Book review – The Finest Road in the World
‘BE YE also ready’ warns the inscription on a stone in the layby at the summit of the Ord of Caithness, in author James Miller’s native county.
It commemorates traveller William Welch, a vagrant who perished in a snowstorm there in 1878. Stories about the challenges (and the sometime horrors) of travel in the Scottish Highlands abound as far as records go back and the stone’s warning is wisdom for the ages: even with modern vehicle and infrastructure developments, travel in the Highlands can still be treacherous.
James Miller tells the dramatic and sometimes surprisingly humorous story of travel and transport in the Highlands, from the 18th century to the present day.
It is a story of journeys on foot, by horse, coach, schooner, steamer, locomotive, motor car and aircraft. Some of the figures in the story are familiar – General George Wade, Thomas Telford and Joseph Mitchell among them – but there are a host of others too, including the intrepid Lady Sarah Murray, who offered sound advice for travellers: ‘Provide yourself with a strong roomy carriage, and have the springs well corded’.
This thought-provoking book will appeal to all who like stories of travel and transport, and are interested in how changing modes of transport have affected the ways of life in the Highlands and remain crucial to the modern life and the future of the region.
James Miller, who was born in Caithness and studied zoology in Aberdeen and marine biology in Montreal, has written a number of acclaimed books including Scapa, The Dambuilders, The Foresters, Inverness and Swords for Hire.