HARP’s HEART Walk Day 2

Post date: May 14, 2019 7:24:19 AM

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!