Please help us Protect Killiecrankie Battlefield.
The story of widening the road at Killiecrankie is long and twisted. But for lovers of historical fiction it will disappoint because there is no romance, no understanding of historical environment and now no appreciation of stunning landscapes. What it does offer is cause for outrage.
Killiecrankie is a stunningly beautiful area in Highland Perthshire. At the northern end of the deep gorge is the celebrated Pass of Killiecrankie where the National Trust for Scotland has a little visitor centre that acts as a tourist magnet. No wonder, the place is oozing with historical associations and natural assets.
|Pass of Killiecrankie|
Killiecrankie has collected an impressive number of designations, aimed at protecting its undoubted attractions. Thus, it is a Special Area of Conservation, has Sites of Special Scientific Interest, is part of the Loch Tummel National Scenic Area, holds a prestigious position at the gateway to the Cairngorms National Park and most importantly of all, was included in the first edition of the Inventory of Historic Battlefields.
Given these credentials, plans for widening the road that runs through it, would be done with sensitivity. Correct? Not so. Transport Scotland produced a scheme last November that was rightly savaged by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the public body responsible for caring for and promoting the historic environment. HES had been consulted throughout a number of planning stages but its advice had been ignored. So when the final plan was presented, HES along with other statutory and non-statutory groups in the fields of history, heritage and archaeology objected. The criticism focused on a slavish devotion to a process that took scant account of anything other than cost and engineering.
It was foolish to snub the battlefield. The Battle of Killiecrankie on 27 July 1689 marks the start of the Jacobite era. This was the place where Jacobites first fought in Scotland at the start of what became known as the Glorious Revolution. Their victory was surprising and costly as they lost their charismatic rebel leader, John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, in a dramatic hour of brutal slaughter. Over 2,000 men were killed in the battle. That is more than the toll at Culloden which marked the end of the Jacobite era in 1746.
|John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee|
In spite of a road being built through the battlefield in the 1970s, the site is in good shape. Not only do we know a surprising amount about the choreography of the battle but many special qualities and key landscape characteristics are intact. With reams of official policy about protecting important heritage sites now in place, it looked as if the battlefield could not be threatened by future developments.
For ease of construction and in order to re-use infill material excavated elsewhere, Transport Scotland chose to build up the new carriageways and related infrastructure on the northbound carriageway of the existing road. Looking at the map with the red line on the road, that means on the River Garry side. Looking at the map showing how the two sides lined up at the start of the battle, it is clear that the construction is to take place close to where the government line was positioned at the start of the battle.
The area between the government line and the existing road is where HES and everyone apart from Transport Scotland’s historians believe is the core of the battlefield. This is where most of the fighting occurred and where the action that decided the outcome of the battle took place. Transport Scotland decided not only to construct there but in an effort to soften the impact on the landscape, to engineer wide, sloping embankments that would allow the new road to be hidden better in the landform. This was planned in the name of landscape mitigation. It meant that they could dump more earthworks and thus economise a little more.
Since receiving 183 objections, Transport Scotland has been trying to figure out how to redeem the plan. At the beginning of November 2018, it revealed how it could tweak things in the hope that the main players would withdraw their objections. However, the refined plan has succeeded in making matters much worse. Not only does this version damage the historic environment irrevocably but it will also ruin the landscape.
They adopted a two-prong attack on the objectors. First, they planned a reduction of the size of the imprint of the new construction and second, they conducted more archaeological investigations which they thought would vindicate their choice of route and design.
The enormous size of the imprint had been a concern. In order to shrink it, all the wide embankments which were there to mollify those concerned with landscape and aesthetics, chiefly Cairngorms National Park, were removed. At the same time, a replacement acoustic bund – a mound of earth protecting residents from road noise – was removed. At a stroke, the total earthworks requirement fell by 50,000m3. However, a chain of undesirable consequences was triggered.
The new infrastructure still has to be built up to the level of the existing road. It will now emerge steeply from the core area of the battlefield in an unnaturally dramatic way making it more prominent than necessary. The road designers recognised previously that the new road would reinforce the sense of severance of the battlefield in relation to key landscape characteristics. Now that the construction will be fully exposed, the severance will be all but complete.
All the historic features that lie in its path will still be damaged, if not destroyed. The stepped terraces and terrain alongside the existing northbound carriageway is a pivotal area where the Highland Charge played out its deadly part. This is where the two sides clashed as the Highlanders rushed down the hillside and thundered into the waiting Redcoats. The design refinements will change the topography by obliterating the last remains of the terraced ground. It will aggravate an already adverse impact on a key landscape characteristic, affecting the integrity and legibility of the feature.
Sharply steepened embankments coupled with the loss of trees and the acoustic barrier will alter the character of the area around the Memorial Cairn, sometimes called Tomb Clavers, where an annual service of remembrance takes place. All through the year people visit the Memorial Cairn to contemplate or commemorate in private. Places for remembrance, especially on a battlefield, are extremely sensitive and cannot afford adverse impacts.
On top of that, the road will be an eyesore. All previous assessments, calculations and evaluations of the landscape had been made on the basis that huge embankments would help mitigate the worst visual impact. Now the view from the road and the view of the road will be stark: several lanes of asphalt running over an important part of Scottish history where landscape and topography played a critical role.
Transport Scotland was promoting an idea that archaeological studies done in the summer of 2018 would settle the nerves of some objectors. The truth is that HES stated in its objection that these investigations were essential and should have been done at a far earlier stage. Privately historians and archaeologists who are following events at Killiecrankie deplore the way that Transport Scotland sequence events, saying that all these studies should have been done at the very start of the planning so that they could have informed choices.
Due to these failures, Transport Scotland was unable to demonstrate how the road infrastructure has been kept to a minimum within the battlefield; nor could it show that the overall alignment within the Inventory boundary is the most appropriate. Finally it failed to provide unequivocal comparisons of the impact of widening the northbound and the southbound carriageways. All this should have been done if Transport Scotland had been trying to respect official policy on how to manage change in the historic environment.
What we have learned from the thorough geophysical surveys, metal detecting and trial trenching is that our interpretation of battle events is still valid. Nothing has been found to discredit the understanding of the battle as documented in the Inventory of Historic Battlefields. The archaeological results indicate that the road is being built in the wrong place.
The mysterious pits that were discovered a couple of years ago have now been fully investigated and turn out not to be burial pits. However, a new and large pit-like anomaly was discovered but not investigated or evaluated because it is located just beyond the area for compulsory purchase, 230m east of Urrard House, in the core of the fighting area. It is close to where a cluster of lead munitions from a metal detecting survey was found in 2003 and where James Mackay’s men were positioned at the start of the battle in 1689.
The fundamental flaw in Transport Scotland’s scheme is now exposed. It committed to a plan to widen the road in the fastest and cheapest way possible. Belatedly it was forced to recognise that the new road is compounding damage that was done in the 1970s. Nevertheless, it pressed on, discarding other possible routes and alignments. The route it has chosen is unsuitable for the battlefield. Tinkering with it will not make it suitable. Indeed the refinements have made it worse and would inflict unforeseen damage on the landscape.
This is a national project which does not follow normal planning rules. The public can challenge the refined design. *Friday, 30 November. Please email A9dualling@jacobs.com before then with ‘FEEDBACK Killiecrankie’ in the subject line.
•The deadline for feedback has now ended. But you can still get involved by signing the Petition: