Though the Great Glen makes a ready route across northern Scotland, its modern history as a thoroughfare began with the construction of the 18th century military roads - Lochaber of earlier date looked east to Badenoch or south to Argyll rather than north to Inverness. Since the 1820s the Caledonian Canal has offered a through waterway, but the Glen's railway history commences seriously with the Glasgow & North Western promotion of 1882-3, threatening the Highland Company's established main line from Perth. Authorised in 1889, the West Highland Railway opened to Fort William in 1894. But would it continue to Inverness?
The Glen inevitably became a battleground, which the author examines in depth. First tracing the background from the 1840s, he explains how the Highland Railway, the North British, the Caledonian and even the Great North of Scotland were more-or-less ensnared by a succession of contests - all in the wider context of late 19th century transport development. This saw the West Highland line extended to Mallaig and the Highland's Dingwall & Skye line extended to Kyle, while the Callander & Oban Company, satellite to the Caledonian, secured their branch to Ballachulish. He shows how economic and social conditions in the western Highlands and Islands had become politically contentious, with transport improvement a possible remedy. He touches on several other schemes which for one reason or another did not progress.
Attention ultimately fixes on the Invergarry & Fort Augustus Railway, the one Great Glen line ever to be built - at once a local scheme, in the tradition of earlier landowner-backed promotions, and an ill-judged speculation out of tune with the changing times. Though the little line might have reached Inverness, as its subscribers planned, it would remain in the end a hopelessly loss-making West Highland branch. Let the reader decide whether the Invergarry & Fort Augustus Company deserved their fate.
Hardback, 128 pages, black & white and colour illustrations