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Royal Deeside : The Old Military Road

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The main north-south route through the eastern part of the Cairngorms National Park is built over (or alongside) an important military road constructed after the Jacobite rising of 1745. This road - now the A93 & A939 route linking the ski slopes at Glenshee and the Lecht - is the central section of the road linking Blairgowrie (or Perth) in the south to Fort George in the North. Fort George, then under construction, was to become a major garrison guarding the Moray Firth just east of Inverness. The road passed by two castles, at Braemar and Corgarff, which were converted into garrisons for Hanovarian (redcoat) soldiers. Two of the bridges built on this section of road, the old Brig o’ Dee and Gairnshiel are still important landmarks.

Although often called a Wade road, this was not constructed by General Wade but by his successor as road builder Major William Caulfield. Wade’s roads were built before the uprising and, indeed, were much used by both sides in the conflict. Caulfield’s roads were built after the uprising and are much more extensive than those built by Wade. These military roads did much to open up the Highlands before the later roads built by Telford and others.

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Military Bridge at Gairnshiel on A939
The old military bridge at Gairnshiel still carries the A939

Much of the military road now lies under the modern road but short stretches remain. Given below is a description of the road from Cairnwell (Glenshee Ski Centre) through to the Well of the Lecht for those wishing to follow the route.

Fort George was a major undertaking and included the most advance military ideas of its day. But some of the ideas were, on a much smaller scale, built into the modifications carried out at both Braemar and Corgarff castles. Both castles feature an eight-pointed star-shaped curtain wall with musket loop-holes. The shape of the walls allowed good cross-coverage of musket fire in the case of attack. The walls were not built to withstand artillery fire but, rather, to resist attack by armed gangs. In practice, both castles had a policing rather than military role, initially to stop cattle stealing and other crimes committed by armed gangs and later, in the case of Corgarff, to deter whisky smuggling.

The route of the military road.

We start the description at the Cairnwell where the A93 reaches a height of over 2000 feet as it crosses from Glenshee (Perthshire) to Glen Clunie (Aberdeenshire) and enters the Cairngorms National Park. From Cairnwell follow the A93 northwards until Fraser’s Bridge which crosses the River Clunie about 3 miles south of Braemar. Here the military road crosses the bridge. (The section of the A93 from here to Braemar was completed in the 1860s.) Leave the A93, cross the Bridge and follow the minor road through Braemar Golf Club to the centre of Braemar.

Re-cross the Clunie and rejoin the A93. (It was here the Earl of Marr raised the Jacobite standard to commence the uprising of 1715.) Continue on the A93 to Braemar Castle, about one mile north of the village. (The castle is open to the public.) Rejoin the A93 until a few-hundred yard short of the Invercauld Bridge across the River Dee. Continue along the right bank of the Dee, crossing the river by the old Brig o’ Dee (1748). Rejoin the A93 and follow it to Birchwood about 1mile west of Crathie.

Here, the A93 and military road separate. To the north, a section of the military road, which had later been tarred, has been allowed to return to track status. It leads north for about a mile before meeting the B976. The road from here to Gairnshiel is one of the most delightful in Scotland tracking over wild moorland and offering stunning views of Lochnagar to the south. At Gairnshiel this road meet the A939. Follow the road over the picturesque hump-backed bridge across the Gairn and continue northwards. About half a mile further an old section of the road is visible as is the ‘Ringing Stane’. From here the road climbs to cross the high ground separating the Dee and Don valleys through Glas-allt-Choille. Just after the high-point, the military road separates from the modern road cutting northwards across open country to rejoin the A939 about a half-mile short of Corgarff Castle. This section, roughly 3 miles long, is now a public walkway.

Cockbridge and Corgarff Castle
Military Road near Corgarff The A939 crosses Cockbridge and winds past Corgarff Castle.The route of the old military road at this point is shown in the map (----)

Corgarff Castle is open to the public and is in the care of Historic Scotland. It has been excellently refurbished to show how it would have looked in the days when used by the redcoat soldiers. Below Corgarff is Cockbridge and the next few miles of the A939 are famous to those who follow the winter road-reports for it is regularly reported as being blocked by snow. It is easy to see why, for the road starts a steep climb up to the high ground of the Lecht. (For the first mile beyond Cock Bridge, the military road followed a path slightly to the east - see map.) After the Lecht Ski Centre the road passes through the Glenlivet Estate on its way to Tomintoul. It rapidly loses height until reaching the Well of the Lecht. Here there is a resting place and, appropriately adjacent to the road is a spring bearing a message left by the builders of the military road:

AD 1754
Five Companes The 33rd Regment
Right Honle Lord Chas Hay Colonel
Made the road from here to the Spey.

Reference: Taylor, William, (1976), ‘The Military Roads of Scotland’, David & Charles

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Introduction A History of Royal Deeside The Deeside Railway The Old Military Road Old Kirkyardst
Queen Victoria and Royal Deeside John Brown, Loyal Servant Francis Farquharson Lord Byron, poet Alexander Gordon
Macbeth and Braemar Braemar Gathering and Highland Games History of Braemar Clan Farquharson Bridges of Ballater
19th Century Ballater History of Dinnet area Aboyne History Aboyne Wartime Poetry Aboyne Great War Records
History of Dinnet History of Tarland Scott Skinner, the Strathspey King Glen O' Dee Hospital Brunel's Bridge
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