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For centuries, the ability to acquire good road stone was problematic. The carriage of stone was not easy (Stonehenge notwithstanding), and so roads were often routed to make best use of the stone readily available in the landscape. When Wade and Caulfeild were building the Military Roads in the Scottish Highlands, there are frequent complaints from local landowners and residents that the roads are poorly aligned, having been built from one gravel pit to the next in a meandering fashion. Of course, many roads were no more than dirt tracks which became impassable muddy quagmires for much of the year, but as the use of carriages, mail coaches and so on became ever more important to the nations economy, so stone roads also gained importance.
The easiest way to gain suitable roadstone, as mentioned above, was to extract it from the landscape as close as possible to the road itself. This led to a series of small quarry pits along the road, and such pits can still be seen along the Military Roads and the later routes built by Thomas Telford in the Scottish Highlands. Typically round in shape, and often created by hollowing out a small bump or knoll, they are rarely more than 20m (approx 60 feet) in diameter, but larger ones may well exist elsewhere.
Such pits or quarries could be used for all grades of stone, although in the Highlands in particular, larger blocks of stone for the base courses were often gained by blasting the boulders lying on the surface, and the pits are primarily for gravel. Gravel could also be extracted from river banks, although this could be problematic if it was taken upstream from a bridge.
Suitable stone for bridges was rarely sourced from the landscape, and generally came from proper quarries, being transported by horse and cart along the otherwise finished road surface. This was one of the main reasons why roads were often left incomplete, waiting for bridges to be built. However, in some cases on the Military Roads, it is reported that the bridges have been built ahead of the road itself, again leading to complaints about the awkward siting of such bridges. Common sense and hindsight would argue that the bridges were built at the best crossing point on the river, but again the complaints from the time allege that they were built where building stone could be gained, as transporting stone to the site was near impossible... 'for want of a road'!
In the Victorian era, roads projects moved up in scale, and their construction often required a larger volume of stone per mile than previously. This was especially true where embankments were required (without a complimentary cutting nearby). As such, there are a number of full sized quarries sited alongside some of these roads, although with the advent of the railways, and traction engines, transport of stone became a much easier prospect and so road builders were increasingly able to source high quality roadstone from a considerable distance, rather than relying on the best they could find locally.