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HARP’s HEART Walk Day 7

posted 19 May 2019, 07:59 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 21 May 2019, 09:27 ]

We woke on Saturday morning after a night in a hostel in Inverness, having completed the Great Glen Way in glorious sunshine the previous evening. Unfortunately, this morning we were welcomed with very dark grey clouds, and impending showers. We had been so lucky with the weather it was quite demoralising to see the rain on the horizon! We were both also in worse shape than we were at the start of the week, with a poor nights sleep and painful blisters (Ian), and recovering from mild sunstroke (Kieran), we were not keen on a 12 mile hike to Ardersier Point. As such, after 80 plus miles completed, we made the difficult decision to call a halt to the walk in order to be able to get home today. We therefore left the hostel and headed towards the train station, where we were able to get tickets for a train to get us back to Glasgow and the Borders, and even had the joy of sharing the carriage with a few locals heading to the big smoke for a dance festival. Given their condition by the time our train reached Perth, it’s fair to say that they will likely be feeling in a worse state than we will be tomorrow!

We couldn’t finish the blog for HARP’s HEART Walk quite like this though, and so what follows is an account of some of the things we would have seen along the way, and at some point in the future we will definitely head back up to do the final walk towards the new Fort George!

The journey would have taken us east out of Inverness along the south coast of the Beauly Firth,  and past the mighty Kessock Bridge, built in 1976-82 to carry the A9 over the Beauly Firth at the Kessock Narrows to the Black Isle. 

On the eastern side of Inverness, the Scretan Bridge pillbox was built during the Second World War beside the old road bridge over the Inverness-Aberdeen railway line, and was located here to protect the A96 approach into Inverness. In more recent times, the Caledonian Stadium was built in 1996 to host the home games of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, formed in 1994 with the merging of Caledonian, and Inverness Thistle. Whilst Casey are no longer plying their trade in the top flight of Scottish football, they have certainly hit some highs since their foundation, including a Scottish Cup win in 2014-15, the first Scottish Cup for any club from the Highlands. Caley also have the honour of one of the best headlines in Scottish football after beating Celtic in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup in 2000, when Caley were still a part time team; Super Caley go Balistic, Celtic are Atrocious! (Sorry Kieran...).

Anyway, back to the roads.... William Taylor writes that the 16-mile military road from Fort George to Inverness was probably built under the instruction of Major William Caulfield, the man who was Wades successor and who oversaw construction of around 900 miles of military road between 1740 and 1767. This road lies underneath the modern day A96, B90399 and B9006. However, it’s very likely that there was an existing road here which was ‘adopted’ as a military road or was reworked as one. 

The small village of Ardersier is located around 2 miles south of Fort George, with remarkable views towards the Black Isle. Canmore (Scotland’s database for Archaeological and historical sites) notes  a Roman find spot in the tidal sand! What is even more interesting is that the entry for this find contained the notes: “'A very curious Roman sword, and head of a spear, were dug up near Ardersier, about twenty or twenty five years ago.”- W Roy 1793. We know that the cartographer William Roy was very interested in Roman Britain, in fact he even made a map of Roman sites in Scotland, mainly military sites. This keenness in the Roman past was seen across the British military in Scotland during the 18th century, and this interest is echoed by the Latin inscription on Wade’s Tay Bridge, on the Crieff-Aberfeldy military road:

Admire this military road stretching on this side and on that for 250 miles beyond the limit of the Roman one- mocking moors and bogs, opened up through rocks and over mountains and, as you see, crossing the indignant Tay. This difficult work G. Wade, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Scotland, accomplished by his own skill and the ten years’ labour of soldiers in the year of the Christian era 1733. Behold how much avail the royal auspices of George II.

There are some definite parallels between the Roman and British quests to pacify and subjugate the Highlands of Scotland and both time periods are awash with fantastic sites to visit, narratives to follow and themes to dissect.

Ardersier also hosts part of the 100 mile long Coupar Angus-Fort George military road (1748-57) that passes through Braemar, past Corgarff Castle before terminating at Fort George. This was the first ‘Caulfield Road’ highlighted on our journey, and a stark reminder of the vast network of roads that were completed after Wade’s departure from Scotland. This stretch of road runs straight as a dye (pretty much anyway) to the Fort, showing some continuity with the early road builders under Wade and the even earlier Roman roads of Scotland. The roads were all about military needs and military purpose; speed, efficiency and reliability were the key concerns. 

Fort George itself is an awe-inspiring place, with massive earthwork and stone built ravelins and glacis creating a huge ditch-like defence in front of the ramparts and bastions. Everything imposing, thick and stout for withstanding artillery barrage. These ramparts would have been bristling with 80 odd guns and musket armed soldiers. The boundary walls of the fort housed, accommodation for a governor, officers, an artillery detachment and a 1,600-strong infantry garrison, more than 80 guns, a magazine for 2,672 gunpowder barrels, ordnance and provision stores, a brewhouse and a chapel. The fortification was built between 1748-57 at a cost of nearly £1 billion in todays terms. The fort was strategically placed to act as a deterrent and defence against any further Jacobite rebellions, but was never needed. As the years have passed it has remained a British army garrison and currently houses the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland along with the very interesting Queens Own Highlanders museum. 

Not far to the south west of Fort George, and east of Inverness, lies probably the most famous place associated with the Jacobite cause, Culloden Moor, the site of the Jacobite’s dramatic defeat on the 16th of April 1746. Culloden and the events that unfolded here have passed deeply into the Scottish national-consciousness, it is deeply embroiled in questions of identity and politics. Like Jacobitism as a whole, questions of Scottish nationhood, subjugation, Union and Independence are never far away, especially in this current political climate. 

