From isolation to integration : the development of roads in the northern highlands of Scotland 1800-1850
This thesis examines the development of roads in the Northern Highlands of Scotland during the first half of the nineteenth century. These roads were constructed under the auspices of both the Government Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges, appointed in 1803, and the established local administration in the respective counties. At the outset of the period, the road infrastructure of the area was massively inferior to that existing in other parts of the country, although in the fertile eastern coastal fringe with its concentrated human and natural resources, the economic base necessary for modernising the roads began to emerge by the middle years of the eighteenth century. However inland and western districts were then in the throes of a painful process of clearance and resettlement which would signally fail to generate the economic success so desperately required to sustain a rapidly increasing and poverty stricken population. The fragility and decline which characterised the West Highland economy in the period under consideration, retarded all aspects of locally funded development, particularly the construction of roads. In Ross-shire, the reluctance of the more prosperous east to assist would have left the west coast without a single proper road access, had the process depended upon the actions of local government alone. The allocation of parliamentary funds for the whole cost of the Caledonian Canal, and the offer to meet half the cost of certain recommended roads and bridges, was the essential catalyst towards the creation of a comprehensive transport system. However the reluctance of east coast landowners to subsidise projects outwith their own area limited what could be achieved by these grants. The willingness of some landlords who had made or inherited a fortune, to spend it lavishly on improving infrastructure, was of paramount importance, particularly in the county of Sutherland. Light is shed on how the Countess of Sutherland and her husband, Lord Stafford, harnessed the local administrative structure to push forward the road making element of their estate redevelopment programme. Other areas with less affluent owners were not so fortunate. The western coasts of Ross-shire had to wait until the desperate emergency of the Potato Famine led to the completion of roads as emergency public works projects, the so-called "Destitution Roads".