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The Military Roads of Scotland

The Caulfeild Roads

Map of Caulfeild roads based on map of Scotland by Eric Gaba made available on Wikimedia under a Creative Commons licence and Commons: GNU_Free_Documentation_License. With thanks. See original on Wikimedia. Wade roads in yellow.

Despite being less well-known than Wade, Caulfeild (d.1767) was responsible for a much higher mileage of roads than Wade, some 800 miles as against Wade's 250 miles. Caulfeild was appointed Inspector of Roads in North Britain in 1732 with responsibility for road maintenance under Wade.

Wade left Scotland in 1740 and betweeen that date and 1745 the existing Stirling to Crieff road was improved and the Dumbarton to Inverary road started under the superintendence of Caulfeild - this latter road proving very convenient for the Duke of Argyll.

But for the '45, there may have been no need for further road building but after 1745 various and generally repressive measures were put in place including building a new fort at Fort George. Work resumed on the Inverary road and roads were started in 1748 between Stirling and Fort William and Coupar Angus and Fort George though they took several years to complete. The first road ran by Callendar, Lochearnhead, Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy and the Devil's Staircase in Glencoe, the second by Braemar, Corgarff and Grantown. It is clear enough that there were pre-existing tracks along much of these routes, some of which were used and improved by the military roads but new stretches were made where deemed necessary.

"The Military Road on the banks of Loch Lomond" stone lithograph drawn from nature by F.Nicholson, published in Views in Scotland Drawn from Nature, 1828.
Image courtesy of ancestryimages.com

In the 1750's the Inverary road was continued up to Dalmally to link with the Stirling to Fort William road at Tyndrum, with a branch to Bonawe. Another link was made between these two roads between Tarbert and Crianlarich.

A road had been proposed from Fort Augustus to Bernera (where barracks had been built after the 1715 uprising to guard a route from Skye) as early as 1746 but construction only started in 1755 and took several years to complete. The barracks were abandoned in 1790 but maintenance seems to have ceased some time prior to that and the road deteriorated very quickly being almost unusable by the early 1790's.

The road between Aberdeen and Corgarff was made between 1754 and 1756. Near to Aberdeen existing roads were used and upgraded but further west new stretches were made although 9 miles had deteriorated so much that a new road had to be made in the 1790's. The road was maintained by local statute labour.

Commemorative stone at the Well of the Lecht
Commemorative stone at the Well of the Lecht on the Braemar to Fort George road. It reads A D 1754, five companies the 33rd Regiment, right hon Lord Charles Hay Colonel made the road from here to the Spey. Click for larger image.

Another road ran from Aberdeen by Huntly to Fochabers close to the Moray Firth. Again much of the work was improvements rather than new roads. A branch went from Huntly to Portsoy. Also running to Fochabers was a road from Fettercairn by the Cairn o'Mounth and Huntly, again improving existing roads.

There were also a number of link roads: Coupar-Angus was linked to the two Wade roads at Dunkeld and Amulree and there were several in the Aviemore/Grantown area. The Stirling to Dumbarton route linked two important garrisons and there was a short stretch of road connected with a garrison at Inversnaid. A few of the roads date from after the time of Caulfeild, for example the road from Stirling to Dumbarton.

As time went on there was increased co-operation with the county authorities and, as Taylor shows, the history of particular roads could be quite complicated where for example statute labour might be used along with working parties of soldiers, or the army contributed to the cost of a road or bridge. By the late 1700's some of the military roads had fallen into disuse and others were replaced by good statute labour roads or new turnpikes. From 1803 onwards, the Commission for Highland Roads and Bridges also improved a number of the roads.

Viewed as a whole, it is remarkable just how closely the modern road network in the Highlands is based on the military roads (and their predecessors): the A9 to Inverness and the A82 to Fort William being just two. While the circumstances of their origin and their effect on Highland culture might have been unhappy there is no doubt that they had a significant impact on the development of the Highlands at the time.

