The Military Roads Of Scotland

Surviving part of the road between the Bridge of
Annan to Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway 

The development of military roads in Scotland tends to call one name to mind, that of General Wade. However, in terms of the mileage built and the time in post, his work is outstripped by Major Caulfield. Between 1724 and 1740, Wade was in charge of the construction of the first major series of roads, together with barracks and a boat on Loch Ness. The second part of this massive development was undertaken by Wade’s appointee Major Caulfield who took over in 1740 and stayed in post until 1767. During this period, the road system was extended, an extensive programme of maintenance was instituted and numerous support facilities built. Caulfield built about three times the mileage of Wade. Finally, the whole programme broke down in the aftermath of the post Jacobite panic, when the roads were recognised as being valuable for civilian use. Their upkeep was progressively deferred to county funds except in cases where the population was so sparse that local funds could not support the maintenance costs. As always, the road builders had to fight for funding from a government which was progressively less willing to pay.


The physical location of the roads was based on a very simple principle - the straightest route to where you want to go. This practice held until obstacles which were insurmountable were reached when the road either went round or over using hairpin bends. Rivers were either forded or bridged using local or imported craftsmen.

The roads were commissioned to be 16 feet wide (about the equivalent of a modern 2 lane country road) and not less than 14 feet. Construction was simple!

A trench was dug and the earth thrown to each side to form banks. The bottom of the trench was filled with large boulders, progressively getting smaller until the whole thing was topped off with about 2 feet of gravel. All the while, the stones were compacted to form a stable structure. On marshy ground, the road was built on brushwood. The earth banks allowed the creation of ditches which prevented the erosion of the road by water. Culverts were a later development and where necessary, cross drains were built using stones rather than a top surface of gravel.

Caulfield in 1749 suggested that a road 22 miles long from Inverary to Tyndrum, passing through inhabited country may be finished in a year by 400 men and a road from Fort Augustus to Bernera in one year by 600 men.


The roads were built by soldiers. Very little local labour was used and this would mainly be skilled workers involved in bridge building etc. Soldiers left their weapons in the nearest barracks and were issued with spades, shovels, picks, sways, wheelbarrows, crows, sledgehammers, screw jacks etc. together with powder for blasting. Local materials were used where possible being freely available en route.

Before the work started, an advance party of a subaltern and 20-30 men would draw out the line of the road, set up camp and build forges. Soldiers were housed either in huts built for the purpose or tents. These camps were about 10 miles apart and often later developed into inns or kingshouses as they were called, becoming the equivalent of a motorway service area. The working party was escorted by a sergeant with 16 men each issued with 9 rounds. In 1752, 1000 men working in the area of Appin had less than 100 armed men with then.

Soldiers received extra pay for their work at a rate of :-
        Privates 6d; Corporals 8d; Sergeants 1s; and subalterns 2s6d. Thus, the pay was effectively doubled but only when men were working on the road. Orderly duties, sickness or bad weather stopped the payments. Captains have no allowance…. being sent to preserve good order and discipline. To prevent trouble, duties were rotated, so that the armed soldiers had their turn at road building to get the extra pay. For the money, the men were expected to build 1.5 yards per man per day, depending on conditions. Because of the weather, work usually started in April with about two thirds of the assigned troops with the remainder joining in July until the end of October. This pattern changed later.

Sadly, no money was issued to the men until they returned to their Regiment and no credit with the sutlery was allowed. In the Highlands, only spirits were available to the soldiers, which occasionally (!) rendered them incapable of performing their work. Officers sometimes provided utensils and stores for brewing beer for their men and a number of records exist of these Officers being tracked by Excise men for non payment of duty.

Food was basically meal or biscuit and cheese, supplemented by local provisions where available. The lack of food available locally was one reason for starting later in the year.

The weather meant that the road surface had to be renewed on an annual basis. Restrictions on hauling timber were invoked to minimise damage as the roads were intended for soldiers or wheeled vehicles.

In 1749, Caulfield’s budget was for :-
        28 Officers, 1500 NCOs and men, 10 masons, 20 smiths, 24 carpenters, 33 pavers, 57 miners, 21 wallers with 25 carts and 12 sleds at a cost of £5,064 19s 11d. Bridges cost a further £1,692 16s 7½d. Iron, steel nails and coals came to £100 and “Paid to Mr Moyse at the factory at Leith and Mr Gray at the Iron Mills near Dalkeith £260”. Grand total £7,117 16s 6½d.

Pulteney's And The Roads

The 13th Foot took their turn at road building. In 1749, 1350 men from 5 Regiments were engaged in this work of whom Pulteney’s had 300 men detailed as did Guis’s, the Royal Welch Fusiliers and Sackville’s with the remaining 150 from Ancrum’s.

It seems that Pulteney’s was deployed in working from Lochearnhead towards the Pass of Leny and Sackville’s started at the Pass of Leny and worked towards them. They made about 15 miles of road and the records then become confusing with Caulfield claiming in his report that 60 miles had been completed by 16th September. The War Office record claims 45 miles completed.

In 1752, it seems that Pulteney’s formed part of a force of over 1100 men working on the road from each side of the Black Mount where the base camp was located. By the middle of August, the road was progressing well and troops were being detailed for either a different road (to Tarbet), or to maintenance. Unfortunately, the weather broke and it was reported that “the detachments of Lt General Pulteney’s and Lord Bury’s have suffered greatly from the inclemency of the weather and that their tents are absolutely rotten”. It was left to the discretion of the CO as to wether troops went to work on the Tarbet road or returned to barracks. Bury’s returned to winter quarters which caused some discontent amongst the troops at the loss of 2 weeks extra pay!


Not much remains of the military roads today. Modern roads have been built on top of them or the materials used for other purposes. There is only one road South of Glasgow and this runs from Bridge of Sark (Gretna) to Portpatrick with a fork to Ballantrae. Parts of this road are still walkable. The remainder extend north or west from Glasgow.

The terrain is usually so difficult that the narrowness of the valleys means that new roads have to be built on the old. Looking at the OS map for the Lochearnhead region, there is little doubt that nothing remains of Pulteney’s contribution to the grand scheme.

Road 1

Road 2
Surviving parts of the road between
the Bridge of Annan to Portpatrick
in Dumfries and Galloway  

In addition, Portpatrick harbour was built by troops in the 18th C and the road names still reflect the presence of soldiers. Sadly, whilst the barracks still stand they are now converted into modern dwellings, as is the officers house in Barracks Rd.

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