The Gloves are Off — Protect Killiecrankie Battlefield.
It is not just at Bosworth and Culloden that we hear the clash of modern development against history and heritage. Throughout the land, there is relentless pressure for new construction for commercial enterprise, houses or essential infrastructure on sites that have been designated worthy of protection.
Perhaps daddy of them all is the battlefield of Killiecrankie, in scenic Highland Perthshire at the southern tip of Cairngorms National Park. This is the site of the Battle of Killiecrankie which took place on 27 July 1689 and whose legend has been seared into national consciousness with help from Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and William Wordsworth.
The best-known tale of the battle is one recounted by Donald McBane, a redcoat who ran away before hand-to-hand fighting started. Pursued by furious Highlanders, McBane claims to have escaped by jumping 18ft across the River Garry, at the place in the gorge now shamelessly marketed as the Soldier’s Leap.
The battle was the first engagement of the Glorious Revolution and Jacobite period in Scotland which ended in a surprising victory for the outnumbered Highlanders. In less than one hour of savage slaughter, well over 2,000 men were killed including the charismatic rebel leader, John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee. The loss of the man whom some called ‘Bonnie Dundee’ effectively signalled the end of this particular revolt and elevated his status to the near mythic.
Due to the importance of the battle in Scottish History, the numbers who fell, the relatively undisturbed terrain, landscape and historical features, Killiecrankie was included in the very first edition of the much vaunted Inventory of Historic Battlefields in 2011. This document forms a central part of the extensive framework to protect our historic environment. The Inventory lists every known historic asset and key landscape features of the Killiecrankie battlefield and is maintained by Historic Environment Scotland (HES).
HES also has an array of policy, guidance notes, circulars and planning directives designed to explain the value of our history, heritage and archaeology. All of this is loudly supported by the Scottish government who went so far as to dub 2017 the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology or #HHA2017 in Twitter parlance.
After all, the Scottish government understands how powerfully history, heritage and genealogy drive tourism. Scotland provides a landscape as rich in panoramas as it is in romance to encourage visitors to come here. That same history and heritage is inspiring a significant cinematic output which also contributes to tourism. Set-jetting has become a thing. All of which has fed into a record number of visitors, record spending and a bright outlook, according to the national tourist chief.
Given that background, one would expect the Scottish government to take extra care when it comes to any project that will impact on a historic gem, such as Killiecrankie. Not so. Alas, when tasked with completing an upgrade of the A9 road which traverses 110 miles through the spine of Scotland from Perth to Inverness, Transport Scotland has decided to plonk huge infrastructure on the most sensitive part of the battlefield. It will ruin the very assets and characteristics that are listed in HES’s Inventory of Historic Battlefields.
At the moment the A9 road is single carriage in some stretches and dual carriage in others. It has to be uniformly dualled to today’s road standards. The original A9 was built in Killiecrankie in the 1970s and remains single carriage. It passes high above the River Garry through the Pass of Killiecrankie and then bisects the battlefield just north of the Pass where the terrain opens out.
Transport Scotland claims that as the road already cuts through the battlefield, it does not make much difference how it is widened. They say that the damage has been done and any new infrastructure is not going to have an adverse effect.
Their argument is disingenuous. Where the road goes is critical. The problem is that when building to today’s standards there is more involved than creating another strip of tarmac to run alongside the existing road. At Killiecrankie, the upgrade requires a central reservation, a verge at either side, two new lanes, two long lay-bys, three large drainage basins, access roads to the new drainage structures, new off/on roads for a new junction, a number of new bridges over streams and burns, steep embankments, felling of mature trees, dismantling of an earthen sound barrier and more. All the new infrastructure is planned on the part of the battlefield where historians agree the main fighting took place.
At an early stage of the planning, Transport Scotland with consultants, Jacobs, identified the boundaries of the Inventory battlefield. It appears that that is all they did. Had they properly considered the assets which HES has listed within the Inventory boundaries, they would never have arrived at their proposed design.
Transport Scotland’s justification for its damaging plan is the cost benefit in utilising 150,000m3 of filler material, excavated elsewhere on the A9, in Killiecrankie. By creating new infrastructure on the northbound side of the road, excess from elsewhere can be economically re-used. This design predetermines the alignment of the road and everything else, in engineering terms, must follow. When ‘consulted’ during the planning stages, HES said that it was opposed to large earthworks and they should be avoided.
Challenged about the adverse impact on history, heritage and archaeology, Transport Scotland repeats fuzzy arguments with spurious historical evidence. A redoubt known as Lagnabuig and listed in the Inventory as a place where sniping occurred in the early part of the battle, has been airbrushed from Transport Scotland’s assessment of the battlefield.
Archaeology is shaping up to be something of a battleground. Transport Scotland reached its preferred option for the road without having appointed an archaeological curator. It is only now in the process of giving Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust (PKHT) the role.
There is little doubt that the proposal is light on archaeology. It became known only when the final road plan was revealed that mysterious ‘pits’ had been discovered in the path of the proposed new road. The ‘pits’ may or may not have been burial sites. As only one grave – that of Viscount Dundee – is known of the thousands who died at Killiecrankie, ’pits’ are an emotive subject.
HES in its objection to the proposal recommended that the ‘pits’ were investigated fully and that further archaeological surveys be done along the path of the proposed route. These have now been completed and though the final report is not yet available, the preliminary results showed no human remains.
While the latest archaeology resolves one question, it does not resolve the central issues raised by HES and the other 182 organisations, societies and individuals who submitted objections. Transport Scotland has failed to explore every option to avoid damaging the battlefield. Only when it can prove that these have been exhausted, is a developer allowed to make a damaging proposal.
You can sign the petition:
KilliecrAnkie1689 is a new group that opposes how the planned dual carriageway is to be built on the Killiecrankie battlefield.
KilliecrAnkie1689 is in favour of upgrading the A9 in the interests of safety. But it wants the best route possible for the local community and one that fully respects the sensitive area of the battle site.