The Roads We Rely On

The following article was published in the May 2019 Spotlight Magazine – Lewis and Harris; Inverness and District; Elgin, Lossie and District; Forres and District; Nairn and District; Buckie, Keith and District; Turriff, Huntly and District; and Strathspey and District editions.

Throughout the tensions of the early Jacobite period, it was clear that access and manoeuvrability were key issues that needed to be addressed for control of the Highlands and North East.

Readers will be aware of the roads built by General George Wade between 1724 and 1740, but it was Wade’s protégé’s extension of the road-building project from 1747 that had a lasting impact in the North West and South West Highlands as well as into Aberdeen-shire; all key recruiting grounds for the Jacobite army of 1745-1746.

The origin of Wade’s project was the increasing Highland influence in the Jacobite Risings of 1689, 1715 and 1719 and the insecurities which the Hanoverian monarchy and Government of the time of Wade’s command felt in the Gàidhealtachd. Wade was Commander-in-Chief of the forces in North Britain from 1724-1740 and again in September until December 1745 at the age of 72.

Wade’s road-building focused on the Great Glen and Highland Perthshire and consisted of 35 bridges, including the impressive Tay Bridge at Aberfeldy, and 240 miles of road. The Aberfeldy bridge was designed by William Adam and cost £4,095 5s 10d.

An ironic fact is that it was Wade’s road through the Corrieyarrick Pass that aided the Jacobite advance on Edinburgh before the battle of Prestonpans. It is also this pass that my ancestor used to move with a barrow of his belongings from Dores to Blairgowrie 150 years later in search of a sustainable livelihood!

After Culloden in April 1746 and seeing the tests of the network during the ‘45, Major William Caulfeild took over and masterminded the road network extensions. Wade’s protégé had been with him since 1729 and had been promoted by Wade to the position of Inspector of Roads in 1732.

One of the best examples of their joint work is the bridge at Sluggan, an important junction between Wade’s and Caulfeild’s roads. Despite being partly washed away in 1829, it was rebuilt in the original design which is synonymous with Caulfeild’s single-arch bridges. One of the few written records states that the similar 1749 Caulfeild’s Bridge at the Spittal of Glenshee was built for £40.

Caulfeild remained the Inspector of Roads until his death in 1767. By this time he had overseen the completion of over 800 miles of extensions to Wade’s road network and c.600 bridges. This included the road from the Great Glen to Glenelg; roads linking Crieff, Dumbarton, Inverary and Fort William; and a complex road network linking Dunkeld to Aberdeen, Stonehaven, Portsoy, Corgarff, Braemar, Fochabers, Grantown-on-Spey, Forres and Fort George. The project of 1747 also ran alongside the first military survey of Scotland which led to the formation of the Ordinance Survey.

It must be recognized that these roads facilitated the systematic subduing of Gaelic culture in the West and Episcopalian Jacobitism in the North East. It also facilitated the access of the British Army to recruits who, from the late 18th century until today have been involved in virtually every British military campaign. Today, Wade and Caulfeild might also be seen as the facilitators of tourism in the North and as the people who did more for the road networks in the Highlands than anyone since.

If you have a topic you’d like to find out more about, or have local traditions and stories to share, please e-mail and visit to book your bespoke guided tour!

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


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