Extract from: General View of the Agriculture of Galloway: Comprehending the two Counties of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and Wigtownshire, with observations on the means of their improvement, by Samuel Smith, minister at Borgue. Published in London 1813.

The section transcribed here relates to the creation and subsequent improvement of roads across Galloway, from the work of Rixon in building the original Military Road from Dumfries to Portpatrick in the late 1700's, to the work of Lord Daer who greatly improved road communication in the district, and to the building of Tongland Bridge under the direction of Thomas Telford.


There is no species of rural improvement, which, for a series of years, has more attracted the attention of the gentlemen in Galloway, than the planning, making, and keeping in repair the turnpike and parochial roads. This is an improvement of such importance in itself, and so intimately connected with almost every other, that it well deserves all the attention bestowed upon it, and will amply repay the large sums annually expended for this purpose.

According to the ancient custom of Scotland, established by a general law of the kingdom, the inhabitants of every parish were bound to employ themselves for six days every year, in repairing the parish roads, the occupiers of land providing horses and implements, in proportion to the extent of their possessions. That annual statute labour was the only fund for keeping roads in repair; and was perhaps sufficient for the purpose in those remote periods when wheel-carriages were unknown; where the produce of almost every farm was consumed by its own inhabitants, and where the utmost refinement of luxury did not extend beyond travelling on horseback.

The work thus imposed was sufficient to give a slight repair to the most impassable steps of the roads; but it would never be productive of any general or effectual improvement. A crowd of people were collected without order or method, under overseers who were in general both ignorant and careless; and who had little authority over them. The object of almost every individual was not so much to improve the roads as to get through the period prescribed by law with as little personal trouble as possible. Such desultory and feeble exertions were utterly inadequate to the task of making in a proper manner any considerable extent of road; and as the necessity of more extensive and substantial operations was felt, it became evident that a new system was necessary. Accordingly in the year 1779, the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright obtained an act of Parliament for imposing an assessment on the inhabitants and occupiers of lands, in lieu of the statute labour. In Wigtownshire a similar assessment was imposed in the year 1780 or 1781. Previous to this period, scarcely was there in either county a road deserving that denomination. The paths originally tracked out by the inhabitants had in some instances been made passable (though not without difficulty) for a wheel carriage; but as this had been effected by a number of successive petty improvements, the original tracks were invariably adhered to; and in a country of so broken and uneven a surface, it was naturally to be expected that steep ascents and descents would frequently occur. The tracks had at first been chosen by horsemen, whose chief object was to avoid bogs and morasses, and to whom a steep hill was a trifling inconvenience, when compensated by the advantage of passing over dry ground. This radical and incurable defect rendered these roads, after every improvement, extremely inconvenient, and precluded the possibility of conveying heavy loads without an extravagant number of horses.

About forty-five years ago the military road from Dumfries to Portpatrick was made, at the expense of Government, in a very substantial manner, but without deviating materially from the old line, which, like other tracks through the country, was carried from one height to another, without any rational object. This was the more unaccountable, because the surveyor appointed by Government (Colonel Rixon) was allowed to choose any line which he preferred; and a liberal grant had been placed at his disposal, for making the whole road completely and substantially. But the importance of level roads was either not then understood, or it had appeared impracticable to make a level road through so uneven a country. To those who understand the modern improvements in this art, the line of the military road must appear extremely preposterous. Perhaps, indeed, it was not more so than many great roads in the most opulent parts of England, where the old tracks are still adhered to, and where the surveyors appear to have no idea of the improvements which are practicable. Injudiciously, however, as it was planned, the advantages of a substantial and well made road for carriages were very striking, in a country were nothing of the kind had been made before; and this work appears to have had considerable effect in calling the attention of the gentlemen to the importance of a general improvement of the roads of the district.

After the conversion of the statute labour had produced a regular fund for the purpose, exertions were made, in many parts of the country, for repairing the roads in a substantial manner ; and in some instances for conducting them in a more convenient direction. But the first attempts of this kind were carried on in a very injudicious manner; no systematic plan was adhered to, and the most trifling objects of individual interest, were often allowed to obstruct important improvements. Fortunately for the country, an example of more liberal and enlightened management was given, before the work of renewing the roads had made very great progress. Basil William, Lord Daer, as has been already mentioned, had early turned his attention to this important branch of rural economy. He perceived the essential consequence of good roads as a preliminary step to every species of agricultural improvement; and saw that the expense of making them anew in the most convenient directions, though very considerable, would be speedily and amply repaid by the advanced value of the farms, which would thereby obtain the benefit of a cheap and easy conveyance for manures and for the produce of the land.