The terrain chosen for the battle poorly suited the Jacobite’s favoured battle tactic of the Highland charge. However, the army itself was kitted out much the same way a European army of the day would have been, with large deliveries of muskets being dropped off on Scotland’s east coast. The Highland charge had been effective at Prestonpans and at Falkirk during The ’45 campaign. However, Cumberland had been busy drilling his government forces in new bayonet tactics and in delivering massed musket fire using rank firing. During the opening stages of the battle the British artillery took out their opposing gunners and then poured cannon fire into the Jacobite ranks, prompting the charge. During the charge itself the Jacobites had to face boggy terrain and constant musket and cannister shot, cutting swathes of men down. The Jacobite right hit the British left and hand to hand fighting broke out. However, they were doomed, their left had been forced back and Wolfe’s Regiment poured enfilading fire into the Jacobite ranks. A general rout ensued. The Jacobite rear-guard  made a fighting retreat, trading fire with Argylemen who had occupied the Culwhiniac Enclosures on the Jacobite left. No quarter was given to any Jacobite troops who remained alive on the field. 

Many Jacobites made their retreat back to Inverness and onto Ruthven barracks, while some men still sleeping from a failed night march the previous night were slaughtered. 

The site is also under threat from a housing development at Viewhill. There’s widespread fear that this development could open the door for ‘piecemeal’ development of other sections of the battlefield that are not owned by the National Trust for Scotland.

Whilst we weren’t quite able to make it to the very end of our planned route, we had an incredible week covering over 80 miles of military road, national walking route, and abandoned railway lines, taking in dozens of heritage sites with important and interesting histories. We hope that you’ve enjoyed reading the blog posts, and that it has inspired you to get out and about to engage with some heritage sites near you. We’ll have a couple more posts to come later this week on HARP’s HEART Walk, and stay tuned for a bigger edition of this event next year!

HARP’s HEART Walk Day 6

posted 18 May 2019, 03:22 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 21 May 2019, 09:27 ]

Friday started off a bit cooler than previous days, which gave us a nice start on our final day of walking on the Great Glen Way. We had camped just short of the highest point of the way, and were thankful that the rest of the journey would be mostly downhill, particularly after yesterday’s climbs. The first stretch of the day took us through forestry until we hit an eco campsite and cafe at Abriachan. We stopped in for some real tea and coffee, and a huge slice of delicious, homemade lemon cake, which gave us the required boost for our walk towards Inverness.

After our tea break, the walk took us across high moorland, with stunning views towards the mountains in the north, and back towards the west. The Great Glen Way swept slightly north, taking us away from Loch Ness, before we started the descent into Inverness. We made great progress, clocking in 8 miles before lunch, and on the way we passed evidence of old settlement remains, with the stone foundations of a long abandoned house. In the fields beyond there are records of even olde settlement, dating back to the Iron Age, however the fields here were very overgrown with Heather and bracken, and it wasn’t possible to get in to have a good look for any of the remains.

Much of the route in the afternoon followed sections of old drove roads, the main routes in the Highlands prior to the construction of the military roads. Drovers would drive herds of hundreds of cattle from the Islands and Highlands, down to the lowland markets in Crieff, Falkirk and Edinburgh. After the Disarming Acts following the Jacobite Uprisings, the drovers were the only civilians in the Highlands who were legally allowed to be armed; a necessity to protect themselves and their cattle from thieves. The drovers travelled light, and at low cost, often sleeping outdoors on their journey, and carrying a bag of oats for simple porridge, or black pudding (sometimes they would cut and drain a small amount of blood from their cattle on the move to make their black pudding).

The military roads created actual, formal route ways across the Highlands, and whilst the drove roads were still in use, they had developed in a very different way over a long period of time.

We continued along towards Craig Dunain and the Dunain Community Woodland, where we got our first views down to Inverness, a welcome sight! The route took us down towards a golf course, and an imposingly gothic structure that was under renovation. The former Inverness and District Lunatic Asylum, later named the Craig Dunain Hospital, opened its doors in 1864, and was designed by James Matthews of Aberdeen. The hospital closed in 2000, and is now being converted into residential property.

We were now very near to the end as we came back along a short stretch of the Caledonian Canal, before following the River Ness to our destination at Inverness Castle, originally the location of the Old Fort George, and the finishing line for us on the Great Glen Way! Interestingly enough, Inverness is said to be the site of the Pictish King Brude’s fortress, which St Columba had travelled through the Great Glen to visit!

Moving into the medieval period, Inverness Castle was one of the castles captured and slighted by Robert the Bruce during his guerrilla campaign across the country. If you have seen Outlaw King the depictions of how Bruce was able to take castles then slight them to render them useless to the English is fairly accurate. The medieval castle was rebuilt in 1412 by the Earl of Mar who was keen to defend his territories from the marauding Donald, Lord of the Isles. The castle was fought over for the next century by the Lords of the Isles and the Scottish Crown. It was at Inverness Castle that Alexander Macdonald was captured by James I, however, upon his release he would return to burn Inverness to the ground in 1429. His successor John MacDonald, would go on to take and destroy the castle a further three times! Another famous and intriguing figure of Scottish history to get the ‘Holywood treatment’ recently was Mary Queen of Scots, who was refused entry to the castle in 1562 by George Gordon, Earl of Huntly. As a result the castle was stormed by The Fraser and Munro clans who were loyal to Mary.

Inverness was also home to a Cromwellian fortification built from 1653-54 with material gleaned from the demolition of episcopal religious sites in the area. This fortification was made up of a square shaped three story building that housed a powder magazine, church and stores, which was flanked by two barrack buildings that could house up to 1,000 men, The complex was bounded by ramparts furnished with bastions. The building was torn down under the orders of Highland chiefs in 1692. A section of rampart and bastion are still visible, along with a clocktower which is said to belong to Cromwell’s fortification.

