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Rambles on Old Roads

Publisher: Old Roads of Scotland Ó

Issue Number 15

Date: January 2013

In this issue we take a look at Dere Street, an old route from near Muirkirk over to Melrose, and one from Inverlochy to Ruthven.
Recent Additions - Dere Street

Course of Dere Street. Based on a map of Scotland produced by Eric Gaba and made available on Wikimedia under a Creative Commons licence and Commons: GNU_Free_Documentation_License. With thanks. See original on Wikimedia.

Dere Street is probably the best known Roman road in Scotland, with well-preserved stretches running from the Border to Camelon near Falkirk from where they moved north to Perthshire and beyond.

The name itself refers to Deira, a kingdom centred on York, and indicates the use of the road into Anglo-Saxon times, though it deviates here and there from the Roman line.

The best preserved stretch is from Chew Green at the Border up to the complex of camps at Newstead near Melrose. The fort here was called Trimontium, reflecting the three peaks of the Eildon Hills.

On this stretch the road sometimes follows parish boundaries and there are many references in mediaeval charters which are useful in locating it when the road itself has disappeared or when there is uncertainty as to the route it followed.

This is important north of Melrose where three routes have been postulated. One is just west of the Leader Water; another on the high ground further west again - this follows the line of Malcolm's Road referred to in charters; and one, favoured by William Roy, running up the Allan valley to Borthwick and ultimately Cramond.

Definite traces of the road are picked up again near Soutra where there was a mediaeval hospital and where there are extensive views of Edinburgh and the Lothians.

From here little remains of the road but it is thought to have headed for a fort at Elginhaugh near Dalkeith at the time of the first invasion, and then Inveresk at the time of the later Antonine and Severan invasions.

From this point onwards things get somewhat complicated. One problem is the route of the later Dere Street which one would imagine would go directly to Edinburgh, though there is the outpost of Abercorn where there was a bishopric, and the short-lived Northumbrian occupation of lands north of the Forth which could have been reached by Dere Street.

A further complication is how Dere Street relates to a road said to have been evident near Lothianburn in the 18th century. It was buried under the turnpike so future road works may establish if it was Roman. The course shown above is from the 1st series of OS 6"maps (sheet 6). Later series show it following the main road. Based on half-inch OS map, sheet 27, 1913. With thanks.

Another problem is what routes were taken by Dere Street in the 3 invasions of the Romans. The first, by Agricola in AD 77, we can estimate because of a sighting near Liberton,a marching camp at Gogar (near the Gyle Centre), and a milestone at Kirkliston. The later Antonine and Severan invasions, however, with the forts at Inveresk and Cramond and antiquarian references suggest it deviated through Leith and Edinburgh.

The final stretch, from the west of Edinburgh over to Camelon, is likely to have gone through or near Linlithgow, perhaps on the line of modern roads though there are antiquarian references to the road running a mile or so on the high ground north of Linlithgow. Again complications arise with what links it had to the Antonine Wall which was constructed at the time of the second invasion.

From Camelon, remains of a main road have been traced northward to well past Perth, with hints here and there of other roads to outlying forts. West of Camelon there was a military way running behind the Antonine Wall all the way to the River Clyde though it is as yet unclear if the earlier forts that preceded the Wall were connected by a road.



Rambles on Old Roads

Inverlochy to Ruthven
Places noted in text. An old road runs north from Cromdale and there may have been a route continuing along the Spey valley to Rothes. It is not known if there was a link south from Inverness. Based on J Arrowsmith's 1844 map of Scotland, courtesy of David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. Their images are copyright Cartography Associates but have been made available under a Creative Commons license for non-commercial use.

In newsletter 12 we mentioned the likelihood of there having been a continuous route from Moray to Perth. The reasons for this were the existence of Comyn's Road between Blair Athol and Ruthven, a via regia at Inverallan south of Grantown, along with a stone bridge, which was thought to link up with Forres, and a Rathad na Righ (king's road) near Tulloch and Boat of Gartan. One entry in Edward the First's itinerary refers to this place as Rode of Gartan.

The only gap in this is between Tulloch and Ruthven, a distance of about 10 miles, though as Kingussie (one mile or so from Ruthven) was part of the diocese of Moray it is quite likely that the missing link did exist.

One question that arises is if there was an early route direct from the Carrbridge area to Inverness. There is no evidence for this but given the strategic need for strong links to Inverness and Moray to ensure control of the area, it is a definite possibility.

Another question is if there was a road or routeway between Ruthven and Inverlochy and a couple of mottes near Glen Roy. These were controlled by the Comyns, with Inverlochy intended to secure the southern half of the Great Glen (see Urquhart Castle and the Great Glen, Nick Bridgeland, Historic Scotland, 2005, page 56/57). The distance between them is just under 50 miles with a natural routeway along Loch Laggan and Glen Spean.

While no direct evidence of a road, even one like the primitive Comyn's Road from Blair Athol to Ruthven has been found, it is more than likely that this route was used as a link between them.



Given the routes on the eastern side of the country as shown by Edward I's use of them in his campaigns, these western routes would indicate just how thoroughly the Norman incomers had secured strategic control of much of northern Scotland.

A Mediaeval Right-of-Way through the Douglas Valley
Sir William Fraser, in Volume 3 of the Douglas Book refers to a dispute over a right of way through the Douglas valley. Melrose abbey had been used to taking their produce from their centre at Tordones to Melrose by this route until they were challenged and harassed by a Sir William Douglas in the late 1200's. The dispute was settled in the abbey's favour.

The route starts at Tordones, which must be Tardoes in Muirkirk and runs directly past Douglas to Uddington. From here it went to Wiston then onward to Melrose.

Other than the mention of the route, the document is interesting because it indicates that the abbey's huge estates in Ayrshire that were administered from Mauchline probably had a local centre at Tardoes. Also of note is a cluster of "monk" placenames just east of the county boundary that must indicate they held lands here. For further information see here.

Recommended sites
Bridges of the Forth and its Tributaries, Louis Stott,The Forth Naturalist and Historian, Volume 22, pages 133 - 154, 1999

This is a very useful account of some 50 bridges over the River Forth and tributaries like the Devon, the Bannock, the Allan and Teith.

Among the more unusual bridges are a Telford bridge at Bannockburn which has a circular arch above a normal arch, the double "Rumbling Bridge" near Powmill, the romantically sited Bracklinn Bridge, now replaced by a modern footbridge, and an almost unknown bridge, the "Brig o' Michael, near Loch Vennacher."

Photos of some 20 bridges are appended.
"Rambles on Old Roads" will be produced four times a year.