He was well acquainted with the valuable improvements which had been suggested on this subject by Sir George Clerk of Pennycuick, the first man in Scotland who appears to have conceived the idea of conducting roads through hilly and mountainous districts, with a systematic attention to the most level direction. Lord Daer's mind was of too comprehensive a cast, not to perceive the full importance of this suggestion, and the extreme difference, for the purposes of agricultural accommodation, between a level road, and one made along the old steep and inconvenient tracks, however substantially executed. He also discovered, from attentive observation that, notwithstanding the very uneven surface of this district, a small sacrifice in respect of distance would, in every instance, render it practicable to avoid any very steep ascent: in many instances, he found that great eminences might be avoided without any increase of distance whatever.

In carrying these principles into execution, Lord Daer met with much obstruction from the prejudices and contracted views of many of the country gentlemen, whose concurrence was necessary for effecting his plans. The Earl of Selkirk, however, reposing entire confidence in the judgment of his son, entered warmly into his views, and placed at his disposal adequate funds for carrying them into effect, so far as his own property extended. Fortunately the estates, of which Lord Daer had thus the management, were of sufficient extent to afford considerable scope for these improvements, without interfering with the lands of other proprietors who might not be disposed to promote them. His first operations, therefore, were confined to his paternal property; upon which he planned a completely new set of roads. By attentively combining the different objects required for the accommodation of the whole estate, it was found that the old and useless tracks, which might be relinquished, exceeded in extent the new lines which it was necessary to make; and that thus, notwithstanding the great expense of making the new roads, a saving would ultimately be obtained by the diminished annual expense of repairing them.

The plans thus devised by Lord Daer, were too extensive to be effected at once, but he proceeded in a progressive manner, executing a proportion every year; and this system has been followed out by his successors, till the whole is now nearly completed. In no part of the kingdom, perhaps, can a property of the same extent be found more completely accommodated in this respect. So entire a change, as that which Lord Daer devised, involved undoubtedly a considerable direct expense, besides the incidental inconvenience of occupying good land, and deranging enclosures, by which new fences became requisite. These circumstances, to a mind of less liberality, might have appeared a decisive objection to the plan. They did not escape Lord Daer's attention; but he had satisfied himself, by accurate calculation, and the result has clearly proved, that these drawbacks, though of no trifling moment, did not deserve to be placed in competition with the important improvement to which they were subservient.

In planning the new roads which he judged necessary, Lord Daer had no assistance, but that of a surveyor instructed by himself. He was of necessity his own engineer; for the profession of a road engineer, which is now in high estimation in Scotland, was then unknown. It is, perhaps, in some degree, from his exertions, that such a profession has originated. Adopting the general principles suggested by Sir George Clerk, he had to apply them in circumstances of much greater difficulty, in a country more broken, uneven, and intricate. In many places the natural obstacles were so great, that to devise a level track, seemed to be a task beyond the utmost efforts of ingenuity. In some of these difficult situations, the methods which had been followed by Sir George Clerk were found insufficient; and after trying various other contrivances, Lord Daer was led to devise the application of the spirit level, to the laying out of roads. The superior precision of the lines laid out by this method was very evident; and this valuable improvement has since been adopted by all the eminent road engineers in Scotland.

Lord Daer's improvements on the roads in his paternal property had been carried to a considerable extent, before he could prevail on his neighbours to concur in making any great public road on the same principles. A few of the more liberal, early joined in recommending them; but the prejudices of the majority were so confirmed, that to combat them seemed to be a hopeless task. It was not till a short time before Lord Daer's death, that he could obtain their concurrence to execute a few miles of a public road in a distant part of the country, according to the plan he suggested: nor was this obtained without some pecuniary sacrifice on his part. The experiment, however, was of great consequence; the marked contrast between the road made under his direction, and the rest of the line, served (more than any thing which had hitherto occurred) to open the eyes of the country at large to the benefit of level roads, and the practicability of making them among the wildest mountains of Galloway.

