Prior to the 18th century, the Highlands remained inaccessible and difficult to pacify. Travel was on foot or by boat along the coasts and lochs. The birlinn was the traditional boat used in early times.
In the aftermath of the 1715 Jacobite Rising General Wade was sent north to build roads in order to allow easy passage of Government troops through the Highlands. By 1730 Wade's first road was completed between Stirling and Inverness, passing through the Sma Glen near Crieff and on over the Pass of Drumochter. Others followed and linked up the military forts at Fort William, Fort Augustus and Fort George. Ironically, the new roads aided Bonnie Prince Charlie's march south in 1745.
Wade's roads, however, soon deteriorated due to lack of maintenance. This was reversed, however, by the arrival of Thomas Telford in 1801. Under Telford's guidance, the Government constructed new piers and bridges and over 875 miles (1,408km) of new and improved roads were built between 1803 and 1821.
During this same period Telford headed an ambitious scheme to link the North Sea with the Atlantic. Despite enormous difficulties, the Caledonian Canal between Inverness and Corpach was completed in 1822.
The coming of the railways
The skills of engineers, surveyors and labourers were again tested later in the century when the railways came to the Highlands. Work had already begun on a line north of Inverness when the railway between Perth and Inverness was opened in 1865. The Kyle Line was completed in 1897 followed by the West Highland Line between Glasgow and Mallaig in 1901.
Transport in the 20th century
Roads have greatly improved since World War II. Modern double-track roads have largely replaced the old single track ones, though a few bottlenecks still need to be addressed. The Kessock, Cromarty and Dornoch Bridges have greatly reduced travelling times to the north. The Skye and Kylesku Bridges have replaced ferry routes although ferry services continue to provide a vital lifeline to the islands and have much improved in comfort and frequency in recent years.
The region has benefited too from the introduction of regular air services. Airstrips on several of the smaller islands have direct links to the airports at Inverness, Stornoway, Lerwick, Kirkwall, Wick and Glasgow.
In 1844 the coach journey from Inverness to Perth took two full days to complete. The train today does it in two hours; and a plane can carry passengers to London from Inverness in little over one hour. How times have changed!
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
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