The new fortification that sits on the site of the current 19th century ‘castle’ was built under instruction of General Wade and incorporated the old castle. The old castle had been used as a garrison for 600 men after the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1719. The old castle was used as officers accommodation in the new complex, with a Governor’s house also being built within the ramparts and bastions of the new fort. This new fortification was named Fort George in honour of the King. However, when 1746 came round, just like Fort Augustus, Fort George fell rapidly. 

All along the Great Glen Way we have seen the effects of centuries, if not millennia, of militarisation and construction of defensive works, from hill forts, crannogs (if taken that way) to medieval castles, military roads, forts and such of the Cromwellian and Hanoverian actions in the Highlands, which all goes to show how much change has occurred over the years here.

It was a great feeling to get to the end of the Great Glen Way, along with a few detours along the old military road near Spean Bridge, and we were both ready for a shower, clean bed, and a couple of pints to celebrate how far we had come this week!



HARP’s HEART Walk Day 5

posted 17 May 2019, 06:15 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 21 May 2019, 09:08 ]

We woke up well rested to another glorious day, and managed to clear up camp a bit earlier, as we knew we had a minimum of 13 miles to cover today, and it looked like it was going to be a hot one!

As we headed eastwards along the Great Glen Way toward Drumnadrochit we were treated to some amazing views of Loch Ness, and as we climbed uphill we could see across the Loch to Foyers, this actually gave us a view of where the military road ran after its realignment in 1732. It also gave us a fantastic view of the Foyers Aluminium Works which was one of very very few sites in the Highlands to be bombed by the Germans during the Second World War.  The first raid in Spring of 1941 missed the target, however in September of that year a twin-engine Heinkel bomber dropped two bombs on the factory, one did not explode, however the other did and two men were killed as a result. 

As we approached the small village of Gortaig we passed the foot of a rather steep hill which houses Dun Scriben hillfort. As archaeologists we are both big fans of hill forts, but unfortunately there was no access up the hill from where we were, so we were unable to investigate. The site has apparently been excavated but very little information about the site is available. From photographs that we had seen previously, there is evidence of some more modern dry stone walling around the fort and some of the walls are still fairly visible. 

As we passed Gortaig, the Great Glen Way mostly followed a modern road, uphill through heathland, and past some small farms.

There was very little shade but we were very grateful of a lovely little honesty kiosk where we could take on extra water. Our morning hike continued into the afternoon until we started a steep descent into Drumnadrochit, where we stopped for a well earned lunch and rest after 8 miles in the heat. And the rest was well needed before the remaining 5 miles of the day.

As we left Drumnadrochit and headed back towards the shores of Loch Ness, we got our first views across to the dramatically situated Urquhart Castle, one of the Highlands’ most well known and most pictured historic sites! A fair deal of archaeology has also been carried out around the castle and finds range from prehistoric, to an abundance of medieval finds and beyond! The castle was founded in the 13th century and passed between the Scottish and English throughout Scotland’s Wars of Independence. It was then down to the Scottish Crown and the Lords of the Isles to fight over it before it was granted to Clan Grant early in the 16th century. The castle was garrisoned by Government troops during the first Jacobite Rising and was blown up as they left in 1692. 

There is also another St Columba connection here! Adomnan, Columba’s biographer, wrote that this was the place where St Columba encountered, Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster! Columba is credited with saving a young local’s life after using him as bait to lure out the monster, which had just killed another local man! There’s also historical evidence for a Pictish fort/high status site near the castle, and the recovering of a Pictish broach from excavations in the castle seem to support this!

This part of Loch a Ness is also the location of Temple Pier and where John Cobb became the first man to travel on water at over 200mph. Unfortunately it resulted in tragedy as the vessel crashed, killing Cobb.

As we left Drumnadrochit we had to take on a steep, and continuous climb of 1000ft away from the loch, which again provided us with some stunning views. The heat, blisters and climb soon took its toll however, and we were looking forward to making camp.

Before that however, we passed the site of a former Canadian lumber camp, with the Newfies setting up camp here in 1941 to help  climb up away from the loch we came to an area of forestry that was home to a team of Canadian lumberjacks who helped providing timber for the war effort during the Second World War, to help harvest timber for the war effort. There were over 2,000 lumberjacks here, who became a part of the local community; another example of how that conflict seemed to reach every locality. 

We finally made our target mileage and were able to find a flat enough camp to set up for a much need rest before the final descent towards Inverness tomorrow!

HARP’s HEART Walk Day 4

posted 16 May 2019, 07:07 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 21 May 2019, 09:02 ]

Thankful for a night under a solid roof we left the military road and continued Great Glen Way out of Fort Augustus! We also had the opportunity to post some now unneeded items home, and lighten our packs slightly, and make a bit mor space for water, which was needed today as the temperatures hit the mid 20s!

On our way out of Fort Augustus we had a choice of either “the high route” or “the low route” to Invermoristo. The high route was slightly longer, and would have provided views of boundary walls, head dykes and faint ghostlike outlines of old and abandoned settlements, something that we are well accustomed to from four seasons of field survey in the Perthshire hills. These post-medieval features tell an all too familiar story across this part of the world, the departure and clearance of people from their ancestral land, the land they lived on and worked for generations. The settlement of Wester Portclair was subject to an archaeological survey in 2013 and the team identified and recorded “46 previously unrecorded archaeological sites, including post-medieval settlement, boundary walls and clearance cairns.” Given that we were now entering the last few days where the walks were longer, and harder going, we opted for the slightly easier low route! But this still provided stunning views over Loch Ness.

The 8 or so miles from Fort Augustus to Invermoriston were long in the heat, and feet have now started to blister quite badly, but we arrived into Invermoriston before 2pm to stop for a late picnic.

