Anstruther, superintendent of military roads in the Highlands, had reported to the Lords of the Treasury that the people were unable to maintain or repair roads. Four years later, in 1803, the Parliamentary Commissioners began the works that were to open up the Highlands to the greater world.

In 1806 the Inverness to Perth stagecoach service was reintroduced, and in 1811 the Inverness to Aberdeen was again established. This time they were a success, and became the first to regularly ply between Highland towns. In time, services were to be provided between Inverness and Dingwall, Invergordon, Cromarty and Tain, plus a mail coach along the northern coast road from Inverness to Wick and Thurso. This meant that by 1819 there was a direct line from London to Edinburgh, Inverness and the northerly points of Scotland – a total distance of 800 miles!

The early 1830s saw the introduction of a stage line from Inverness to Oban, which in turn resulted in an increase in the number of vessels using the Crinan Canal. Elsewhere, stagecoach services likewise led to an increase in passengers using the Caledonian Canal and the new steamers plying the western islands. All these modes of transport were interdependent, and the lynchpin in the decades before the arrival of the railway was the stagecoach.

The coming of the stagecoach to the Highlands also heralded the sort of establishment not commonly found in the north – the inn. As a result of expectations on the part of the coach-using class, facilities and accommodation quickly proved equal to those found in most other parts of Scotland and England.

During the period of introduction and eventual success of Highland stagecoaches, other forms of transport also showed a marked increase in both quantity and quality. There were only five post-chaises in Inverness in 1803, but that quickly increased to a dozen. Post-chaises were also found for hire at many of the inns on the great Highland Road, and also at Dingwall, Tain and Inverary. The Highlands, so recently bleak and inaccessible, had been accessed in a way that would have been inconceivable even in Dr Johnson’s time.

A further benefit of the Parliamentary road system was the increase in other forms of horse-drawn vehicles carrying goods along routes that would previously have been impossible to navigate. The result of this opening up of the Highlands to the markets of the Lowlands was a large increase in the total amount of land under cultivation and a general improvement in living standards. And this horse-drawn world was not to be short-lived. Whereas the railway would quickly replace the coach in the southern regions of Scotland, the Highlands, like the American west, would continue to use the coach on all minor arteries that would not see rail tracks for quite some time.