HARP’s HEART Walk Day 7
Post date: May 19, 2019 2:59:25 PM
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!