“Are We Nearly There Yet?” – Bruce Keith – 16 May ‘23

This excellent talk was about milestones and Bruce Keith certainly knew a thing or two, as one would expect from a retired surveyor with a clear passion for measurements of all sorts. Bruce has talked to the club before (about bridges) and his earlier book “Bridgescapes”. His new, companion book “Are We Nearly There Yet?” was written while he had unexpected time on his hands as a result of lockdown.

Bruce began by recounting his childhood travel experiences in his father’s car, counting the roadside milestones on the A9 between Inverness and Perth. Thereafter he amused his audience with his witty stories about Scottish history, peppered with numerous allusions to milestones.

Bruce in full flow

As might be expected it was the Romans who established the first milestones in Scotland and Bruce’s presentation included pictures of some of these. According to Bruce, it was Sir Robert Sibbald, the mid-17th century, aristocratic, Royal Geographer for Scotland and latterly Professor of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, who unearthed the first Roman milestone.

Of course, as all Ayr people know from the information on the esplanade and from Burns’s Tam-o’Shanter, we Scots have our own “lang Scot’s mile” which measures 1984 yards (remember George Orwell) compared to the conventional 1760 yards.

Bruce went on to describe the road-building programme in Scotland, from General Wade’s military roads to the advanced tarmacadam roads made possible by Ayrshire’s own John Macadam in the 18th century. Through the establishment of the Turnpikes Trusts by parliamentary act, Macadam became very wealthy. It was around this time that the first official milestones (made of metal) began to appear and again a selection of these were illustrated in the presentation, courtesy of the Milestone Society (yes, there is such) of which Bruce is now vice-president.

Bruce rounded off his talk with a mention of the feat of Jenny Graham who along with Calum Maclean, walked the longest straight line between two roads (48.8 miles) ever attempted in the UK. This was between the A9 and A939 through the heart of the Cairngorms – and not a milestone to be seen!

Mary-Helen Shakespeare thanked Bruce for providing her with pieces of history she had known nothing about and for entertaining his audience in such a humorous way.