Press release: Telford’s Highland Roads and Bridges

journalists writing in notepads

Unlikely tour of the Scottish Highlands by Thomas Telford and poet Robert Southey in 1819

Chronicling massive public works to slow the depopulation of the Highlands

Looks at Telford’s ‘artistic sensibility’ aligning engineering with the picturesque 

Embargo (quotes): 14 March 2023 7pm

We would like to invite you to a lecture by landscape architect and historian Professor Paul Daniel Marriott on Picturesque Engineering: Telford’s Highland Roads and Bridges, on 14 March 2023. This is the first lecture in our upcoming lecture series Engineering the Modern World. 

In this lecture, Professor Marriott explores the tour of the Scottish Highlands taken in 1819 by Thomas Telford and Robert Southey. Telford was perhaps one of the most distinguished civil engineers in Britain, with his extensive construction of roads and bridges leading to him being dubbed the “Colossus of Roads”. Robert Southey, one of the Lake Poets, was Poet Laureate from 1813 until his death. Marriott discusses this unlikely pairing and the relatively unknown journey they took through the picturesque Highlands. 

Southey meticulously chronicled this tour in Journal of a Tour in Scotland which was posthumously published in 1929. Through this journal Marriott will show how the pair explored the Scottish Highlands inspecting the roads, bridges and canals constructed by Telford which were transforming the landscape. 

He will say: “The Journal is an important account demonstrating the intersection between the science of modern road-making and the picturesque landscape…it captured a valuable intersection of art and science through the pairing of Britain’s Poet Laureate with the “Colossus of Roads”, and provides a fastidious record of the interest in roads within the picturesque landscape during this period.”

He will explain how Southey’s journal presents a view of Telford as appreciating the beauty of the landscapes in which he worked showing how he combined this with engineering to create the picturesque roads which run through the Scottish Highlands. 

Marriott will show how likewise the poet Southey showed a practical insight into the engineering practices akin to a landscape architect or planner. Southey noted “the loss of efficiency by engineering practices valuing straight lines at the expense of a logical response to the topography of the region – and he observed how a more efficient road might be a more beautiful road as well.”

This can be seen in Southey’s description of the road from Strathglass to Inverness, noting it remarkable for both its scenery and construction: ‘The road itself is an object which adds greatly to the beauty and interest of these scenes. It is carried along the side of the cliff, in many places it is cut in the cliff, and in many supported by a high wall – a work of great labour, difficulty and expense. We just went far enough to get one view into Strath Glas, a cultivated country which by means of this road is enabled to communicate with Inverness, and the civilised world.’

He will go on to show how Southey’s work can give important early insights into the emerging world of tourism as well as comments which support the concept of public access to sites of scenic beauty:

“Journey of a Tour in Scotland demonstrates the interest that modern roads and civil engineering held during the period, as both a statement on modernity and as the vehicle by which comfortable access to landscapes of picturesque scenery might be accessed, viewed and appreciated.”


Notes to Editor

You can sign up to watch the hybrid lecture online or in person; or email us for an embargoed transcript or speak to Professor Marriott: / 07799 738 439

Read more about Prof Paul Daniel Marriott, who is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Pennsylvania State University and a licensed landscape architect,.