As we approached Invermoriston we passed a couple bridges over the River Moriston. The oldest of the two ‘Invermoriston Old Bridge’ dates to 1803-21 when Telford was overseeing massive improvements in roads across the Highlands. Often his improvements would follow the pre-existing military routes, however, the north bank of Loch Ness was not served by a military road. Indeed Roy does not show a major route-way passing through Invermoriston. In 1933 a new bridge was constructed just to the south of Telford’s bridge, and this carries the A82 over the river and on through Invermoriston. 

Invermoriston itself is a picturesque wee place with lovely views over Loch Ness and a very intriguing connection to St Columba! (of Iona fame). St Columba is credited with sprea
ding Christiany through Scotland and in Invermoriston there is a churchyard and a well which are associated with him. The story regarding the well goes like this: During Pictish times the well was poisonous and the water would cause boils and ulcers if splashed onto the skin. Sometime in the 6th century AD St Columba was passing through the area and visited the well and drove out the evil spirits and blessed the water. After this the water was clean and pure and said to have healing powers!. The church is just across the road fromthe well and is said to have been founded by St Columba! Unfortunately the well doesn’t look like it could cure people today...

Our route continued as we tried to get 5 miles beyond Invermoriston, and the initial climb, whilst providing breathtaking views, was pretty relentless! But, we persevered and continued on our way past an old stone cave until we found a small spot to pitch up, with stunning views down to Loch Ness.

Not too far from our campsite for the night was, according to canmore, a battle site! Lon na Fola was, according to folklore and other historical accounts, the site of a 1602 battle between the Mackenzie’s and the Macdonald’s of Glengarry. It is said that the MacDonald’s had been raiding Mackenzie lands and had burned the Church of Kilchrist. They were then pursued and defeated in this area. No artefacts have been found relating to the battle. However, the story remains. 

We clocked in a bit more than 14 miles today, and were grateful for our boil in the bag bef goulash, a soft place to rest our heads, and some catch up tv to wind down!

HARP’s HEART Walk Day 3

posted 15 May 2019, 07:06 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 21 May 2019, 08:50 ]

After a long day yesterday we woke up with stunning views down Loch Lochy, and were buoyed by the fact that we would be following a nice made path today, with no need to climb fences, ford streams, or cross bogs! We had camped at the Laggan Locks, a lovely little spot owned by Scottish Canals, where we even had a cup of tea and a nice chat at the little kiosk there. As well as being part of the Caledonian Canal, Laggan was also the location of the Battle of the Shirts in 1544, to decide who would become chief of the MacDonalds of Clan Ranald. There was a rout, with hundreds of men killed on both sides, and John of Moidart the victorious contender, becoming clan chief until his death in 1574. The waters of Loch Lochy were said to have run red with blood for days after the battle, thankfully for us they were a sparkling blue today!
Our walk today followed stretches of the Caledonian Canal, which was completed in 1822, and followed the geological fault of the Great Glen, via the lochs, and provided a route across the country for sea farming vessels of the time. The canal was designed by Thomas Telford and was originally both a job creation scheme, to help stem the depopulation of the Highlands, and a military scheme to provide safe passage for ships due to the Napoleonic Wars. By the time the canal was completed the wars with France were at an end, and the canal became a popular tourist destination, with paddle steamers providing trips up and down the Glen. To this day, the Caledonian Canal remains as popular as ever with tourists.

At the south end of Loch Oich, our route diverted away from the canal and once again picked up the line of the old Great Glen railway, passing the former station at Invergarry. Unfortunately the museum wasn’t open today so we couldn’t have a go at driving the Diesel engine there!

As we continued along, the railway line actually sits above the former military rod, with nice stretches of it visible below us, and we were able to get down and check some of them out. In the distance, with stunning views over the loch, we also had glimpses of prehistoric crannogs in the loch, were people used to live in houses supported by stilts, on small islands in the water. Further up Loch Oich we passed Eilean Drynachan, another crannog! These artificial island dwellings were fairly common across Scotland and Ireland stretching back as far as 5,000 years ago! In the distance, on the other side of the loch, we also had views across to Invergarry Castle. This was quite striking in terms of the archaeological landscape, as we were standing on an early 20th century railway, overlooking an 18th century military road, with views across to prehistoric dwellings, and a medieval castle.

After a well earned lunch and a cooling paddle in the loch, we continued our journey for another 5 or 6 miles along the Caledonian Canal to our destination in Fort Augustus.

Fort Augustus, or ‘Wadesburgh’, is another town in the Highlands that is steeped with some interesting military history. The original fortification here was built in 1716 following the large Jacobite uprising the previous year. This barracks was apparently called the “Kiliwhimen Barracks” due to English speaking officials mistaking the Gaelic place name Cille Chuimein. This barracks did have some enclosed protection from a stone curtain wall, complete with musket loops, and two angled bastions, which would enable the defenders to provide enfilading fire on any attackers. The barracks was constructed upon an area of high ground to the west of Loch Ness and to the immediate south of the settlement, giving it a strong position overlooking the surrounding landscape. 

The settlement’s original Gaelic name is derived from the “Church of Chuimein” which took its name from the Abbot of Iona, Chuimein who established a church here in the 6th century. 

