Telford on the Sleat Peninsula

In Autumn 2014 people met at the Clan Donald Library in Armadale to explore the impact of Thomas Telford on the Sleat peninsula of Skye. Thomas Telford was employed by the Parliamentary Commissioners for Roads and Bridges to create a road network in the Highlands. Landowners contributed land and half the costs – and Skye landowners, particularly Lord MacDonald, jumped at the chance to create at last a comprehensive road network on the island.

 There were a number of routes built on Skye, as well as slipways at Kyleakin and Kylerhea where the ferries linked Ross and Comarty and Inverness-shire respectively. Thomas Telford was an extraordinary man - one of the first project managers – and his work on Skye transformed the area in the first decades of the 1800s. On Sleat his roads linked the ferries to Broadford and then further north, with a branch road going from near Broadford down to Armadale. Using archives and maps at the Clan Donald Library, the group investigated his works, and then looked to see what still remained.

While in most cases Telford roads underlie existing road networks – and this is certainly true for the Kyleakin/Kylerhea to Broadford route, there is some doubt as to the original route between Broadford and Kintail on the Broadford to Armadale road. Estate maps, and maps from the first half of the 19th century show a route to the west of the current road. Was this a mapping error or is there a lost road? Certainly local knowledge has identified an old routeway south of Broadford. The group investigated old maps and sources, and called upon others to help look at archives in Portree, Inverness and even London. A map which was prepared for Telford was obtained from the National Records of Scotland, proposing the old route. But attempts to find this road, or crossings over the burn have so far been unsuccessful, and await better weather and time. In the meantime another plan has been ordered. This story is still unfolding … watch this space.

New information! The plan held at the National Records of Scotland showed a completely new proposed route, and indeed more or less under the current road.  The Report and Estimate of Making the Road from Broadford to Ardvasar compiled by James Donaldson in 1805 also survives. This was made while the original course was the proposed one, although the document has been annotated, and the section between Broadford and Kintail scored out, saying there are no details for the new route. But it is interesting that he notes that the original course would have been very expensive because of the need to transport all the gravel, there being none along the route. The specifications for gravel are 14 inches in the middle and 10 inches at the sides on firm ground, and 18 inches in the middle/14 inches on the sides where it was boggy - so you can see that would be a lot of gravel! The report is very detailed on the number of bridges, culverts, drains etc required.

So I think we can firmly conclude that Telford built his road on the route under the existing one. And that Thomson (and mapmakers following him) was very lax in his map of Skye from 1824, ignoring the new road altogether.

Participants looked at a number of bridges on Sleat. Most had been rebuilt when roads were widened, and none, except perhaps the small bridges on the Kylerhea road appeared to be early 19th century in date. The exception is the bridges at Armadale, which share some characteristics of Telford-era bridges, but plans in the Clan Donald archives show that these were built by the estate in the 1820s. A number of milestones along the roads were also found, though these may well be later.

Altogether the sessions provided a good introduction to Telford’s impact on Skye, to the archive materials available, and to the possibilities of remains on the ground. A binder of resources was created for the Clan Donald Library, and information was submitted to the HER and will also be sent to Canmore. The course was funded by Historic Scotland.



Sign Up to ARCH E-news

Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands (ARCH), The Goods Shed, The Old Station, Strathpeffer, Ross-Shire, Scotland IV14 9DH
Tel: +44 (0)77888 35466 Email: