Book re­view – The Finest Road in the World

The Oban Times - - Leisure -

‘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.

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