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Chapter 23. - Communications—Past and Present: Roads and Railways

The earliest lines of communication through a district must on the whole have followed the main courses of rivers and streams. Old drove roads crossing natural routes transversely often ascended to the top of intervening ridges; but the openings in hills by which side streams enter the main valley must have been the general routes. This is plainly proved by the frequent occurrence of strongholds and afterwards towns at gaps leading into the hills ; the former as a check on raiders, the latter in more peaceful times as markets.

The Roman route through central Scotland came into the modern district of Forfarshire near Coupar Angus, passed Cardean, Kirriemuir, and Battle Dykes (three miles north of Forfar), and crossed the South Esk near the influx of Noran Water. Hence it extended to War Dykes (three miles north of Brechin), and at Kingsford crossed the North Esk and entered the Mearns. Traces of this road are still visible in parts, and at one place—between Reedie and Kirriemuir—the modern way coincides with it. This route is punctuated at regular intervals with the remains of Roman camps. Between Cater Milly (near Invergowrie) and Haerfaulds (five miles south-east of Forfar) there probably was a subsidiary route affording the Romans communication with their ships.

Centuries were destined to elapse before any pathways at all comparable to the Roman roads were constructed. Yet there must have been tracks leading to bridges and fords across the rivers. Until the close of the eighteenth century, the main road north and south through Strathmore crossed the bridge at Brechin.

The constant need for communication between such centres as Dundee, Forfar, Glamis, Brechin, Arbroath, and Montrose would early lead to the formation of beaten tracks, which would afterwards become roads. In Dundee the old roads that led to the neighbouring burghs are still the main arteries. If we remember the importance of Arbroath with its abbey, Brechin with its cathedral, and Forfar with its royal residences, we cannot think of these places as being isolated. In this connection it is interesting to note the existence of the “King’s Cadger’s Road,” a track as broad “ as the length of the millwand or rod by which a mill-stone was trundled from quarry to mill.” This road began at the fishing village of Usan and ran north-west to Forfar. By means of it fresh fish was daily conveyed to the Court. This royal road was perhaps only a bridle path. At all events heavier articles than fish had to be conveyed through the county on pack horses. For instance, slates and pavement slabs quarried in Glen Ogilvy were carried on horseback to Dundee. In time panniers were superseded by rough sledges dragged over the ground, and these in turn by tumbrils, or carts of an extremely primitive kind. But with the improvement of vehicle, improvement of road had to keep pace.

Forfarshire is now abundantly supplied with excellent roads. If we consult a cycling map in which the various highways are graded we shall find that the best are

(1) the Perth to Aberdeen road, which follows the centre of Strathmore by way of Coupar Angus, Forfar, Brechin ;

(2) the road from Dundee to Perth; (3) the coast road from Dundee to Arbroath, Montrose, and the north; (4) the road from Arbroath to Forfar and Kirriemuir; and (5) and (6) those which connect Brechin with Arbroath and Montrose. Roads extending in a northerly direction from Dundee, though of first rate surface, are necessarily hilly : they lead severally to Coupar Angus, Meigle, Kirriemuir, and Forfar. There are many subsidiary and farm-service roads ; and each of the highland glens is supplied with at least one good thoroughfare.

Forfarshire has no canals, though a system of them was projected. In a map published by Robert Stevenson, C.E., in 1819, a canal was planned to begin at the Forth and reach Perth by Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy, Strathmiglo, and Newburgh. Then it was to extend to Coupar Angus, Forfar (with a branch to Arbroath), Brechin (with a branch to Montrose), Stonehaven, and Aberdeen. From this plan Dundee was excluded probably because of its easy means of communication by water with Perth and the coast towns of the adjoining counties. In the early forties of last century Glasgow was reached from Dundee via Leith and the Forth and Clyde Canal in as many days as it now takes hours to go by rail.

The first railway line in Forfarshire, and one of the very earliest in Scotland, was that connecting Dundee and Newtyle, completed in 1832. Its total length was 10½ miles. At three steep inclines the train had to be raised or lowered by means of wire ropes worked by stationary engines. For some years horses were employed to haul the trains along the more level portions of the track.

The Caledonian and the North British Railway Companies have important parts of their systems in Forfarshire. The main Caledonian line passes through the heart of Strathmore and throws out branches to Blairgowrie, Alyth, Kirriemuir, Brechin, Edzell, Arbroath, and Montrose. An important line runs from Perth to Dundee and from Dundee via Arbroath and Montrose to Aberdeen. A direct line connects Dundee with Newtyle, and another Dundee and Forfar.

The North British line, after crossing the Tay, runs north-eastwards by the coast towns and forms with the Caledonian beyond Montrose a joint line to Aberdeen. The present Tay Viaduct, one of the longest in the world, superseded the first Tay Bridge, which was destroyed during a terrific gale in December, 1879. The new bridge, which carries a double line of rails, forms one of the main links in the east coast route between London and the north.

There is an extensive system of tramways in Dundee and district. The line extends from Ninewells to Broughty Ferry and Monifieth, a distance of seven miles, while to the north-west and north it reaches Lochee and Downfield, the latter a thriving suburb.

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