About this time the surprising improvements effected by the use of lime, in the interior parts of the country, had excited a very eager desire for the improvement of roads. It became obvious that the assessment imposed in lieu of statute labour was insufficient, even for the parochial or interior roads, and that the principal lines of road for opening the general communications through the country, could not be improved, or supported, without the aid of tolls; yet the different views and prejudices of proprietors were such, that though Lord Daer first brought forward the draft of an act of Parliament in 1792, to double the rate of conversion, to establish tolls on the great thorough-fare roads, and to introduce a new system of road-making; it was not till the year 1796, that the bill went to Parliament, with the concurrence of the county.

One of the first works of the commissioners, under this new act, was to make an entirely new road in lieu of the military road from Dumfries to Castle-Douglas. It was a fortunate circumstance, (and perhaps not entirely fortuitous) that the line adopted for this road, lay for many miles through a moorish country, almost destitute of cultivation. There was scarcely the vestige of an old road to mislead the judgment of those who had to lay out the new line; and the proprietors of the lands adjoining, had the prospect of so great an increase in the value of their property, that few of them were disposed to give much obstruction to the making of the road in any line most advantageous to the public. A land surveyor, who had been instructed under Lord Daer, was employed to lay it out; and a line which the chain and the level had proved to be the best, was adopted without modification. A whole stage was thus executed upon new and accurate principles. Its striking superiority to all the old roads in the county, and in particular, to that for which it was was substituted, fully demonstrated the justness of the views upon which it was planned, and finally dissipated the prejudices which had so long prevailed upon the subject.

All the roads which have since been executed in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, have been planned upon the same principles; and these are now so generally understood, and so well appreciated, that there is little probability that any new road in the county can now be carried in a very bad direction. The improvements thus effected in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, have excited a due attention on the part of many gentlemen in the adjoining counties; and in Wigtownshire considerable progress has already been made in renewing the principal roads in level directions. Many of the roads in both counties, long since recommended by Lord Daer, and neglected as chimerical, have now been executed upon his plans with universal approbation.

In the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, it has been adopted as a fixed rule, that an engineer must lay out with proper instruments every new line of road, nor can any old road be renewed or repaired at an expense of more than £20 per mile, without remitting to the engineer to examine whether the line be a proper one or not. In Wigtownshire, a similar rule was adopted, but it is to be regretted, that it has not been so rigidly adhered, to in that county as in the Stewartry. The new line thus laid out, must be examined by a committee of the trustees. The committee make their report to the general meeting, by whom it must be approved, before the work can be carried into execution. By the Stewartry road-act 1796, the assessment for parochial roads may be increased, at the discretion of the trustees, to the extent of 30s. on every farm, which is rated in the valuation roll at £100 Scots. This is paid by the occupiers of the lands. Tolls have also been erected under the same act, on six of the principal roads in the Stewartry; most of which have been made by subscriptions advanced on the credit of the tolls. In the case of parochial roads also, it is usual for proprietors to subscribe or advance money on the credit of the parish funds; and in some instances far beyond what they can ever repay, in order to expedite the making of these roads, in which they feel a particular interest.

In the parish of Borgue, a few years ago, Mr Thomson Mure, of Muncraig, agreed to advance money for making the whole additional roads in the parish, the assessment being appropriated for paying the interest and keeping the roads in repair, with the reservation of a part to serve as a sinking fund for liquidating the debt. By this spirited exertion, the parish has obtained the accommodation of a complete set of good roads, much sooner than could have been effected by the regular operation of the annual assessment.

Roads are made in Galloway of various dimensions. The principal one in the district, between Dumfries and Newton-Stewart, a distance of fifty-two miles, is forty feet wide between the fences; five feet being allotted for making a side path for foot travellers.

In Wigtonshire, the toll-road from Newton-Stewart to Portpatrick, a distance of thirty-five miles, in width is only thirty feet betwixt the fences. The road is formed of that width, by cutting small drains on each side; the sides next to the road are sloped, the materials from these water tables are thrown into the centre of the road, and formed into a regular curve or portion of a large circle, to allow the water to run freely from the centre of the road to either water table. Of this space, however, sixteen feet are gravelled; the depth of gravel depends upon the kind of materials which form the foundation; but in general, it is fourteen inches deep in the centre, and ten inches deep at the extremities. About eight or nine years ago, the expense of forming and gravelling the road of these dimensions, cost from 6s. to 8s. per rood, of twenty feet lineal measure; that part of it which has been made lately, cost ten shillings; and some very difficult places from fifty shillings to three pounds ten shillings per rood.

