As long as there have been people, there has been communication. Recently our blog posts have examined cutting edge travel technology and how deliveries are already being carried out by drone. However, this month has got us thinking about all the delivery drivers/riders/runners of history. Can you still find old roads with stories to tell?
Check out our investigation into some of the oldest roads in Scotland. If you haven’t driven or walked them already, add these roads to the past (pun woefully intended) to your list of travel goals.
*disclaimer – we aren’t historians, just curious couriers. We’ve put this together to the best of our ability so it may be biased. However, please do let us know if you can shed new light on any of our findings!
Our Pick of the Oldest Roads in Scotland
The Ancient Caledonian Forest (approx 11 thousand years old)
The Ancient Caledonian Forest itself is truly time-worn and sadly dwindling. With a lot of hard work and care, it could be encouraged to start growing again after centuries of destruction. We’ll keep dreaming.
The forest was named Caledonian by the Romans, but the first path on our list dates from a little later. It is St Duthac’s Road, named after a bishop who died in 1065. This 40km path can be walked only by the brave – it has fallen into disrepair and has been swallowed by the undergrowth at points. It has been hacked back open several times in the past and route markers have been placed, although they can be tricky to find. It likely connected two of St Duthac’s parishes at Easter Ross and Kintail.
Oldest Dwellinghouse in Northern Europe (approx 5.5 thousand years old)
The island of Papay is part of the Orkney Isles, and is home to 60 archaeological sites. One of these is a small house called the Knap o’ Howar. At the time of its use, it’s likely that a path existed between Papay and neighbouring island Westray, but as this is now at the bottom of the North Sea we’d advise against looking for that one.
However, the paths connecting the sites of this small island are certainly worth a wander if you want to attempt to reimagine the life of a Neolithic farmer, perhaps delivering wood for an Orcadian bonfire.
The Roman Roads (approx 1,875 years old)
The Antonine Wall (approx. 1,875 years old) was built by the adopted son of Hadrian, whose wall further south in England stood far longer than its Northern counterpart. The wall can still be seen, particularly near Falkirk in the East, and Bearsden in the West.
The wall was marked by great stone distance slabs, and several forts have been discovered along it. Communication between forts would have required the wall to be a thoroughfare across the country and whilst the wall itself is not complete, you can find several paths to follow part of it and get your own taste of the Romans in Scotland.
Dere Street is still more than accessible as certain parts of it are now covered by the A68. It offers another route from England to Scotland and ended at Antonine’s Wall, providing connection to Hadrian’s Wall and even as far South as York.
Kerrera Drove Road (possibly 1450 years old?)
A drove road was a path used to move cattle, but the tentative date offered here is due to the belief that this road, across the tiny island of Kerrera on the West coast, may have been a pilgrim’s route to Iona Abbey, founded in 563 by Columbus. Even if this could be refuted, the road must have been in use at least by 1760. This was the year that a quay was built further North on the island, to facilitate the movement of the livestock, which added to the system of pathways on the island.
This road leads to the river, not the sea, curiously enough, and some sources date it to the 12th century. It appears to have been a principal street in the town since its beginnings and used to be an important site for markets and trade in the medieval period.
Glasgow High Street (at least 566 years old)
This street leads to the site of the Cathedral, which is thought to have been used as a religious site since 612. Plus, it was the first site of Glasgow University, founded in 1451, so all the evidence would suggest that when you make your way up the high street, which is no longer a principal route in the city, you are following in a great many footsteps.
Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh (approx 415 years old)
This street is thought to be haunted. It was bricked up, residents and all, in 1745 in a bit to contain an outbreak of the plague in the heart of Edinburgh and all but disappeared for a few centuries. It is now open to the public and holds a great many secrets. We wonder what the last item to be delivered there was?
Smugglers Road – Mannoch Hill Road
It’s difficult to calculate where the oldest smugglers road might have been as they were, by nature, kept secret. This one is in Moray and was used by illicit distillers such as Helen Cumming and her husband. The Mannoch Hill Road was first recorded in 1792 and it is said that Helen once walked the 10km path shoeless to sell the brew in Elgin.