Wade’s 1724 report highlights the dilapidated nature and inadequacies of these barracks and in 1729 construction work began on a new, larger and more imposing fortification closer to the banks of Loch Ness. The new fort was named Fort Augustus in honour of the second son of George II, Augustus the Duke of Cumberland. Cumberland of course would later be labelled “Butcher Cumberland” in light of atrocities carried out in the Highlands under his command. In theory, the new and improved Fort Augustus would have been rather formidable, a square plan with thick stone walls furnished with angled bastions brisling with 6-pounder cannon. These walls would be protected by an earthwork bank, a glacis, that would absorb incoming artillery fire, the gap between the glacis and the walls would create a further obstacle for attackers to get through. All the while under enfilading fire from the angles bastions. The positioning of this new fort was in part to cover the jetty for another one of Wade’s new additions to the British army in the Highlands, the Highland Galley, that would be capable of ferrying 80 troops around Loch Ness. This idea was actually a resurrected Cromwellian plan, another indication of some of the continuities in military thinking from the 17th to 18th centuries. During the 1740’s Wade arranged for some further additions to the fort, apparently in response to rumours of an incoming French sponsored invasion in 1743/44. In 1743 Wade authored two memorials to the Board of Ordnance requesting a “master gunner” and two further experienced gunners to be posted to Fort Augustus in company with a number of new artillery pieces. Wade made a specific request for six coehorn mortars and 2 one and a half pounders on “galloping carriages” that “may be ready to march with the partys that may be sent to the Highlands”. This is an obvious connection being made between the road network and military response to trouble, illustrating the connection between, fort, road, material culture and landscape.

During the opening gambits of The ’45, Fort Augustus and Fort William were simply bypassed by the Jacobite army, thus saving time, men and ammunition. However, in 1746 the Jacobite forces turned their attention to the Great Glen forts in order to strengthen their hold on the region. Previous to the siege at Fort William, Fort Augustus was targeted by the Jacobites and after a mortar round hit the powder magazine and breached the defences leading the garrison to surrender. The garrison were taken to Inverness where they were realised after the Jacobites defeat at Culloden. 

Unfortunately there is very little left of the fort visible, with it now within the grounds of the highland club, and the former barracks now a hotel. That aside however, Fort Augustus was a beautiful place to end the day with some fish and chips, and we were able to rest our weary bodies in proper beds in one of the hostels here!

HARP’s HEART Walk Day 2

posted 14 May 2019, 00:24 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 21 May 2019, 08:41 ]

This morning we continued our route after an overnight camp near Spean Bridge, which was build as part of Telford’s road improvement programme of the early 19th century, where we planned to pick up the military road from Fort William to Fort Augustus where it crossed the River Spean to the north of the current crossing. The camping stop had stunning views of the Nevis Range, andwas a welcome one after a decent first day, but we both could have done with a touch more sleep! Before we even reached the old road crossing on the Spean, we reached the old rail crossing for the short lived Great Glen Railway, which opened in 1903, after huge outlay, but only stayed in operation until 1946, by when it was only being used for a weekly coal service. The remains of the viaduct are impressive, standing 76 feet high!

Slightly further up the river we hit the old military road crossing, with the  bridge constructed in 1736 and dubbed the “High Bridge”, an impressive feat of engineering. The bridge was the site of a well sprung ambush by Jacobite troops led by Major MacDonald of Tirnadnidh, which routed two companies of Royal Scots under Captain Scott who were on their way to reinforce the garrison at Fort WIlliam. This action on the 16th of August 1745 was the first engagement of the fourth and final armed Jacobite uprising in Scotland. It is quite remarkable to think of how symbolic and significant this ruined bridge is in terms of Scotland’s history. After their eventual capture by the Jacobites Captain Scott and his men were marched to Glenfinnan where they met the “Young Pretender” who pardoned them and released them. This early meeting of the two sides seems very far detached from the acts of brutality that surround later engagements at Prestonpans and Culloden. 

Today was mainly spent following the military road and we were both very keen to see how it compared to what we have seen in the Atholl area on our own Jacobites project, both in terms of preservation and construction. The roads we survey, Crieff to Dalnachardoch and Dunkeld to Inverness, were completed in 1730 and we know that road making was an art that did evolve over time and was subject to subtle variations. One key development was the increase in civilian and non-military involvement in road making, at a village/hamlet level up to county level.  Road design varied from place to place depending on the terrain through which it passed. Width varied from 16ft to 10ft and in cases where the ground was especially boggy, the road could be ‘floated’ on a wooden base, in much the same that the Romans used to do.

The Great Glen Road was built to link the three main Highland first, and these three forts were to become the central garrisons to house the troops that would patrol the military road network throughout the Great Glen and southwards to Badenoch and Atholl, along with the route north west toward Bernera Barracks. To recap, Wade oversaw construction of 3 main trunk routes, The Great Glen (1725-27), Dunkeld to Inverness (1728-30) and Crieff to Dalnacardoch (1730). Military maps show the road network connecting with the main routes north from the Lowlands, and it was these routes that allowed Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forces to march so quickly to Edinburgh after out manoeuvring John Cope’s government host around the Corrieyairack Pass. 

These roads are well represented on 18th century military maps, for instance, Clement Lemprière’s 1731 map is one of the first to show the Great Glen road connecting with the forts at Fort William, Fort Augustus and Inverness (Fort George). This information together with the notes on local clan strength and loyalties makes this map a particularly useful piece of military intelligence. Indeed, Wade himself went on reconnaissance missions around the Highlands in the 1720’s, one in 1724 when he was preparing his initial report for George I and another in 1729. Accurate maps and knowledge of the landscape were important parts of the road building process and were of tactical importance.  After the Jacobites were defeated at Culloden the British Military commissioned a Scottish cartographer from Carluke by the name of William Roy to complete the most detailed and accurate survey of the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland ever seen. A major motivation for this was the fact that the British military hierarchy during the 1745 Rising were frustrated by the lack of quality maps available to them. Roy’s map of the Highlands (1747-55) provided vital topographic detail, taking in land-use, settlement patterns, buildings, enclosures and road networks alongside the terrain itself.

These maps are a great resource for those interested in Scottish history and archaeology and are freely accessible online at the National Library of Scotland’s website. 

