‘The paths tell us stories about ourselves and our past’
There is everything from Roman ways to medieval as well as coffin roads and drovers roads – the social networks of the time
They were the routes taken by whisky smugglers, priests, coffin bearers and the walkers who fought for the earliest legal rights to roam through the countryside.
Now work is under way to stop the stories of the paths once central to the everyday existence of Scots fading from the landscape.
The Heritage Paths project by Scotways, the Scottish Rights of Way & Access Society, is working to retell the history of the routes that have been tread for hundreds of years.
Eleisha Fahy, senior access officer at Scotways, said the paths were an important reminder of the country’s cultural heritage.
She said: “People have been using these routes for years and in some cases centuries. They are a significant aspect of Scotland’s cultural heritage.
“The paths tell us stories about ourselves and our past. They are a really valuable way of being able to experience our past.
“They tell us about how we used to live as well as different aspects of Scotland’s history.
“You have everything from Roman ways to those used during the medieval era as well as coffin roads, drovers roads and roads to the kirk. They were our network. Some of the rural routes don’t have such a specific tangible purpose but these were the connections between communities.
“Arguably these were social networks of the time and the traces that people’s feet have left behind.”
Routes researched by the project include Jock’s Road, now a popular hillwalking route, which connects the Angus Glens to Deeside over the Mounth to more obscure tracks including the Fish Road out of Ullapool that was built by the government to meet the demand of the herring trade in the late 18th Century.
The right to use Jock’s Road was a central cause of the original society, which was set up in Edinburgh in 1845 as landowners became increasingly protective of their property.
Cattle thieves, whisky smugglers and botanists were known to have historically used Jock’s Road and in 1746, it is said 700 men walked Jock’s Road on their way to fight at Culloden.
Some 140 years later, the route became the subject of a milestone legal battle in the Court of Session, and then the House of Lords, after landowner Duncan Macpherson tried to keep walkers off his property.
The action was raised after a party from the then Scottish Rights of Way and Recreation Society was blocked from signposting rights of way through the Mounth and the Cairngorm Glens, with the group intercepted in Glen Doll by Macpherson’s gamekeepers.
The battle for access was finally settled in the House of Lords, which ruled Jock’s Road was a right of way.
Jock’s Road is said to have been named after a John Winter, one of those who fought the landowner through the courts, although some have disputed this.
Meanwhile, at Knockanrioch in Moray, the Mannoch Road traces the illegal whisky distilling that came to define this corner of Scotland. In 1811, John Cumming, a well known convicted illegal distiller, rented land at nearby Cardow with the Mannoch Road used by his wife Helen, who walked barefoot to Elgin to sell her husband’s brew.
In 1824, John Cumming took his enterprise above board and bought a licence to distil under the new Excise Act. The Cardow Distillery, later branded Cardhu, was then founded and the barefoot walks over the hill were no longer part of life.
Scotland’s coffin roads also feature heavily in the Heritage Paths archive with the routes used to move the dead from remote communities for burial in consecrated ground.
The Bohenie Coffin Road in Lochaber, which runs out of Achluachrach, was used to transport bodies through Glen Roy with three cof- fin cairns marking the route. The cairns were sometimes used to rest the coffin on while the carriers were swapped over.
Sometimes, people left a stone as a mark of respect. Sometimes, drams were taken.