Military Road Survey highlights possibilities

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The surviving remnants of one of Scotland’s largest historical features will have a better chance of being conserved thanks to Forestry Commission Scotland.

A recent (Autumn of 2009) survey of the stretches of the 18th century military road network that lie on the national forest estate assessed the number and condition of features along the route.

Around 66 km of the known road network on the nfe - stretching from Lochaber to Easter Ross - were surveyed to assess the condition of the remaining features and the level of conservation work required.

Matt Ritchie, FCS Archaeologist said:

“To counter the feared Jacobite threat, General Wade – and then Major Caulfield – spent 27 years building this 1600km network of roads, bridges and fords across some of the most rugged terrain in Scotland.

“By confirming and extending the power of the crown, it played a key role in the course of Scottish history and as such is a hugely important artefact. Before General Wade, travel within the Highlands was done on foot or by horseback – and the military road network outlived its military purpose and enhanced communications and development throughout the region.

“The network should also be seen as an astonishing feat of engineering, given the ruggedness of the landscape and the fact that they relied on muscle power, hand tools and the materials at hand.”

The Commission's Environment Manager for Inverness, Ross & Skye, Giles Brockman, added:

“Unfortunately, much of the network has now been lost or destroyed by modern roads. However, that some of the bridge works are still in very good condition - and that walkers still use the road today - stands as testament to the skill of those who worked on this network.

“It’s vital that we conserve what is left for the record and prevent the surviving remnants from being lost. This new archaeological survey will help us to prioritise.”

The Commission has an existing duty to look after features that are already scheduled monuments. However – in one area alone, the survey uncovered 144 individual previously unrecorded features, including well-preserved sections of road, fords, bridges and culverts.

The Commission hopes to work with local partnerships to raise funding for works that will help ensure that the story of this remarkable road continues to be told – and that it continues to fulfil the job it was designed for. 

1) The Highland military road network was constructed by General George Wade between 1725 and 1733 and comprises over 400km of road and about 40 bridges, linking the four barracks at Fort William, Fort Augustus, Inverness and Ruthven. The network was extended by Major William Caulfield between 1740 and 1767.

2) The field work was undertaken for FCS by Colin Shepherd, an experienced archaeological consultant who has already done a significant amount of work for FCS in Aberdeenshire.  The survey was managed by Giles Brockman (Environment Manager, IRS) and Matt Ritchie (FCS Archaeologist).

3) Forestry Commission Scotland serves as the Scottish Government’s forestry directorate and manages the 665,000 hectare national forest estate. The Commission’s woodlands are making a difference to the well being of Scotland’s people and their communities.

4) Media enquiries to Paul Munro, Forestry Commission Scotland press office, 0131 314 6507