After High Bridge we continued on a well preserved stretch of the old road, before being diverted onto a forestry track for a while, and then picking up the road again where we encountered a beautifully constructed stone culvert/burn crossing, that may date back to the early road construction. This highlight however was short lived, as our planned route started to hit a few snags, with the occasional bog, restricted access, and a busy A82 to contend with!

Thankfully we were able to cut across country and pick the old railway line, which we were able to follow until we hit the aptly named Low Bridge, before a steep climb back onto the military road.

The route and terrain struggles in the morning had set us back a bit, so we ploughed on through a mix of old road, and old railway lines, until we finally got a glimpse of Loch Lochy, where we were aiming for tonight. After 13 miles of walking however, we hit more access issues and our planned camping spot was a non starter. We faced a tricky choice, but without anywhere to camp, and no safe way to walk along the A82, we were able to jump on a bus to take us the last 2 miles to Laggan Locks where we were treated with a stunning camp spot at the north end of Loch Lochy, and a welcome beer on a floating barge! The midges aren’t even too bad and we’re looking forward to a decent nights rest!


HARP’s HEART Walk Day 1

posted 13 May 2019, 00:22 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 21 May 2019, 08:26 ]

After getting the bus north this morning, we started our walk at the remains of Fort William, one of the most iconic and historic fortifications in the Highlands of Scotland and also the official start (or end) of the Great Glen Way! Fort William formed an integral part of General Wade’s plans for expanding Britain’s military infrastructure in the Highlands during the 1720’s and 1730’s. There has been a fortification here since Cromwell’s campaign in Scotland against the Covenanters in the mid-17
th century. In 1690 at the time of a Jacobite rising in Scotland, and also the far larger Jacobite wars in Ireland, the fortification was improved from earthwork to stone, and named Fort William in honour of King William of Orange, with the accompanying civilian settlement taking the name of his wife Mary and being dubbed “Maryburgh”.The importance of Fort William was not lost on the Duke of Cumberland, Commander of the British forces in Scotland during 1746 when he stated that it was “the only fort in the Highlands that was of any consequence”. The fortification was one of three forts along the Great Glen Military road, the first of Wade’s new military roads to be completed in 1727. We will be passing and visiting the other two forts, Fort Augustus and Fort George later in the week, as well as the awe inspiring ‘new Fort George’ at Ardesier Point which was fully completed two decades after the Jacobites defeat at Culloden in 1746. 

During the 1745 rising the fort was unsuccessfully besieged by a Jacobite army including clansmen and French regulars under Lieutenant Colonel Stapleton. The siege began on the 20th of March 1746 and would last for two weeks before being abandoned. In preparation for the siege the government army had cleared some of the town of Marybrugh from the area immediately surrounding the fort in order to deprive the Jacobites of cover. Bad weather and a lack of horses able to carry the larger guns to the siege deprived the Jacobites of the larger calibre guns required to trouble the walls of the fort. It is interesting to think of the military road in all of this; it would assist the Jacobites in other ways but in this case could even a modern road be enough to overcome troubling circumstances?

Spoiler Alert for later blog posts: The sieges at Fort George and Fort Augustus (Killicuimen) were both successful. 

As we left the old fort and headed to the north-east, we met the trail of the military road from Fort William to Fort Augustus that we will be following until Tuesday evening when we plan on arriving in Fort Augustus. Unfortunately the photo opportunity at the street sign of ‘Wades Road’ didn’t materialise, as there were no signs to be seen! This stretch of military road was the first of to be completed in early 1726, with Wade proclaiming that “parties of regular troops have been constantly employed in making the roads of communication between Killichuimen (Fort Augustus) and Fort William”. By 1727 the work along the whole of the Great Glen was completed. Wade states in a memorial to King George II that:

“The great Road of Communication through the middle of the Highlands.. is made practicable for the March of Artillery  or other Wheel Carriage , as may appear by having travelled (on it) on a Coach and Six Horses to the Great Wonder of the Inhabitants” 

What’s particularly striking about Wade’s statement is the aspiration of bringing this part of the Highlands into keeping with what Wade saw as modern and ‘civilised’ methods of transportation elsewhere in Britain. Wade is also very keen to stress that this work was fully and completely the result of “his Maty’s (Majestys) Troops without any Assistance from the People of the Country”. However, not all was complete, William Taylor notes that in 1728 Wade mentions two bridges were being built on the road, with another ten following the next year. In addition, in 1732, the road from Fort Augustus to Inverness was realigned. The road was brought down from high ground inland and to the south of Loch Ness closer to the loch’s shore in order to make it more passable in winter. We will not be following this stretch of road but Edmund Burt, one of Wade’s engineers, gives a dramatic witness account of this work taking place:

The miners hung by ropes from the precipice over the water.. to bore the stone in order to blow away a necessary part of from the face of it and the rest was chiefly done by gunpowder .. and where the precipices  were likely to give horror or uneasiness to such as might pass over them in carriages.. they are secured to the lakeside by walls. 

Burt’s account is also particularly useful for understanding how road building impacted upon the landscape of the Highlands. The understanding of the physical relationship between British military policy, conflict and landscape is an important part of fully appreciating the historical significance and impact of road construction on the landscape and its people. The Gaelic author Neil Munro’s 1914 novel The New Road reflects a more nuanced and pragmatic take on the construction of the military road while still conveying emotive sentiments on the consequences of ‘opening up the Highlands’. Munro himself in a 1923 article described the military roads as the “railheads of civilisation” and indeed the military roads very often transcend purely military or conflict related affairs in both their historical context, and through their interpretation by modern historians, archaeologists and the wider public. 

