HARP’s HEART Walk Day 1

Post date: May 13, 2019 7:22:25 AM

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-17th 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.