Roads Through Ross

This project has been ongoing since 2008 and is being undertaken with the aim of characterising and recording a series of double embanked features, believed to indicate a possible network of relict route ways in Easter Ross. The main objectives are to identify a new monument class of early roadways in this part of the Highlands and to gain understanding of their creation, use, re-use and abandonment.

Following informal walkover surveys of the linear earthworks, it has become apparent that, for the most part, they possess features distinguishing them from simple tracks. At other places along the continuous route from the Beauly to the Dornoch Firths the route-way is preserved in currently used wide paths and field boundaries. The project’s coordinators believe that the configuration of these fragmentary features reflects Davies’ observation that even disconnected lengths of route-ways found at some distance from each other can be considered to form elements of a continuous route (2002, p.32).

Embankment at the Broad Wood Brahan © Cait McCullaghInitial walkovers followed the trajectories suggested by the positioning of these features. Additionally, surfaces were probed for sub-surface cobbling and bottoming stones, using a stainless steel survey arrow.  The results have been variable and, until a benchmark roadway sub-surface can be identified in the area, further investigation is being concentrated on desk based assessment of the historical cartography, aerial photographs and the District Roads Trustees’ Minute Books and the Roads Commissioners’ Reports, in order to clarify whether these features represent pre-parliamentary and 18th century military roads.  In addition, measured surveys are being conducted of a representative sample of the double embanked roadway fragments and likely associated features along the route.

The defining characteristic is the relative straightness of the main thoroughfare at the centre of the network. Changes in direction occur fairly frequently but in between these changes the road generally takes a direct route from point to point. Most of the road, where it is identifiable, is delineated by parallel turf embankments, of no more than one metre in height, on either side of a levelled surface of between five and eleven meters in width. There is no discernible camber.

At NH 7664 7795, the projected route coincides with The King’s Causeway, the fragmentary remains of a cobbled roadway evidencing, in part, two ditches running either side of a 7m (approx.) wide, occasionally cambered, surface.  This is described on the Historic Environment Record of the Highland Council as a Post-Medieval Road, dated to between 1560 and 1900.  A slightly earlier terminus post quem of 1527 is given in both the Old and New Statistical Accounts, where the cobbling of the route is described as being necessary in preparation for a pilgrimage of King James IV to the Sanctuary of Saint Duthus, Tain (OSA, Vol.3, p.394; NSA, Vol. 14, pp.288-89). 
The creation of this surface infers an attempt to sustain the route across what was, presumably, marshy ground, as is later depicted on Alexander Sangster’s Map of Tain, c.1750 (Tain and District Museum, 2005).  It may also be taken to imply the maintenance of a precedent road-way. 

It is proposed that the suggested route-way does indeed continue to coincide with the pilgrimage route, terminating at Tain a significant locus of sanctuary in the 15th century but also possibly as far back as the 11th century (Slade, H. G. 2000, p.7).

Although archival research is ongoing, examination of the topography of some sections of the proposed route-way indicates pre-modern construction and use.  For example, heading southwards, it appears to follow a line from Tulloch Castle to Fodderty Lodge and thence across the valley of the Peffery, thereafter climbing a steep hillside and thus avoiding the area around Dingwall which is believed to have been tidal marshland until the later Medieval period (Bain 1899, 10ff; MacRae 1923, 336-8). 

Surveying at Cnoc Ravoch © Cait McCullaghEarly interpretation suggests that the route, although surviving physically only in part, is a roadway linking the whole length of the former Earldom of Ross, extending approximately 50 kilometres from south to north.  A number of medieval castles and apparently later ‘grand’ houses sit either directly on this route or very close to it.  It would appear to be the main communication route through the former Province of Ross.

The project’s coordinators are aware that a substantial, possible early roadway, variously known as ‘The Wine Road’; ‘The Comyn’s Road’ and ‘Rad na Pheny’, believed by some commentators to be capable of supporting wheeled transportation, has been identified in the southern Highlands (Hoffman, B. 2005).  However, we have not recovered any evidence for the similar identification of an extensive early linear communication feature in Ross-shire.

In this last year we have worked together to develop 'Pathways into the Past' with colleagues from Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands (ARCH).  The programme comprises a series of community learning sessions and fieldwork workshops.  Through these ARCH offers participants from seven of the communities situated along the Easter Ross thoroughfare of the route-way network, opportunities to learn how to research and record the feature as it occurs in their area.  Participants are also being helped to display and publish their findings.  The research and fieldwork findings are being publicised in a series of roaming exhibitions the first of which has taken place in Muir of Ord.  We wish to thank Janet Hooper and Cathy MacIver, for their collaboration and for their hard work in supporting communities in Easter Ross to research into what we believe may be a new monument class for the Highlands.

A programme of further research, walkover and measured surveys is scheduled for winter 2010 through to summer 2011.

Allan MacKenzie and Cait McCullagh, 2010



Bain, R. 1899, History of the Ancient Province of Ross.  Dingwall

Davies, H. 2002, Roads in Roman Britain. Tempus: Stroud

Hoffman, B. 2005, 2Archival evidence for the abandonment of the Innerpeffray road cutting' in, Wooliscroft, D. with Hoffman, B. 2005, 'A possible Roman road cutting at Innerpeffray Library, Perthshire.' in The Roman Gask Project:

MacRae, N. 1923, The romance of a royal burgh: Dingwall's story of a thousand years. Dingwall.

NSA. 1845. The new statistical account of Scotland by the ministers of the respective parishes under the superintendence of a committee of the society for the benefit of the sons and daughters of the clergy. Vol. 14, Ross and Cromarty. Edinburgh, pp.288-9

OSA.1791 – 99. The Statistical Account of Scotland. Vol. 3, Ross and Cromarty. Edinburgh, pp.280 – 300

Slade, H. G. 2000. The Collegiate Kirk of St. Duthac of Tain and The Abbey of Fearn.  Tain and District Museum Trust: Tain

Tain and District Museum. 2005, Map of Tain, By Alexander Sangster, c.1750, URL: [19.10.08] 


Note from the Highland HER

The road as a whole is recorded, and its projected route mapped under Possible early roadway, Tarradale to Tain

In addition, records now exist for each section of the route where physical remains have been identified on the ground. Some of these have been matched with pre-existing records in the HER:

Old road or track, Blairdhu/Kilearnan to Balvaird/Davids Fort/Logiebride

King's Causeway

Corpse Road, Foddety

Possible fragment of early roadway, Tallysow Wood

Possible fragment of early roadway, Meikle Ussie

Possible fragment of early roadway, Tulloch Mains

Possible fragment of early roadway, Foulis Castle

Possible fragment of early roadway, Skiach

Possible fragment of early roadway, Kincraig House

Possible fragment of early roadway, Brenachie