With very few exceptions, the acclivity is only one in forty; the greatest acclivity is one in thirty, and much of it is nearly a perfect level.

Most of the other toll-roads are nearly of the same dimensions. Parish roads are usually made from twenty-four to thirty feet wide, and covered with gravel fourteen feet. The greatest attention has been paid to have them as nearly level as possible.
The original contractors are, or ought to be, bound to keep them in repair for a certain number of years, for a specified sum annually. This seems to be the best method to have the original contract faithfully implemented.

A mistaken economy frequently prevails in giving too small a sum for making roads, and of course they are executed superficially. In roads, as in almost every other species of improvement, it will be found, that to have the work executed in a very substantial manner, is always most satisfactory, and ultimately the most economical plan. This holds more especially when the roads are taken through boggy grounds and flow mosses, which, when well executed, are the most durable of any; but if much broken before they are repaired, the expense is little inferior to that of their original formation.
Road-makers are often very careless in separating the large stones from the gravel. When these cannot easily be broken, they ought always to be placed in the bottom of the road, and small ones, not exceeding the size of a common hen egg, carefully packed above them, and strongly compressed. It would be of great advantage that the pressure should be made as uniformly as possible to give the same degree of solidity to every part of the road, and thus prevent afterwards inequalities upon its surface. For this purpose a very heavy roller might be usefully employed, to form a sort of pavement on which the gravel should be spread. This would add not a little to the durability of the road, and prevent the jolting and interruption of carriages, and stumbling of horses, often occasioned from such neglect. Filling up the ruts regularly during dry weather, and clearing the water tables where necessary, would produce a saving afterwards in repairs, far beyond the expenses incurred.
The division of roads into toll and parish roads adopted in both counties appears to be very judicious. It seems, indeed, to be equitable, that all roads should be toll roads, or that every traveller should pay in proportion to the benefit he derives from them. But the expense of collecting the money, and the evil of creating a number of unproductive labourers, operates as a bar to this, and renders it expedient that all roads which are not very much frequented should be made by assessments on districts, or by private subscription.

If the present excellent condition of the roads in Galloway, and particularly in the Stewartry, be compared with the wretched state in which they were only twenty or thirty years ago, no district in the kingdom will afford a better opportunity of calculating the immense advantages which arise from this species of public improvement. The other subsequent improvements of the county, which have advanced with so much rapidity, must in no small degree be ascribed to this primary one. Prior to this, from the hilly, boggy, and broken surface of the district, inland carriage was extremely expensive, and, in many cases, altogether impracticable. In many places where new lines of road have been formed, the aspect of the country has, in a few years, been completely changed, and lands the most barren have been rendered very productive. From these and other circumstances, it may not be too much to calculate that the money thus expended brings a return of ten, twenty, or thirty per cent, to the proprietors, or possessors of lands, independent of the benefits which accrue from them to the public.

Suppose the public roads of a parish to amount to fifteen miles, these may be made substantially on a new line for £100 per mile, or the gross sum of £1500 Ten miles of roads to farm houses at £50 - - £500, a total of £2000. The interest of £2000 thus expended forms a permanent burden of £100. But on the other hand, supposing the carts necessary for the purposes of husbandry to amount to £100, these, with the expenses of horses and servants, cannot be estimated at less than £40 each
annually, which multiplied, amount to £4000.

If by the improvement of the roads a reduction of one-tenth of this establishment is effected, or one-tenth more labour performed, which is certainly a very moderate assumption, there results a saving of £400 annually, or £20 per cent, is obtained for the money expended. It is taken for granted that the new roads being once substantially made, may be kept always in good repair, at an expense not exceeding that which was necessary to make the old ones merely passable. The above calculation, vague as it certainly is, and from the nature of the subject must be, is, however, we apprehend, sufficient to show that the advantages of having good roads, are very far from being overrated.


The improvement of the roads in Galloway has been necessarily accompanied by a corresponding improvement of the bridges. In Wigtownshire, there are so few rivers, or even brooks of any great magnitude, that the alteration of the roads, in that part of the district, has been attended with but a small expense for bridges. The case, however, is very different in the Stewartry. There, the country is so much intersected by rivers and smaller streams that it is almost impossible to alter any line of road without additional bridges; and in consequence of this, the very extensive alterations made in the roads in the course of the last twenty years, have rendered bridges a very serious source of expense.

