3.7 Transport and Movement: Multiperiod Factors

Recent advances in isotope analysis and aDNA now provide insights into movements of people, which is discussed in individual chapters. Identification of raw materials sources and objects manufactured elsewhere also provide insights into mobility, even if it is sometimes not possible to determine whether direct or indirect. Highland peddlers and Travellers long moved throughout the Highlands, though little documented. The material culture of Highland Travellers is only beginning to be assessed (see Chapter 10.7, Case Study Material Culture of Highland Travellers).

While distribution maps of settlements generally show a coastal and river preference, it is important to realise that there was inland settlement as well. Our best studied landscape at Lairg is a case in point. However, major rivers required crossings, presenting logistical issues. Not until Thomas Telford’s major road building project of the early 19th century was it possible to take wheeled vehicles over long distances in the Highlands.

The diverse areas of the Highlands are connected by intricate networks of routeways with evidence for highly mobile elements within populations in each period. Most of the routeways are related to Highland topography, which in some cases limits the possible routes; even today, landslips can result in diversions requiring long detours. The Great Glen has been an important east-west route from an early time. The age and use of most trackways remain largely uninvestigated. There are also potential trackways preserved in Highland peatlands.

The focus on sea travel meant areas now quite remote by land routes, such as Ardnamurchan in Lochaber, were much more accessible. Evidence for coastal landing places including wharves and piers, is little studied apart from major harbour development associated with commercial fishing in the post-medieval period (Graham and Gordon 1987). However, these landing places were important, determining the types of vessels which could be used. Although evidence of boats is scarce in the Highlands until the medieval period, attention should be paid to the types of wood used, and the resource implications. Sea navigation was perilous in many areas, requiring a detailed understanding of the seaways; its importance is highlighted in some surviving Gaelic oral tradition and place-names (Grant 2017).