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Military Highland Roads
Scottish Highlands, UK
Military Highland Roads
associated engineer
General George Wade
Major William Caulfeild
date  1725 - 1767
era  Georgian  |  category  Road  |  reference  NH614381
ICE reference number  HEW 2539
photo  © and licensed for reuse under this
The network of 18th century roads in Scotland known collectively as the Military Highland Roads was constructed by British soldiers, primarily to allow the army to travel to areas of unrest during the Jacobite uprisings. The picture shows the modern B862, between Inverness and Dores near Loch Ness, which follows the route of a military road laid out under General George Wade.
In the early 18th century, Scotland was in the grip of the Jacobite uprisings that sought to reinstate the Roman Catholic line of succession from James IV (of Scotland) in the years after his replacement in December 1688 by joint Protestant rulers, William of Orange and Queen Mary.
After the first Jacobite rebellion in 1715, the lack of roads in the Scottish Highlands prevented the British army from advancing further north than Blair Atholl, midway between Inverness and Edinburgh. General George Wade (1673-1748), commander of the government’s forces in Scotland 1724-40, implemented a considerable road-building programme from north-central Scotland through the Highlands to the forts in the Great Glen.
The military roads were constructed by officers and hundreds of soldiers each summer (April to October), but were destroyed regularly by wear and tear and the severe climate. Soldiers’ encampments were set up every 16km along the route and they received extra pay for the work. The cost of building the roads has been estimated as £70 per mile (about £44 per km).
The roads were usually constructed of local stone and gravel, with a graded base 4.9m wide topped by a 3m wide roadway, with drainage where practicable. Gradients were not steeper than 1 in 6 and long straight runs were preferred — just as the Romans had preferred them. The number of bridges was minimised, and those constructed mostly feature plain vertical spandrel walls. Road maintenance was an ongoing requirement.
The first stretch, built 1725-6, connected the garrison towns of Fort William and Fort Augustus. As part of improvements to the route, High Bridge (NN201821) was erected in 1736-7 over the steep-sided Spean Valley. The three-span masonry bridge’s arch collapsed in the 1930s, though the piers remain.
In 1727, this road was continued on to Fort George, on the Moray Firth, north east of Inverness. A variant of this route was constructed in 1732 between Fort Augustus and Inverness, on the south east side of Loch Ness, passing over White Bridge (NH489154) and Inverfarigaig Bridge (NH5218238) — both single span stone arches. This is now the B862 shown in the picture above. The original bridges have been bypassed.
By 1731 a main road had been constructed from Dunkeld, north west over the Drumochter Pass to Dalwhinnie, then north east to the barracks at Ruthven, and north over the Slochd Pass to Inverness. This is broadly the route followed by the modern A9 road.
Between April and October 1731, a 45km branch with five bridges was constructed north west from Dalwhinnie to join the existing military road just south of Fort Augustus. Little now remains of this hilly road, which ascended to 381m before dropping down into the Spey Valley then climbing steeply from Melgarve to the Corrieyairack Pass, at an elevation of 764m, before descending through Glen Tarff. The route to the pass was achieved with a series of buttressed traverses. However, by 1798 the road had fallen into disrepair.
Another branch of the Dunkeld to Inverness road was built in 1733-5. It began in Crieff and crossed the River Tay at Aberfeldy Bridge (HEW 131, NN851492), joining the main road at Dalnacardoch. The stone bridge — probably the finest built under Wade’s direction and also known as ‘Wade’s Bridge’ — has five almost semicircular arches and is founded on iron-shod timber piles. It now carries the B846 road.
By the end of Wade’s tenure in 1737 he had overseen the construction of some 400km of road, including around 40 bridges. His successor was Major William Caulfeild (1698-1767) — Wade’s inspector and assistant from 1732. Caulfeild instigated an even more wide-ranging network, working from 1743 through the second Jacobite rebellion in 1745, until the programme ended on his death.
Caulfeild's roads tended to be wider and of better construction, with frequent use of earthworks, such as cuttings and embankments, and dry stone retaining walls and stone culverts. The steep 1 in 6 gradients continued but more bridges were built, generally of rubble masonry. He used larger working parties than Wade had done, and expected progress of 1.4m of road per man each day.
The first of Caulfeild’s roads covered almost 71km north west from Dumbarton via Tarbet, along the west side of Loch Lomond, to Inveraray. Construction was delayed by military action, including the battle of Culloden (1746), but the road was eventually completed in 1749. The section from Tarbet to Inveraray is known as ‘Rest and Be Thankful’.
Another main line of military road was built in 1749-50, north west from Crianlarich via Tyndrum and Kinlochleven to Fort William. A branch from Tarbet to Crianlarich, which connected the Inveraray road with the Fort William one, was built in 1752-4.
The third main road was constructed 1752-5 and went northwards from Perth to Braemar, circled east round the Cairngorm Mountains to Tomintoul, then north west to Grantown-on-Spey and Fort George. This compares well with the route taken by the modern A93 and A939 between Perth and Grantown. Bridges along the military road include the Bridge of Avon at Tomintoul (NJ150201), Spey Bridge at Grantown (NJ040263) and Dulsie Bridge (NH932414). They are all asymmetric bridges in good repair, and the latter two are still in use.
Other roads were laid west of Loch Ness — from Fort Augustus to Bernera and from Dingwall to Poolewe, including Little Garve Bridge (HEW 2542, NH396629). This was built in the 1760s over the Black Water and has two segmental arches.
From a survey by Major Fraser in 1785, when Highland military roads were at about their zenith in development terms, we know that there were 1,097km of roads and 938 bridges with 1,031 arches. The annual spend on military road maintenance by government in 1760-79 averaged some £6,600, reducing to an average of about £4,100 in 1798-1813. By 1821, the total network amounted to only 455km, less than half of the network size in 1785.
The main lines of military road east of the Great Glen, the basis of much of the modern road network, came under the Highland Roads & Bridges Commission (established 1803) in 1814 for repair and maintenance under Thomas Telford’s (1757-1834) direction. The commission’s finance was provided 50/50 by local bodies and the government.
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"Military Roads and Fortifications in the Highlands, with Bridges and Milestones" by Thomas Wallace, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol.45 (1910-11), pp.318-333, 13th March 1911
"Roads and bridges in the Scottish Highlands: the Route between Dunkeld and Inverness, 1725-1925" by G.R. Curtis, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol.110 (1978-80), pp.475-496
www.arrocharheritage.com
www.scotshistoryonline.co.uk
reference sources   CEH SHICEH SLB
Location

Military Highland Roads