The Roads

Stirling to Fort William




Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image
The road at south end of Loch Lubnaig Glen Ogle Glen Dochart

The road, constructed between 1748 and 1753, ran first to Bridge of Allan on the Crieff road that had been completed a few years before and then ran to Doune partly through the policies of Keir House and partly on the B824. From Doune it had much of the line of the A84 as far as Callendar.

From Callendar it ran through the Pass of Leny where a short stretch can be seen, then up the side of Loch Lubnaig to Lochearnhead. Again, stretches of the road can be seen south of Lochearnhead.

Once it reached Glen Dochart it ran for a couple of miles on what are now farm roads past Wester Lix to Ardchyle and followed the A85 line to Crianlarich and Tyndrum. It is joined by a link road from Loch Lomond just west of Crianlarich.

The old Telford road between Bridge of Orchy and Forrest Lodge. Beyond that point it is used as the West Highland Way.

From Tyndrum it went to Bridge of Orchy by what is now known as the Old Glencoe Road. This was a Telford road made in the early 1800's but closely based on the military road. Today the A82 in this area, built in the 1930's, has a different line from the other two roads.

At the Bridge of Orchy, Telford's road skirted the southern edge of Loch Tulla to Forest Lodge whereas the military road took a more direct and hilly route. From this point to Kingshouse the two roads have the same line in a couple of places but different in others.


NN2256 : The Devil's Staircase by Walter Baxter

The Devil's Staircase
  © Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

At Kingshouse the military road takes a direct route by the Devil's Staircase to Kinlochleven and Fort William. Mactavish says that a road had been made through Glencoe by individual heritors and that the County Road Trustees adopted it as a public road in 1784. The military stopped using the Devil's Staircase route in favour of this road that led to the ferry of Ballachulish from where a coast road ran up to Fort William. This was upgraded by Telford at the same time as the rest of the Old Glencoe Road.

Along much of its length there were pre-existing roads or tracks which were improved by the working parties who also made some stretches of new road. A map in the NLS collection shows that there was a cart road as far as Kilmahog about a mile beyond Callendar and from the descriptions given, other sections were passable by cart. The descriptions also allow us to see where a new line was taken as for example near Lix where there was a " common bad road". North of Tyndrum and Clifton, here called Auchinturin, the road was rough and stony as far as Achallader where the Earl of Breadalbane had a hunting seat. From this point to Glencoe a guide would be needed to pick out the driest way. Interestingly enough the route shown (it is only a sketch map so the route is approximate) is by Achallader then up to Glencoe rather than the known route by Forest Lodge. The Military Survey map shows a road running from Achallader over to the known road just north of Ba bridge but it is not clear if this stretch was ever made and then abandoned for the Forest Lodge route or is just showing the line intended for the road.

Throughout its length much of the military road from Tyndrum as well as stretches of the Old Glencoe Road are incorporated in the West Highland Way.

Three Generations of the A82 (CBRD website) - comprehensive survey of the military road, Telford's road of the early 1800's (the old Glencoe road), and the A82 constructed in the 1930's.
West Highland Way website - gives details of each stage and has a map.
Military Maps of Scotland (NLS) - maps of Fort William to Kinlochleven road and of Lochearnhead area.
Stirling - Tyndrum - Fort William (Canmore references) 33 refs
Fifth Report of Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges, 1811. See pps 39-43 for Telford's remarks on the Rannoch road and his proposal for a route from High Bridge southwards for the use of drovers.
Argyllshire Roads Prior to 1800, Duncan T Mactavish, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, 38 (1937-41), 325-355
The Military Roads in Scotland, William Taylor, House of Lochar, 1996

Kingshouse to Fort William with replacement road by Glencoe
A road that had been made through Glencoe by local heritors was used by the military from 1785 onwards in preference to the Devil's Staircase. This was upgraded by Telford in the early 1800's. The modern A82 has a different line in places from the Telford road.


Tyndrum to Kingshouse and Kinlochleven
Tyndrum to Kingshouse and Devil's Staircase


Stirling to Tyndrum

Notes on the other roads will be added in due course