Return to Newsletters; Return to Index page

Rambles on Old Roads

Publisher: Old Roads of ScotlandÓ

Issue Number 18

Date:February 2014

In this issue we look at some medieval roads in Fifeshire, a useful feature on Ordnance Survey maps related to turnpike roads, and Roman Roads in the Fife Peninsula
Recent Additions - Medieval Roads in Fifeshire

This looks at some of the roads mentioned in charters of the abbeys of Lindores, Balmerino, Inchcolm and Dunfermline.

One important road was from Queensferry north to Perth. While indelibly linked to Queen Margaret, it is likely that a ferry had existed here long before she became associated with it. The road had a route that can still be traced through Kinross to the Bridge of Earn. It was joined near Kelty by a road from Dunfermline.

Another road from Queensferry led to Dunfermline, and there was a link between the town and Limekilns where the abbey had a harbour.

Heading east from the ferry to Inverkeithing and Kinghorn was the road on which Alexander

Medieval roads in Fife. There were other roads, Based on map of Scotland by J.Arrowsmith, 1844, courtesy of David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. The image is copyright Cartography Associates but has been made available under a Creative Commons license for non-commercial use.

III was killed when he fell off his horse. This probably continued as a coastal route to Kirkcaldy and beyond.




St Andrews was a focal point for routes with one coming from the Leven area and probably linked to the Earls Ferry that crossed the Firth here from North Berwick. Another St Andrews route came from Cupar by the early Dairsie Bridge that replaced an even earlier bridge, and there is said to have been one from Balmerino.

Part of this latter route developed when the monks were allowed to quarry building stone from Nydie near Strathkiness, a route that can still be traced today by farm tracks.

Memorial near the spot where Alexander III was killed by a fall from his horse

The ferry at Portincraig gave access to towns like Dundee,
Forfar,Arbroath and Montrose, as well as further north. One road coming through Gauldry, just south of Balmerino is described as the "king's highway to Portincraig" and it is likely that another road came to the ferry from St Andrews.

Other routes were one from Balmerino to the village of Coultra, and a coastal route between Anstruther and Crail.

A number of early bridges are mentioned (and in a couple of cases referred to as ancient) as at Kinross, near Largo Law, and near Markinch, where there was also a causeway.

Wade's High Bridge

As mentioned in the last newsletter it was proposed to remove the dangerous metal walkway that had been installed in 1894. This work has now been completed by a local firm, as described in this newspaper report.




Rambles on Old Roads

Roman Roads in the Fife Peninsula

As it stands at present no roads are known in either Fife, Kinross or Clackmannanshire. However, a number of camps are known. Those at Dunning and near Abernethy are thought to date from the Flavian period (AD77-84) and are presumably linked to the fortifications on the Gask Ridge.

In the Severan period (AD 208-211), a legionary fortress was built at Carpow where the Tay may have been crossed for campaigns further north. A string of camps extends eastwards from Innerpeffray, Forteviot, Carpow and Auchtermuchty to Edenwood near Cupar, and possibly Bonnytown, south-east of St Andrews. While no roads are confirmed on this route, it no doubt represents the line of march taken on the campaign.

When we turn to the antiquarians we find that there is a long standing tradition of a camp south of Loch Ore, where the 9th Legion was attacked. The camp is suggested by its tentative identification with Ptolemy's town of Orrea although a place called Orrock, north of Burntisland, has also been suggested. Although faint traces at the first site were said to have been visible, nothing definite can be seen today. Another strong tradition is that there was a route north from where the Forth bridges are now, past Loch Leven and then over the Ochil Hills to Carpow.

Very little of the antiquarian suggestions have been confirmed, though some are probably worth following up. Colonel Shand referred to a causeway running west from Carpow which is undoubtedly the same as that by which the monks of Lindores and the nuns from Elcho went in procession to the church of Ecclesiamagirdle.

Another causeway ran towards Falkland from Rossie, close to where the Auchtermuchty camp was sited. Early charters talk of another causeway near Markinch, a road termed as a "strata" running north from Inverkeithing and some bridges that were old even in medieval times. These however are speculative and would need further evidence.

Known Roman camps in red. Sibbald's putative road network is also shown. Based on map of Scotland by J.Arrowsmith, 1844, courtesy of David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. The image is copyright Cartography Associates but has been made available under a Creative Commons license for non-commercial use.

One champion of an extensive network of roads and camps in the Fife peninsula was Sir Robert Sibbald, followed closely by the Rev. Andrew Small, who can be aptly summarised as having a station on nearly every hill, and a road in nearly every valley. It is interesting to see another antiquary, William Maitland, speak with some irritation of Sibbald's camp at Orrock and military way at Crossgate, that they showed not the least appearance of a camp or a road.

Scotland: The Roman Presence, ScARF (Scottish Archaeological Research Framework), June 2012.
An Atlas of Scottish History to 1707 - see p.59 ff.
Caledonia, Vol.I, p.168/9, George Chalmers, 1st edition, 1807





A useful feature on the 1st. Series of the 1 inch and 6 inch O.S. maps is that they show turnpike toll points, using the abbreviation T.P.

Supplementing this are the O.S. Name Books for each county which have hundreds of entries for this abbreviation, and useful descriptions of the feature involved.

The 6 inch maps are also useful for listing the distances shown on milestones. This can be a help when the stones are hard to read due to weathering or are on long disused routes.

This hard to read milestone is on a long disused road over the western flank of Tinto Hill in Lanarkshire. The 6-inch map (2nd. edition) records that it was 8 miles to Lanark

Access to the maps is free at the National Library of Scotland. To access the Name Books a subscription to Scotlands Places is needed, although free access is available if you volunteer to take part in the transcription programme.

Recommended Books

The Mounth Passes: A Heritage Guide to the Old Ways Through the Grampian Mountains

This is an e-book available on Kindle, and has been produced by Nate Pedersen and Neil Ramsey with photographs by Graham Marr.

The Mounth passes are a set of important routeways across the Grampians that connect the North-East of Scotland with Kincardineshire and Forfarshire.

The book covers 12 routes, providing interesting historical information about each, such as their use by drovers and caterans, and by the military in Jacobite times.

An up to date route survey is provided for each, along with photographs.

It will prove very useful for planning a walk and its portable format will allow it to be easily consulted when walking a route.

"Rambles on Old Roads" will be produced four times a year.