The Military Roads from Slochd to Sluggan

by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)

The following notes were provided for a NOSAS field trip in December 2015. Photographs from the day have been included.

NOSAS Slochd Dec15 001

OS Slochd walk 116

Slochd Pass accommodates several routes both old and new; 4 roads and a railway jostle for position through the narrow defile. We are all familiar with the current A9 and the old A9, a Telford or “Parliamentary road, constructed in 1834. This walk follows sections of the 2 earlier roads

The Military road of 1803 (shown below on the plan of the proposed line of the 1834 road) was built by James Donaldson in order to avoid some of the steeper sections of the original Wade military road. The road descends into the glen from our starting point at Slochd Cottages (Stagehouse on this map) and crosses the Allt Slochd Muick at “Donaldsons Bridge” GR NH 843241. This bridge survived intact until the 1960s and has now been replaced by a wooden structure; a further bridge 200m to the north crosses a side burn and is in a better state. Of this road Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus in Memoirs of a Highland Lady Volume 1 (p346) writes (in 1814) “a new road has been engineered along the sides of this “pass of wild boars”, Slough Mouich, thought a wonder of skill when viewed beside the frightful narrow precipitous pathway tracked out by General Wade, up and down which one could scarcely be made to believe a carriage with people sitting in it! had ever attempted to pass. My mother had always walked those 2 or 3 miles, the new route not having been completed until some years after…….”

Slochd Telford 1834117

General Wade’s Military road constructed in 1728-29 is joined after 1km at one of its better preserved sections. To the north the feint remains of an earlier road can be seen taking a direct line over a hill, while to the south the line of the road has been interrupted by the later railway constructed in 1897. The Wade Bridge at Ortunan was reconstructed relatively recently and that at Insharn built of dressed stone may not be the original. From Insharn southwards the Wade road is part of the National Cycle route. The first 1.5kms has seen severe estate use and nothing remains of the original road; however after the junction with the track to Inverlaidnan it improves and a possible five-mile marker stone is seen at NH 8553 2181 Canmore ID 139468 “This stone, on the S side of the track, is possibly that mentioned (Salmond 1938) at the top of the ascent as being one of those marking a 5 mile stretch. However, that marker stone is more likely to be the one visible 118m further W”.

NOSAS Slochd Dec15 007

Second OS Slochd

Inverlaidnan has a number of interesting archaeological sites including the old laird’s house (see below), a horse gang, an unrecorded township and a possible hut circle. Also of interest is a WW1 camp (Canmore ID 332704)  which was built to accommodate 400 German POWs who were to provide a labour force for the Canadian Forestry Corps; this site is for a future visit I’m sure. However note that the 1st edition OS map of 1882 has much more extensive forest cover around Inverlaidnan than we see today.


Inverlaidnan Old House – GR NH 861 214 Canmore ID 14968.   This Scheduled site comprises the upstanding ruins of an 18th-century laird’s house built almost certainly by John Grant of Dalrachney sometime between 1717 and his death in 1736. He was succeeded by his son, Alexander, but the house was extensively damaged by fire in 1739. It was rebuilt by 1746 and Bonnie Prince Charlie is thought to have stayed there one February night. The Grants continued to occupy the house for some time thereafter, but by 1851, the roof of ‘the old house of Inverlaidnan’ had fallen in. The remains of the house at Inverlaidnan today consist principally of the W and N walls, which stand to full height, and the E and N corners of the S elevation. The outbuildings survive as turf-covered footings and the enclosure as a substantial bank, in parts spread to 3m across, and ditched along its W side. The laird’s house was originally rectangular in plan, of two storeys and garret, and aligned N-S with subsidiary buildings to its E. The house measures about 16m N-S by 11.5m E-W over walls about 0.9m thick. The original entrance was located probably midway along the E elevation; at a later date a doorway was inserted at the N end of this same elevation. Each floor would have been two rooms deep with a stairway located centrally along the W elevation. Windows were positioned between the flues at attic level on the end gables and two small fireplaces would have provided warmth to each of the four principal rooms on the first floor. The large W-facing first floor windows had inner relieving arches behind their lintels. The house and outbuildings stood in the centre of a walled enclosure which measures approximately 65m N-S by 40m E-W over all. One of the outbuildings probably housed the kitchen. Evidence of some re-building survives, in particular at the NW corner.

NOSAS Slochd Dec15 014

Quote from HES  Scheduled Monument record “This laird’s house is of national importance as a good example of the layout and architecture of a type of monument about which little is presently known. Its importance is enhanced by its potential, together with the contemporary documentary sources available, to improve our understanding of the social structure and culture of landed families in the 18th century. Given its early abandonment and lack of later disturbance, the monument also has high archaeological potential”.

Rejoining and continuing along the Wade road we come across a cairn and cist; it may be the one noted in 1875 as being at “Inverladnin House”! and recorded on Canmore ID 14962. More recently Ann Wakeling has recorded it, see HER MHG 25012.

Close by is a site comprising several piles of stone which is a bit of a mystery; answers on a postcard please!

