Old Tracks And Roads

From Moriston Matters, Issue 5, February 1978.

When we step into our car, or if less fortunate mount the bus, on a shopping spree to Inverness, we reckon on reaching our destination within an hour, depending on the road traffic. How was the journey unaccomplished in times gone by?

First, let it be said that prior to last century Glenmoriston was, to a large extent self-supporting. Apart from such items as firearms and broad-swords all the necessities of life were produced locally, though a certain amount of meal had to be brought in from the neighbouring glens. During the nineteenth century a tailor and a bootmaker set up business in the Glen, while the village shop with a limited range of groceries came into existence. But let us go back to earlier times.

For those moving from one glen to another there were well-known tracks along the easiest route over the hills, skirting the bogs, which by all accounts struck terror in the hearts of those strangers from the South who were brave enough to explore the Highlands. Needless to say, there were no river bridges, which explains why these cross-country tracks converged on points where there were fords and in a few cases ferry boats. Travellers on pony-back could generally depend on their mounts to get them across with-out a ducking, while the pedestrians adopted the follow-my-leader formation, placing their hands on each other's shoulders, But there were numerous cases of drowning when rivers were in spate. Captain Burt, a Government Agent (some said a spy) who travelled around the North West Highlands in the eighteenth century tells in his letters about crossing a river in a ferry boat with so "many marks of antiquity" that he felt obliged to ask as to its age, and was told by the ferryman that it was "above sixty years, having belonged to his father".

Needless to say, these hill-tracks were used by those in the cattle-lifting “business” and on the war-path. In 1603 when Glengarry men had carried out a bloodthirsty raid on their enemies in the Black Isle, the MacKenzies retaliated, bringing with them a light boat known as a 'coit' to cross the Moriston at Wester Inverwick.

In these days of old, the wayfarer from the South crossed the river mouth of the Moriston and followed the track up the west side of the Home Farm burn over the flat east of Achnaconneran and Mealfourvonie leading down to Glenurquhart in the vicinity of Clunemore, The next upstream crossing of the river was at "Linne-nam-Fichead" the "Pool of Twenty", just above Blaraidh, where a party of that number are said to have been drowned. It is perhaps significant that nearby on the south bank is the Allt-nan-Gadaich, the Thieves' Stream. The track from this crossing leads up the west side of the Blaraidh Burn and over the water-shed east of Loch Chraich. Peter MacMillan, for many years head-keeper at Invermoriston, pointed out the track to the writer, but it is not easy to distinguish. Further up the Glen, the track most in use came over the hill from Auchterawe to Torgoyle and then on to Tomich along the east side of Loch Na Beinne Bainne. But there was also a coffin road from Glengarry to Achlain opposite the graveyard at Balintombuie. Some of these tracks have been described on the maps as "drove-roads", but the only one worthy of this description came from Glenelg, down the East side of Loch Cluanie and then over the hill to Fort Augustus at Aonach, west of Achlain.

General Wade was the first to carry out any real construction work, in 1726, to link up the forts and barracks at strategic points through-out the Highlands. His road from Fort Augustus to the Bernera Barracks at Glenelg seems to have more or less followed the line of the old drove road - probably he had no alternative. His soldiers dug out the track through the soft ground which they filled with blasted rock, and in places where this was not at hand tree trunks were used, covered with gravel. His roads were not of course intended for wheeled traffic, but Captain Burt, to whom reference has already been made, wrote: "the roads on these moors are now as smooth as Constitution Hill and I have galloped on some of them for miles together in great tranquillity which was heightened by reflection on my former fatigue when for a great part of the way I had been obliged to quit my horse."

The first road suitable for wheeled traffic from Inverness to Fort Augustus was constructed at the beginning of last century by the Commissioners of Roads and Bridges for the Highlands, the old bridge at Invermoriston being part of this scheme.

A few years later a carriage road up Glenmoriston was constructed at a cost of £4,434 up to Ceannacroc Bridge. Under the relevant Act, the Laird was obliged to contribute £1,817, but entitled to recover this amount from his tenants over a period of seven years.In the year 1882 it was proposed to extend the railway line from Fort William to Inverness, which involved a viaduct across the mouth of the River Moriston. The scheme caused some consternation and even more when, owing to protests, an alternative route up Stratherrick was considered. Eventually the line was extended to Fort Augustus but later closed.An account of the opening of the Caledonian Canal and navigation on Loch Ness might interest readers but apart from the lack of space the writer feels that a well-known and much respected member of our local community is more competent to deal with this subject.