Sunday, 1 October, 2023
HomeScottish History BlogButter Bridge in Glen Kinglas

Butter Bridge in Glen Kinglas

Major William Caulfeild's military roads

Butter Bridge stands in the shadow of Beinn Ime and crosses the gently flowing Kinglas Water in Glen Kinglas, Argyll. The bridge was built sometime between 1748-1750 as part of Major William Caulfeild’s military road that ran from Dumbarton to Inveraray.

The military road-building programme

The Highlands of Scotland, being a country very mountainous, and almost inaccessible to any but the inhabitants thereof, whose language and dress are entirely different from those of the Low–country, do remain to this day, much less civilized than the other parts of Scotland, from whence many inconveniencies arise to his Majesty’s subjects, and even to the government itself. – Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat writing to George I in 1724

wade's report
George Wade

In late 1724, Irish-born Major-General George Wade was appointed ‘Chief of His Majesty’s forces, castles, forts and barracks in North Britain‘ following his investigation and report on the situation in the Highlands in the wake of the 1689, 1715, and 1719 Jacobite risings.

In July 1724 Wade had been sent to Scotland to ‘inspect the present situation of the Highlanders…to make strict enquiry into the last law for disarming the Highlanders… and how the Memorial by Simon Lord Lovat, and his remarks theron are founded on facts…to suggest to his Majesty such other remedies as may conduce to the good settlement of that part of the Kingdom’.

After a thorough investigation, Wade submitted his findings on 10 December 1724. He estimated that there were around 22,000 men in the Highlands able to bear arms, of which 10,000 were supporters of the government and 12,000 which were ready to ‘rise in arms in favour of the Pretender’. Needless to say, this caused some alarm to the government in London who were concerned about future Jacobite threats.

Wade also stated that the 1716 Disarming Act designed to disarm the Jacobite clans following the 1715 rising had been largely ineffective. He recommended the re-establishment of the Independent Highland Companies to help police the Highlands, a new Disarming Act with harsher penalties and new forts to be constructed.

In concluding his report Wade said: ‘The Highlands are still more impracticable from the want of roads and bridges’. On 24 December 1724 Wade was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Scotland, and took over from Lieutenant-General George Carpenter.

Wade set about improving the military infrastructure in Scotland with the repairing of Edinburgh Castle and Fort William, the construction of new forts at Kilchuimen and Inverness, and the building of a road network to link them and the existing barracks at Ruthven and Kilchuimen to the lowlands, making the Highlands more accessible to government troops.

Major William Caulfeild

Irishman Major William Caulfeild was employed by Wade in 1732 as Inspector of Roads and took over road-building when Wade left Scotland in 1740. Although he is not as well known as Wade, Caulfeild oversaw the construction of over 800 miles of road and around 600 bridges, compared to Wade’s 250 miles and 40 bridges.

Many people talk about ‘Wade’s Roads’, and while he was the father of the road-building programme, it is important to note that most of the military road network was done under Caulfeild in the 1740s, 50s and 60s.

Both men had great admiration for each other and Caulfeild is believed to be the author of the verse: “If you had seen these roads before they were made, you would hold up your hands and bless General Wade”.

Dumbarton to Inveraray Military Road

A soldier of Lascelles’ Regiment c.1745.

The construction of the Dumbarton to Inveraray road began in the summer of 1743 and by May 1745 had got as far as Luss, on the west bank of Loch Lomond. Work on this part was carried out by men from Lascelles’ Regiment. A stone with the inscription ‘Colonel Lascelles Regiment, May 1745’ was placed three miles from Luss.

Road building in Scotland was interrupted in August 1745 when Charles Edward Stuart landed in the highlands, beginning the 1745 Jacobite Rising. At the onset of the ’45, a party from Campbell’s 21st Regiment (Royal Scots Fusiliers) was attacked by the Macgregors of Glengyle while they were working on the stretch of road between Luss and Tarbet.

Work on the roads was halted until after the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746. In September 1746 The Scots Magazine reported that ‘a small detachment of soldiers under Major Caulfeild are begun to work on the roads of Argylleshire‘.

The road as far as Butter Bridge was completed in 1748 by parties from Ancrum’s Regiment (later the South Wales Borderers). The remaining twelve miles of road to Inveraray were finished in 1749. War Office records show that Thomas Clark, a mason from Dunkeld, built nine bridges during 1749 on the final twelve-mile stretch. It is possible that he was involved in the construction of Butter Bridge.

The road was not without its detractors however and there were those who claimed that its construction was more for the benefit of the Duke of Argyll as it would ease his journey by carriage to and from his castle at Inveraray.

Butter Bridge in Glen Kinglas

Butter Bridge is a humpbacked, single-arch bridge spanning the Kinglas Water. Built mainly of coursed rubble with better cut stone for the arch stonework. The bridge is just a short drive from the well-known ‘Rest and be Thankful’ on the A83 road. The name ‘Rest and be Thankful’ comes from the words inscribed on a stone erected by Ancrum’s Regiment to commemorate that section of the road’s completion.

Notes on Canmore, the National Record of the Historic Environment, mentions Butter Bridge as: ‘A handsome single segmental arch over the Kinglas Water, rubble built. Now used as a footbridge only.’ In his book The Military Roads in Scotland, William Taylor says: ‘This is a fine old bridge carrying the old road across the Kinglas Water at Butterbridge.’

A soldier of Ancrum’s Regiment c.1745.

Although the roads were constructed by parties of soldiers, the bridges were built by civilian masons with the stone being sourced locally. Work on a bridge could still be continuing long after a stretch of road was already completed.

William Taylor mentions in his book The Military Roads in Scotland: ‘While the soldiers were pressing on with the heavy, but comparatively simple work of road making, the masons and other craftsmen were building the necessary bridges… there were always more soldiers than masons, resulting frequently in a time lag between road and bridge building’.

To build the military bridges, first, the river banks would be cleared to make way for a solid foundation. Then a wooden frame would be erected which would support an arch barrel. Once the keystones were in place the arch barrel and frame would be removed.

A lime harling was then applied over the stonework as a protective coating. As with the roads, the stone required for the construction would usually be quarried locally. Bridge-building was time-consuming and expensive. Some of the bridges had to be rebuilt after being washed away by fast-flowing torrents, likely due to poor foundation work.

The name Butter Bridge comes from the tradition of bringing cattle high up into the glen in the summer months for pasture. The cattle would be milked here and butter and cheese would be produced in temporary dwellings.

Article first published on 18 January 2019

Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie is the founder and editor of Neil is also the editor of other online publications covering military history, defence and security. He can be found on Twitter: @NeilRitchie86.

Related articles


Most read

scottish history

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more