By the road act, obtained in 1796, the trustees have the power of assessing the Stewartry in a sum, not exceeding four shillings and two-pence on each hundred pounds Scots valuation, for building and repairing bridges; and this assessment has been at the maximum for ten or twelve years past. No part of this fund, however, is applicable to bridges on toll roads : the expense of these must be defrayed out of the toll funds, which is usually accomplished, in the first instance, by borrowing money on the credit of the tolls. In the case of expensive bridges, these legal funds have generally been aided, not only by liberal private subscriptions, but also, by special voluntary assessments, made by the commissioners of supply.

Of the bridges lately erected in the Stewartry, by far the most important one is that over the river Dee at Tongland, about two miles above Kirkcudbright. The magnitude of the work, and the style of the execution, entitle it to particular notice. It was projected in the year 1803, when Mr Telford, the celebrated civil engineer, was employed to examine the situation, and to furnish a plan. But as the plan which he gave required a smoother style of masonry than could be easily executed in the country, or than seemed to accord with the bold and rugged scenery, on the banks of the river, it was, with his approbation, altered, in so far as related to the external architecture, agreeably to a drawing, by Mr Nasmyth, an eminent painter at Edinburgh.

The bridge consists of one magnificent arch, of one hundred and ten feet span, which springs from a solid rock on each side, and receives the whole waters of the Dee. At each end of this arch are three narrow gothic arches, which serve to connect it with the high banks of the river, and by that means to form a level road way. Semicircular towers are carried up on each side, between, the great arch and the small ones, and the parapets resting on a block cornice, are finished with battlements. The interior part of the arch is formed of a red sand-stone brought from Annan in Dumfries-shire, but all the external work is executed with a dun or dark grey sand-stone from the island of Arran. The duty on the stone added very much to the expense of this meritorious work; a circumstance which strongly points out the impolicy of that tax.

The blocks of this are massy, and accurately jointed but very roughly hewed, a style of finishing, equally suited to the situation, and to the architecture of the bridge.

The work was contracted for in the autumn of 1803, by country tradesmen, at somewhat less than three thousand pounds, and the foundation stone was laid, on the 22d of March 1804, by Sir Alexander Gordon, as Provincial Grand Master Mason of the district. On the 15th of August following, the river having swelled to an uncommon height, swept away the centre, after the tradesmen had begun to throw the arch. By this accident, the contractors were extremely disheartened, and the trustees becoming doubtful of their ability to fulfil their contract, determined, before proceeding farther, to consult Mr Telford. After examining the work, he reported, that the accident had arisen, from the improper construction of the centre; that the contractors, though good practical masons, had no experience in the execution of works of such magnitude; and that from ignorance they had contracted for a sum for which it was quite impossible to build the bridge.

Under all these circumstances, the trustees, with becoming liberality, agreed to relieve the contractors from their engagement, and Mr Telford having most obligingly offered to send a skilful superintendant from England, they resolved to finish the bridge by day labour, under his direction. It was not till March 1805, however, that the work was recommenced, and the bridge was opened for passengers in November 1806, although not completely finished till May 1808.

In consequence of the loss, from the accident which has been mentioned, and the additional expense that unavoidably attends the execution of any great work by day labour, joined to the increase in the price of materials from the renewal of the war, the cost of the bridge greatly exceeded what was at first expected; at the same time it must be remembered, that the calculations of the country tradesmen were founded on most erroneous data; and, perhaps, after all, it was not possible to have executed it, at a much cheaper rate.

The gross expense has been seven thousand, three hundred and fifty pounds; but as this includes an accumulation of interest of money, arising from the circumstance of the work having been carried on upon a credit, while the county provided for the payment of the debt by certain annual grants, it is probable, that the actual expense has been under seven thousand pounds. Of this, one thousand, one hundred pounds was defrayed by private subscriptions, and the remainder by special giants from the commissioners of supply. Since the work was finished it has been surveyed, and highly approved of, by Mr Telford.

The erection of such a bridge, in a remote and thinly peopled district - and that too, in defiance of the powerful obstacle, arising from the necessity of importing stones, serves strongly to mark the enterprising spirit and liberal views of the landholders; and the admirable manner in which the architecture and style of finishing is adapted to the situation, reflects great credit on their taste and judgement.