Thomas Telford, born in Dumfriesshire in 1757, started out as a stonemason but his talent and energy ultimately made him a great engineer. He designed roads, bridges, harbours, canals, churches and even whole towns both in the UK and overseas. Today, his epitaph is the many works which still stand, two centuries later.
In the early 19th century, the herring fishing boom began to change the face of our coast. Telford designed many new harbours, including Wick, Invergordon, Portmahomack, Dingwall, Fortrose, Avoch, Nairn, Burghead, Cullen, Banff, and Fraserburgh.
Following his successful design of Ullapool on the west coast, the British Fisheries Society commissioned Telford to design a new fishing town at Wick. He named it Pulteneytown after his patron, a laird and MP called William Pulteney. This development accommodated the many incoming workers involved in herring processing, and the whole story is told at the fascinating Wick Heritage Museum. There is also a Town Trail.
Also in the early 19th Century, Telford constructed over 120 bridges and 920 miles of roadway in the Highlands, including Inverness to Perth, Dingwall to Dornoch, Wick and John O’Groats.
The Caledonian Canal links Inverness on the east coast, with the west coast at Loch Linnhe near Fort William. Marvel at his feat of engineering, built by manual labour, as you walk along the canal path, or take a boat ride on the canal. This is twinned with the Göta Canal in Sweden, also designed by Telford.
The earlier military roads of Generals Wade and Caulfield were built with strategic needs in mind. By contrast, Telford’s roads served the needs of trade by opening up difficult and remote areas especially in the north of Scotland. The settlement of Bonar, for instance, only became Bonar Bridge after Telford’s work there in 1812 – thus he was not only a great mechanical engineer but a social engineer too.