Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

18th century military road and mid-20th century pillbox at Cairnwell, Glenshee

A Scheduled Monument in Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside, Aberdeenshire

We don't have any photos of this monument yet. Why don't you be the first to send us one?

Upload Photo »

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.


Latitude: 56.8761 / 56°52'33"N

Longitude: -3.4119 / 3°24'42"W

OS Eastings: 314046

OS Northings: 776966

OS Grid: NO140769

Mapcode National: GBR W0.NTV8

Mapcode Global: WH6N1.KFJK

Entry Name: 18th century military road and mid-20th century pillbox at Cairnwell, Glenshee

Scheduled Date: 1 September 2020

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13729

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: 20th Century Military and Related: Pillbox; Secular: road

Location: Kirkmichael (Perth & Kinross)

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside

Traditional County: Perthshire


The monument comprises a section of engineered military road, likely to date to between 1748 and 1749. It survives as a partially obscured metalled and roughly cobbled surface in upland moorland, on the shoulder of Cairnwell, at around 675m above sea level. This section is part of a longer branch of 18th century road construction, connecting Braemar with Blairgowrie. The monument also includes a stone and concrete pillbox that was built as part of the Cowie Line, a Second World War strategic anti-invasion obstacle.

This section of road is approximately 875m long and up to around 7m wide and includes evidence of the road surface, kerbing, drains, ditches, banks, road revetment, roadside quarry and underlying deposits. The pillbox, constructed from granite blocks and concrete, is an irregular hexagon with maximum dimensions of roughly 5m by 5m. The pillbox is set into the slope and the eastern side of the military road and the roofline is level with the road surface.

The scheduled area is irregular and linear. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):

a. The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past, or has the potential to do so, as a section of 18th century military road engineering in the Highlands of Scotland. It is a component of a wider network of roads providing improved access along key natural and established historical routes and between strategic and military locations. As part of a longer branch of constructed road, it has a lasting impact on the local landscape and its function as a communications route has far-outlived its original purpose. The later use of the site as the location for a pillbox, as part of the Cowie Line defences built during the Second World War, adds to its significance.             

b. The monument retains structural and buried archaeological features which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past. In particular the road survives to a marked degree with elements of its profile visible.  This profile  characterises military roads construction of the period. This section of road is particularly well-preserved and includes the remains of the road surface, kerbing, drains, ditches, banks, road revetment, roadside quarry. The pill box is of interest in that although it resembles a type 24 pillbox, it is adapted both in its form and materials for the local area.

d. The monument is a particularly good example of eighteenth century military road building in Highland Perthshire and is therefore an important representative of this monument type.  The pillbox is a good example of a hardened field fortification built as part of larger strategic stop-line (the Cowie Line).

e. The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past, particularly the study of military planning, road construction and the exploitation of landform and topography to improve lines of physical communication across Scotland. It retains significant historic and social interest for us because of the wider, prevailing political and military situation in Scotland at the time.

f. The monument makes a significant contribution to today's landscape and/or our understanding of the historic landscape by demonstrating the continuing importance of this general route through Highland Perthshire. The pillbox is evidence, even 200 years after the construction of the military road, that this route was a key link through Highland Perthshire and merited being part of wider Second World War home defences.

g. The monument has significant associations with historical, traditional, social or artistic figures, events or movements - the monument has a significant association with the transformation of the society and culture of the Scottish Highlands in the 18th century during the period of the Jacobite Risings. The road was built as part of a wider networks of routes for use by Government forces to control the Scottish Highlands. This programme of military road building was undertaken by two key British military figures - General George Wade and Major William Caulfeild.

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The monument is a length of military road around 875m in length. It was constructed in the mid-eighteenth century as part of road which linked Braemar and Blairgowrie. This section of road is visible as a partially obscured routeway across open moor with evidence of the road surface, kerbing, drains, ditches, banks, road revetment, roadside quarry and underlying deposits. It was built as part of a programme of road building intended to increase Government control over the Highlands of Scotland. The construction work was undertaken by soldiers of various British Army regiments and contracted groups of local men.

The construction work was undertaken by soldiers from various regiments and contracted groups of local men. The road was engineered to take troops, their horses and their heavier, wheeled wagons with a planned road width of between 3.05m and 4.88m.  The roads generally followed straight lines where possible and contoured around hills. Other natural obstacles such as water courses were generally avoided, however, where crossing was necessary, ferries, fords and bridges were used. The road was made by excavating down to the natural gravels or rock and then backfilled with stone in various sizes. A final layer of gravel was used to seal the upper surfaces. The excavated material was banked up on the sides, separating the surface from adjacent drainage ditches. Culverts were used to take water courses under the road. These roads often survive as linear features cutting across the landscape - with a distinct profile of banks either side of a hollow way.  

Towards the northern end of the monument is a pillbox (located at NO 14125 77087) built in 1940-41 as part of the Cowie Line. The pillbox is an irregular hexagon built into the hill slope and appears to be a modified Type 24 design. Its roofline is level with the slope at the eastern side of the military road and its walls are constructed of granite blocks and concrete. They are around 50cm thick, pierced by firing loops. The concrete roof is also around 50cm thick. The entrance is on the south and is approached by seven external steps. Internally, a brick ricochet wall faces the entrance and there is a concrete firing step below the south eastern loop.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

There was an estimated total of 1700km of military road built in Scotland (approximately 400km by General Wade and 1300km by Major Caulfeild) between the early 1720s and the late 1750s.