As the road descends towards Sluggan Bridge an alternative line is seen in the heather to the north taking an easier gradient.

Sluggan Bridge

Sluggan Bridge NH 870220 Canmore ID 14972,  carries the road across the River Dulnain. The Roy map of c1750 has a ford here and Bishop Forbes when he travelled north in 1762 describes fording the river. The original bridge at this site was erected in 1764 with 2 arches and a central pier; it was washed away in the flood of 1768 and replaced a year later by the present single soaring arch “the builder being resolved that the same accident should never happen again” (Sir Eneas MacIntosh, 23rd Chief of the Clan). The bridge is reported by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder as being destroyed in the flood of 1929 but it clearly still stands. A settlement on the north bank of the river at the junction with the Grantown road (Roy 1750) may have been an inn.

Roy Sloch Slug

The construction of Roads in the Highlands – 1724 to 1863    

Military roads 1724 to 1800

In the aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1719, the Hanoverian Government began to set in place the means for the more effective policing of the Highlands. The appointment of General George Wade as Commander of the Forces in North Britain marked a turning point. He was keenly aware of the need for improved communications, especially for the provision of roads, to link up the chain of fortified garrison-posts which were to be established at strategic points throughout the region. Over the eight years between 1725 and 1733, Wade’s work squads built over 400km of roadway and around 40 stone bridges. Wade’s network primarily linked the three forts of the Great Glen and Ruthven in Badenoch with each other, and fed into a road from the south across the Drumochter Pass.

image001The roads were designed for military use and not for civilian purposes, wherever possible following Roman precedent. They were built in a straight line, going over rather than round high ground. The width of the road, except in adverse circumstances, was 16 ft. The raw material for road building was readily available. The foundations were first dug and then big stones, broken by gunpowder if necessary, were levered into the bottom of the trench. Smaller stones, smashed by sledgehammer, were packed in on top and finally gravel to a depth of at least 2 ft was tipped in. In marshy ground the road had to be ‘floated’ on a raft of brushwood and timber. The earth thrown up during excavation was formed into a bank on each side of the road, and the unmistakable shape of these banks today is a sure sign of a military road. Drainage trenches were dug on each side of the banks; where the road clung to a hillside, the back drain was essential to keep the surface from being washed away.

Little survives of Wade’s original roads; they have been improved, widened and resurfaced. The road from Drumochter to Inverness has been obliterated in many places by the successive buildings of the A9. One of the finest stretches of surviving roadway runs from Garvamore to the Corrieyairick, where it ascends the steep hillside in a series of dramatic switchbacks. A second well-preserved stretch runs north from Kinveachy, via Sluggan Bridge to the Slochd Pass. Many of Wade’s bridges were also replaced later in the 18th or 19th centuries, but several good original examples survive. Most were built of undressed stone and were simple, utilitarian structures. The finest of this type is Garva Bridge, at the foot of the long ascent towards the Corrieyairick.

A second great road-building phase began in 1740 and continued with interruptions until 1767. This was carried out under the direction of Wade’s former assistant, Major William Caulfield. He was responsible for the construction of the road from Strathdon via the Lecht to Grantown-on-Spey, and from Grantown across the moors by Lochindorb to Nairn and Fort George. Caulfield’s roads were generally better than Wade’s, and were laid out with better awareness of the lie of the land. Towards the end of the 18th C, the government, whilst recognizing that lines of communications had to be kept open, were more reluctant to allow funding for the maintenance of the roads. Fewer military personnel were available, nevertheless three principal lines in the Highlands were constructed. Before 1800 another 1900km of military road and a further 936 bridges had been constructed throughout the Highlands.

“Parliamentary” Roads -1803 to 1863

Military considerations did not always match with the needs of local people, and the great network of roads built between 1724 and 1800 was often unsuited for the growing economic demands of the Highlands. Much of it had fallen into disrepair as the fear of further Jacobite risings had evaporated. In 1802 the government instructed Thomas Telford to make a survey of the roads in the Highlands. There was alarm at the depopulation which they blamed in part on the landowners’ overstocking with sheep. They felt that the provision of roads, bridges, canals and harbours would be a prerequisite to prosperity.

The Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges was established to administer the Acts of Parliament, passed in 1803, 1810, 1814, etc. in relation to the roads. The government would pay half of the expense of roads and bridges that were deemed necessary; the other half was to be met by landlords and others who might benefit. It had been proved time and again that without regular maintenance Highland roads deteriorated rapidly, provision should be made for proper repairs. Many of the gradients on the old military roads were unsuitable for horse-drawn vehicles; new lines had to be considered. Thomas Telford was entrusted with the physical work of planning and implementation. Despite government penny-pinching, hostility from local lairds, and the difficulties of geography, by 1820 he had added 1320km of high-quality road and over 1000 new bridges, much of this system forming the basis for the modem network of roads in the Highlands. In 1806 a coach service between Perth and Inverness was established. In 1823 the Tollgate Act was passed to help meet the increasing expenditure.

Bibliography :     The Military Roads in Scotland -William Taylor, 1976

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