Now, if it was not for a memorial sent to King George I by Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, these roads and new/upgraded fortifications may never have been built and General George Wade may never have been sent north to Scotland. Lovat highlights that the garrisons within these forts are not able to pursue the Highlanders across the mountainous and tough terrain of the surrounding landscape. Wade is sent north in 1724 to investigate these claims and observes, amongst many other things, that “The Highlands are still more impracticable, from the want of roads and bridges’. Money is provided and Wade and his road parties get to work constructing roads the following year. 

To relate this brief introductory stuff back to HARP, understanding the landscape, field systems, and associated townships that the military road was built through, along with the features associated with road building itself, is a key feature of our Jacobites, Clearance and Scots field project. We also integrate accounts of the famous 8th century tourists of Scotland, such as Thomas Pennant and Boswell and Johnson. Such accounts are vital historical sources that provide observations and viewpoints about the changing Highlands in the years after the Jacobites defeat at Culloden. Using these accounts to provide an image of how the landscape was in the 18th century provides us with a point to compare our findings with. Furthermore, modern walking guides based on the military road network give another point of reference. No matter what time period or perspective though, the best way to understand the military road network is to walk it and to see it and experience it first-hand. 

Now that the road’s had somewhat of an introduction, we moved onto another important historical site of the Highlands, Inverlochy Castle. On the 2nd February 1645 the castle was to play host to an infamous battle between the Marquis of Montrose’s Royalist army, and Covenanter Clan Campbell who were allied with the Parliamentarian’s in England. This battle was not only intertwined with bloody political power struggle taking place across the Three Kingdoms of the British Isles but was also a very bloody clan feud between the Campbells and McDonalds, that would continue through into the Jacobite period. The result was an unequivocal victory for the Royalists and their contingent of Macdonalds, with the Campbells and the Covenanters suffering high losses, weakening their position of power. The battle was immortalised by the MacDonald poet Ian Lom in the ‘The Battle of Inverlochy’ (Latha Inbher-Lochaidh or Hi Rim Horo, Horo Leatha).

However, this was not the first battle in the vicinity of Inverlochy, in September of 1431 a Highland army under Donald Balloch defeated a Royalist army, loyal to King James I, under the Earls of Mar and Caithness! 

The Inventory of Historic Battles states the following, regarding the battles location: “ The precise location is unclear from the sources, but it was probably in one of two areas: the area which now includes the aluminium works; or on the area of flat ground by the River Lochy, known as Na Liosan, which is now occupied by playing fields and the railway. A significant feature of the battlefield landscape was the hill Tom na Faire that lies to the south-west of the castle.”. 

It was strange to pass through this now urbanised and industrialised town and compare it with the bloody battle scenes that have unfolded here in the past, particularly on a stunning, sunny afternoon!

As we left Fort William, we swung south, away from the Great Glen Way, to continue along the route of the old military road. Unfortunately large stretches of it are now overlain by the A82, but rather than have to walk along the side of this busy road, we were able to cut up and walk along some lovely forestry tracks with stunning views of the Nevis range, before (after what seemed like an age) heading back down hill and into Spean Bridge, where we were able to pick up a couple of cold beers to enjoy through a cloud of midges  as the sun went down!


Today felt like a long one, as we clocked in just over ten miles after starting mid afternoon, but it has been made easier with the weather. Hopefully tomorrow will stay as sunny and dry as we continue on past High Bridge towards the shores of Loch Lochy.



HARP's HEART Walk Part 2

posted 7 May 2019, 12:11 by Harp Archaeology

Why Kieran's getting involved...

Hello! This coming week Ian and myself will be hiking the Great Glen Way in aid of the British Heart Foundation and HARP. Here’s a wee bit about why I’m taking part in HARP's HEART Walk!

The work that the British Heart Foundation do in funding life saving research and campaigning in support of those affected by heart and circulatory diseases is fantastic, and vital in combating heart disease. Heart disease affects us all, whether directly or indirectly, and money raised through donations, like yours, can assists this great charity in reducing the number of people who are lost to heart and circulatory diseases. This a fantastic cause and any donations would be very much appreciated.

The other half of donations received will be going towards helping HARP keep archaeology and heritage related pursuits accessible and inclusive. Archaeology is what I love and what I have been fortunate enough to study at a great university, and go on to start a career in. It has opened my horizons and allowed me to explore the landscape and history of Scotland, meeting amazing and lovely people along the way. While inspiring and helping the next generation of archaeologists is important, archaeology has a lot to offer to those who do not necessarily want a career in it. It is a social activity, where teamwork, coordination, methodology and hard work are all important. Getting out and having a go at doing archaeology can be a really positive experience for people looking for some practical experience in a work environment, or for those looking to get out and about and engage with their local heritage. HARP do great work in educating people and engaging them with archaeology in Scotland and abroad, and any donations would really help to make a difference to people.

As for the route of this walk, we will be following the Fort William to Fort Augustus military road, the first of General Wade’s military roads to be completed in 1726. My interest in the 18th century military roads of Scotland were sparked when I took part in HARP’s Jacobites, Clearance and Scots field school as an undergraduate. This was the start of an ongoing interest in researching and exploring the history and archaeology of these military roads and the way that they cut through the landscapes and impacted upon the people of the Highlands. They may be military roads, but their influence was certainly not restricted to military matters.

Ian and I will be uploading some interesting (hopefully) blogs about the sites that we pass on our way up the Great Glen and beyond to Fort George at Ardesier Point. This route is packed with places and stories associated with the Jacobite Wars. But don’t worry, there’ll be some prehistory, early medieval, medieval and modern archaeology thrown in too - something for everyone, so keep an eye out for blog updates here and on our Facebook page, and if you would like to support us or donate to these worthy causes, you can find out how to do so here!


posted 1 May 2019, 11:14 by Harp Archaeology

Why Ian’s getting involved…

As you may have already seen we have launched a new fundraising campaign this month, HARP’s HEART Walk starting on the 12th May. I just wanted to take the opportunity to get down in words why I have decided to take on this challenge, what it means to me on a personal level, and how much I will appreciate any support you can give. 

