"Highways to the Highlands" by Eric Simpson is a fascinating and beautifully produced book that should be of interest to anyone who lives in or visits Scotland. The author sets the scene in his introduction. "Whether for work or leisure we are accustomed to travelling long distances, taking our roads for granted unless we meet with some unwonted hindrance or delay. But how often do we think about the history of the highways that we travel on? All our roads, and bridges too, have a story of some kind or other. For centuries tourists and other travellers been travelling and this book explores the history and heritage of the principal highways to and from the Highlands of Scotland.
The book starts as many visitors to Scotland have done over the years, by following the Great North Road from Edinburgh to Inverness. The reader continues north from the Highland capital by the east coast, thus joining the highly popular North Coast 500 tourist route going around the North of Scotland from east to west. The return journey south follows the spectacular west coast route all the way to Glasgow.
I have to own up to something of an interest in the subject. I've been travelling Scotland's roads as a visitor to the country since the 1970s and as a resident for the last 20 years. Over that time I've become fascinated by the way the country's road network has evolved. The way single track roads have gained width and white lines; how wider roads have grown still larger, or been dualled; how road patterns and road numbers have changed as bridges have replaced ferries, in many cases bringing places significantly closer together than they were previously.
After an introduction, each of the eight chapters takes a chunk of the overall journey covered between the covers of the book. I was interested to see the way the book treated one of the most changed of Scotland's main roads, the one taking travellers north from Inverness. Here bridges crossing the Beauly Firth, the Cromarty Firth and the Dornoch Firth that opened between 1979 and 1991 and literally cut tens of miles off the long journey north. As in the rest of the book, the mix of modern and period photographs helps bring sharply in focuses the changes that have taken place and evokes a strong sense of nostalgia in this reader!