The first programmes of work started in 1725 Under Wade's command, Repairs were made to various fortifications including Edinburgh Castle and at Fort William and new forts were built at Inverness (Fort George) and Killihuimen (Fort Augustus). Road communications and connections were improved between the garrisons at Fort William, Fort Augustus and Fort George. The roads programme then focused on expanding the network between Dunkeld and Inverness (later known as 'The Great North Road') with branches connecting Crieff to the Great North Road at Dalnacardoch (later known as 'The Second Great North Road') and Fort Augustus to the Great North Road at Dalwhinnie.  The second major programme of works was overseen by Wade's successor, Major William Caulfeild, with branches constructed, from 1741 onwards, between: Crieff and Stirling, an incomplete build between Dumbarton and Inverary, Stirling to Fort William, Coupar Angus to Fort George, and Amulree to Dunkeld.

There is significant additional contextual interest in this section of military road. Prior to 1748, a "military shortcut" passed over the shoulder of Cairnwell. Historic maps and documents indicate this was essentially a footpath to allow soldiers to cross the shoulder of Cairnwell. As the road network spread from Braemar, in 1748 the footpath was upgraded to a road of the engineering standards set by Caulfeild. However, historic mapping and documents indicate that by 1749 the military road at Cairnwell was under construction at a lower level - nearer the valley floor. It appears Caulfeild and his engineers chose to abandon construction of this section of military road and divert the route along the valley floor. Around 1km of road appears to have been constructed and then abandoned before the new and final route was set out along the valley floor. This is of significance as it is evidence for the changing of plans for the military roads and that the engineers and Caulfeild were not averse to taking a step back and changing routes. It is likely that engineers found the lower valley floor provided a more sheltered and easier route, compared to this one over the shoulder of Cairnwell.

The twentieth century pillbox is a single element of the Cowie Line – a Second World War home defence network stretching east to Stonehaven. This pillbox looks over the road below and also provides cover for the anti-tank blocks at the Devil's Elbow – a narrow, winding section of the road around 500m south-southeast. This pillbox was paired with another at the Devil's Elbow, both defending the road in tandem with covering lines of fire. The partner pillbox at the Devil's Elbow is no longer extant. The pillbox at this monument is a vital part of the national defensive network established to resist and deter an invasion of Britain. It is also clear evidence that the old military road route remained a vital connection through Highland Perthshire and required defending 200 years after the road was originally constructed. Other surviving elements of the Cowie Line are designated (scheduled monuments SM6437, SM3438, SM6439, SM6551 and SM6575) and together they contribute to the significance of the individual sites.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

The network of 18th century military roads has close historical associations with people and events of national importance. The military road building programme had very significant political and social impacts on the Highlands of Scotland during the 18th century. The roads and bridges are directly associated with Major General George Wade and Major William Caulfeild, who oversaw the planning and construction of the network.

The pillbox, as part of the Cowie Line, is a visible reminder of the considerable scale of infrastructure and resources constructed to defend the nation in the early stages of the Second World War, one of the defining events of the 20th century.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE IDs 68135 and 162906 (accessed on 12/03/2020)

Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust HER References MPK17905 and MPK11079 (accessed on 12/03/2020)

Ang, T., and Pollard, M., 1984, Walking the Scottish Highlands – General Wade's Military Roads, Andre Deutsch Limited: London

Barclay, G., 2005, 'The Cowie Line: a Second World War "stop line" west of Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 135: pp 119-161

Bruce, R., 1931, 'The Great North Road over the Grampians', Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers' 232 (2): pp 113-30

Curtis, G.R., 1978-80, 'Roads and Bridges in the Scottish Highlands: the Route between Dunkeld and Inverness 1725-1925', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 110: pp 475-96

Farquharson, L. 2011, General Wade's Legacy: The 18th Century military road system in Perthshire, Perth and Kinross Trust, Farquhar and Son: Perth

Graham, G., 1964, 'The Military Road from Braemar to The Spittal of Glenshee', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 97: pp 226-236

Mackenzie, K., 1895-99, 'Military Roads', The Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club, 5: pp 364-384

Millar, R., 1967, 'The Road North', Scottish Geographical Magazine, 83 (2), pp 78-88

Ruddock, T., 1979, Arch Bridges and their Builders 1735-1835, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

Salmond, J.B., 1938, Wade in Scotland, The Dunedin Press Limited: Edinburgh

Skelton, R.A, 1967, The Military Survey of Scotland 1747-1755, Royal Scottish Geographical Society, 83(1): pp.5-16

Taylor, W., 1976, The Military Roads in Scotland, SRP Limited: Exeter

Wallace, T., 1911, 'Military Bridges and Fortifications in the Highlands with Bridges and Milestones', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 45: pp 318-33

"Commander in Chief of all his Majesty's Forces, Castles, Forts and Barracks in Northern Britain", =Letter-book of Field Marshall George Wade, 1725-1732. Manuscript held at National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. MS7187


Source: Historic Environment Scotland is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself. is a Good Stuff website.