Old Road to Milton of Redcastle
Start location: Milton of Redcastle (NH 579 495)
End location: Homestead west of Bishop Kinkell (NH 540 534)
Geographical area: Ross and Cromarty
Path Type: Civil Road
Path distance: 6.6km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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The line of what appears to be an old road can be traced for most of its route from Blairdhu NH 577502 near Kilearnan/Redcastle for 6.5 kms in a NW direction to Davids Fort NH 539540 near Conan House. It exists on the ground as a modern minor road, as a farm track, as 2 parallel old walls or earth banks or as an indistinct path. It is marked on the 1st Edition OS map dated 1877, but only partially on present day maps.
From Blairdhu NH 577502 to SE corner of Spittal Wood NH 568506 - 950metres. A track between 2 old ruined walls, 4 to 5 metres apart. It is sunken in places, quite wet and currently used by farm vehicles and animals. At the western end the route has been obliterated by the former Muir of Ord to Fortrose railway - an underpass has been provided.
Through Spittal Wood from its SE corner NH 568 506 to its NW corner NH 552 510 - 1750 metres. Two parallel stone walls heavily overgrown with turf and moss and consistently 10 metres apart. The southerly wall is the most intact, it rises to a metre in height in places and is broken only by recent forest operations. The northerly wall, although evident for most of its length has been severely damaged in places. The road itself has been ploughed, planted with trees (mostly Scots Pine possibly 70-80 years old) and is overgrown with gorse in places. This part of the route is well marked on the 1st Edition OS map.
From NW corner of Spittal Wood NH 552 510 to junction of the motor road, B9169 at Yorklea NH 547 513 - 500 metres. Two parallel ruined stone walls, 4 metres apart and heavily overgrown with broom in places. Evidence of use by walkers and horse-riders.
From Yorklea NH 547 513 to road/track junction west of Ord Muir, NH 541 515 - 700 metres. A metalled minor road between two ruined stone walls 4-5 metres apart
From road/track junction NH 541 515 to Balvaird NH 538 517 - 500 metres. A bridleway between two old ruined walls which are 4 metres apart. The track has been used as a dump for cleared stone from adjacent fields thereby raising the height of the track to a metre above the surround field level. Domestic rubbish has also been dumped. Wild bird cherry of considerable age is in evidence along the way. Well used by walkers.
The bridleway becomes a metalled road at Balvaird NH 538 517 which continues for a further 300 metres to a junction at NH 537 518. The junction appears to have existed in former days with a road or track branching off in a westerly direction and heading for Urray (it is marked on a Peter Brown map of the “Commons of Milbuy“, 1816, as “the road from Oran (Orrin) to Kessack (Kessock)“)
From the junction at NH 537 518 to the southern corner of Balvaird Wood NH 538523 the route heads ENE following the contour of the hill round. For 250 metres it is a metalled road with evidence of old walls along its line to NH 537 520, thereafter a further 250 metres along a farm track to the south corner of Balvaird Wood
From the south corner of Balvaird Wood, NH 538 523, to the railway bridge at Conan Lodge NH 539 535 - 1250 metres. The route gradually descends through Balvaird and Balavil Woods. A path, distinct at first for 400 metres, appears to be associated with an earth bank parallel and to the east and varying from 2 to 12 metres distant. The path crosses a more recent field or boundary wall and ditch and stops at a ruined wall running at right angles. For the next 200 metres there is no evidence of a track or earth bank, thereafter a modern forest road can be picked up on the line of the old route through Balavil Wood and the only possible evidence of the route is a short 20 metre stretch of earthbank beside a deep ditch below Davids Fort.
OS Landranger 26 (Inverness and Strathglass area)
The first evidence of the roadway which has been located so far comes from the first edition of the OS (6in) maps, which were surveyed in this area in 1872. This shows both a mature wood and the pathway through the wood as a track. This is continued in the second edition (1894). By the time of the third edition (1908/9), the roadway is still shown as in use, but the wood has been largely cut-down, although its outline is still shown. After WWI, the route ceases to be marked and the 1926/7 edition of the OS shows the wood as still not having been replanted and with no track. The wood has been replanted on its original outline at some considerable time ago – possibly just before or after WWII. This planting has not respected the route, and trees have been planted across the track in places.
There is no evidence of the route on either the Taylor & Skinner map (1776) or the Thomson map of 1826. The Roy Map (1747-55) does not show the route, although it would appear to be a continuation of the route to Redcastle from Kessock which is shown. There is a regular wood planting on the Roy Map which might resemble Spittal Wood but this appears to be too far to the north to be accurate or certain.
The dykes appear to be of considerable antiquity and largely earthen in construction. They still survive to over 1m in height and are at least 1.5m thick. The roadway between them is a fairly consistent 10.5m.
It is interesting to note that the route appears to link power centres, of considerable antiquity, at Redcastle (with its castle) and the moated homestead, east of Bishop Kinkell, known as “David’s Fort”. As such the origins of this route may reach back to the medieval period and before.
It has been suggested that the banks represent containment dykes which were built in the time of open field systems before Enclosures in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the current field patterns were largely imposed on the Scottish landscape. This may have been done to prevent damage to crops due to passing traffic and especially cattle droving, as well as delineating the route. It is entirely possible however that the route may be considerably older. The earthen banks, which are so prominent within the wood, have been greatly modified, adapted or entirely removed outside the preserving agency of the woodland.