I love archaeology, which is the main reason I’ve stuck at it as a career choice, as unfortunately we don’t all get to lead the life of the archaeologists portrayed in film and on TV. I also started up HARP eight years ago in order to do something a bit different, to be able to do projects and research that I found interesting, but also that other people might find interesting. I wanted to try to provide an opportunity for more people to be inspired by archaeology and heritage, and to provide opportunities for people to get involved and properly experience it; to love it, like I do. But there is obviously a cost involved, and I don’t want it to be restrictive for people to get involved, especially those who want to pursue it as a career and take on the mantle to inspire the next generation of archaeologists. HARP is funded, in the main, by participant’s fees, grant funding, and donations, and I wanted to get involved in a fundraising event that would help to keep HARP providing these opportunities in an affordable way. But it’s not just helping those who want to do archaeology that’s important. Archaeology and heritage are a huge part of many people’s lives, and can be a great way to improve people’s way of life by getting people active and out into the fresh air. A walk can be a lot more interesting if there’s something to see along the way.

Those of you who know me know that I’m built for comfort, not for speed, and that whilst I enjoy a good walk, or a hike up a hill (3 Munros and counting…. very slowly…), given the option of going for a walk or going for a pint, I’d probably go for the latter. So a 90-mile walk, camping in random spots, isn’t something that you’d normally associate with me. It’s not running a marathon (which is definitely not something you’d associate with me) but it’s a pretty big undertaking, and I’m hoping that as well as being a positive boost to my health after a long dark winter, it will also help to inspire others to get out and about, in the fresh air, visiting some sites, getting interested in their local heritage, and getting their blood pumping and lungs puffing. I’d be really proud if through this we can inspire people to get a bit more active, and a bit more interested in the history around them. 

Looking at the positive health benefits also ties into the charity that half of the money we raise will be donated to. Again, those of you who know me will know why the British Heart Foundation holds a special significance, but you’ll also know that it’s not something I talk about very much.

I lost my Dad to heart failure twenty years ago this year, and it had an indelible impact on my life. Whilst I might not talk about it, it really shaped my outlook on life and how I wanted to lead it. To see as much as possible, do things that I enjoy, and try to help others where I can, because ultimately you only get one go, and for many the go doesn't last very long.  Unfortunately it’s not made me lead it in as healthy way as I should, but maybe this will be able to kick start a healthier approach, and it might inspire others at the same time.  The work that the British Heart Foundation do is incredible, and the research that they are doing, funded by donations from people like you, will help to reduce the number of dads that are lost too soon, or mums, or brothers, or sisters. By raising money for the British Heart Foundation, we can help beat heartbreak forever.

So that’s why I’m doing this, even though my feet will probably hate me by Day 2. I’m glad that Kieran will be alongside me, as his optimism will go along way to getting us both to the end! So, if you can support us in this challenge I really, really appreciate it, and if you can’t, no problem, but if you can share what we are doing I’d really appreciate that too. Hopefully we’ll have some good stories, photos, and facts to keep you entertained during the month of May (we’ve planned seven days for it but who knows how long it’s going to take?!), and yes, I really used to be that thin…


Kildavie 2018

posted 28 Aug 2018, 10:24 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 1 May 2019, 10:50 ]

We have just finished our fifth season of excavations at Kildavie and Emily, one of our participants, has written a short blog about her time with us, check it out below! Thanks, Emily and hope to see you again!

Archaeology has always been an interest of mine but never accessible to me through study or practice. In order to feed my curiosity I had become a bit of a documentary connoisseur.  However, watching a documentary is nothing like getting your hands dirty. 

I am an anthropology student in New York, New York (USA). When my department forwarded me the HARP archaeological dig opportunity I immediately applied! I assumed that Scotland would be the perfect place to dig as it is not too hot and is beautiful. My assumptions proved to be correct. Scotland has proven the ideal place for my first dig as it is gorgeous and challenging. While it does not get too hot here the weather can be unpredictable with the rain. Yet the rain does not prevent progress in excavation, it promotes creativity in staying dry. 

My favorite part of my HARP experience has been the people I have met. While I may not be an archaeology student many of the other students here are, but this does not stop the supervisors from answering any questions I may have. It is an environment where I am encouraged to push my understanding of the world and ask others for help. The other students come from all walks of life and, being an anthropology student, I am especially interested to learn about their lives, which they are happy to share. This has led to friendships I could not have imagined and teamwork that improves due to our understanding of each other. My favorite part of my time here has been one rainy day where another student and I were taking elevation drawings of a wall. It was cold and wet and I had decided to lie on the ground to get more accurate numbers. My partner sketched the wall and held an umbrella trying as best she could to keep me slightly dry. It was a bit of a waste of time but was incredibly funny, especially trying to clean myself up afterward. 

The amount of information I have learned about the people of Scotland has also excited me. It is fun to use anthropological data and guess at a previous way of life. And when we are thinking as a team while filling out context sheets and making predictions, we are able to come up with conclusions I would never had imagined by myself, yet make perfect sense. To me it is the perfect use of different backgrounds working together to think critically and creatively. 

As my time here on Mull comes to an end I am grateful to the people who have made my experience in archaeology so amazing. I will miss being with my team and singing the entirety of Bohemian Rhapsody as we remove tumble from our structure, and I will miss trivia nights where the only questions I know are about the periodic table as the trivia is Scottish based. I am excited to go home and share my experience and what I have learned. And, hopefully, I will have the opportunity to dig again with HARP next year. 

Thank you HARP and all of the fantastic dig supervisors for making my experience one of a kind!

Emily Bates
Fordham University
Class of 2020

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