From Roader's Digest: The SABRE Wiki
|Length:||115 miles (185.1 km)|
|Meets:||A816, A828, A819, A82, A827, A84, A822, A9, A912, A989, A93, M90, A90, A991, A92|
|Now part of:||A90|
|Crianlarich • Dundee • Oban • Perth •|
|Route outline (key)|
The A85 provides a nearly continuous route linking the east and west coasts of Scotland, passing some of Scotland's highest mountains, and also used to bisect some of the flattest land in in the country - but lost almost 20 miles of dual carriageway through the Carse of Gowrie to the A90 in the early 90s.
Oban - Lochawe
The A85 starts at George Square in the middle of the ferry port of Oban. To the south, the A816 continues along the coast to Lochgilphead, with the A85 heading north out of town. Surprisingly, perhaps, neither route actually reaches the ferry pier. After 5 miles, the A85 reaches Connel where a RIGHT (i.e. south!) turn takes traffic across the Connel Bridge on the A828 heading north to Fort William. The A85 passes underneath the Bridge, and passes the Falls of Lora (a tidal phenomenon where water appears to descend from the sea into Loch Etive, a sea loch).
The road then heads east through Taynuilt where the B845 crosses, before crossing the River Awe at the Bridge of Awe. This marks a change in the landscape, from the coastal settlements of Loch Etive to the bare mountains of Loch Awe, as we enter the Pass of Brander, which isn't a real mountain pass, just a narrow gap between the steep slopes of the surrounding hills. As the road squeezes between the north shore of Loch Awe and Ben Cruachan - the 'Hollow Mountain' with a Hydro Electric Scheme deep inside - part of it is built on stilts over the water of Loch Awe. This pass was created many thousands of years ago when the waters of Loch Awe cut through soft rock to find a lower exit point, rendering the old valley at the lochs south end redundant.
Lochawe - Tyndrum
The road continues east through the pretty village of Lochawe, before turning the corner at a junction with the B8077 and heading across Kilchurn Bridge. This crosses the River Orchy next to the ruinous Kilchurn Castle at the head of the loch. A little further on, the A819 turns off and heads south to Inveraray as an alternative, although slightly longer, route to Glasgow avoiding the worst bit of the A82.
We then enter the small village of Dalmally, although most of it is bypassed, and also meet the B8074 and B8077 here, the latter being the old route of the A85 before the new bridge across the River Orchy was built in the 1930s. At this point the A85 begins to ascend to reach Scotland's East/west watershed, below the slopes of Ben Lui, before arriving at the tourist trap (coach parks, cafes, shops selling tartan rubbish...and two railway stations) of Tyndrum where the A85 joins the A82.
Maps tend to show the road from Dalmally to Tyndrum as a slightly wobbly road climbing steadily up Glen Lochy, through trees. Thats one way of putting it. Another is that this is one of Scotland's best roads. On a late summer evening, with the sun behind you and an empty road in front, this is a road that just seems to get eaten up by the tyres. Mile after mile, each one passing by every minute (give or take), as you swoop and sweep round the elegant bends, the orange glow of the mountains ahead as the sun sinks in the rear view mirror. If you're unlucky, you might find another vehicle on the road ahead, but fear not as the sight lines are good round most of the bends. Suddenly, you see a sign saying 'Real Food Cafe One amazing Cafe One mile to go' and you know it's all over. The sense of disappointment as you take the last couple of bends and drop down to the A82 just outside Tyndrum is immense. There is something deep inside you wanting to turn around and do it all again. Indeed, the cafe could very well have a sign outside proclaiming 'One amazing road, one mile to go'.
For five miles these roads are multiplexed as the A82 (A85) to Crianlarich where the A82 turns right to Glasgow. A fairly fast bit of the A85 continues E along Glen Dochart and past Ben More. However, don't get too excited by the wide open road, as every now and then it narrows to a twisty section that hasn't been improved. There are a number of Hotels and guest houses along this road, as well as the odd caravan site, but soon the A85 reaches the unusually named Lix Toll (apparently named after the 59th (LIX) troop? of some Roman legion, athough that may be a load of rubbish!). Here the A827 heads off to Killin, Loch Tay and Aberfeldy, and the A85 dives south down Glen Ogle to Lochearnhead.
At Lochearnhead the A84 continues south to Stirling, but to continue on the A85 turn left, eastwards along the shore of Loch Earn. This bit of the A85 to Perth has recently attained trunk road status, but the first few miles along the loch are below the normal standard. At the Perth & Kinross / Stirling boundary the road suddenly improves again, until St Fillans. Continuing east the A85 passes through Comrie (Scotland's earthquake capital), and out of the Highland scenery to more gentle country at Crieff.
In Crieff, the A85 turns left (A822 to Stirling to the right) and heads east to Perth along a fairly fast and flat road. Crossing the Perth bypass (A9) at a flyover intersection, the A85 continues past McDiarmid Park (St Johnstone FC), meeting the old A9 (now A912) and turning south to reach the city centre. Briefly multiplexing with the A989 Perth ring road, the A85 crosses the Tay by one (or both?) of the Perth Bridges and heads south then east to meet the M90/A90 at junction 11 (a strange junction the design of which may partially have been responsible for recent crashes on the A/M90 caused by people driving on the wrong carriageway).
The M90 from J10 to 11 used to be known as the M85, probably one of the shortest motorways in the UK, but now the Edinburgh - Fraserburgh route is the A/M90 all the way. So the A85 has lost about 20 miles of dual carriageway (a scary section through intensive farmland where tractors and buses turn off and on regularly - thankfully flyover intersections are being introduced). Finally, on the outskirts of Dundee, the A85 appears again, taking traffic from the A90 past the airport to the city centre, ending at a roundabout on the A991 ring road.
Original Author(s): A835(T)
The draft proposals for the 1935 renumberings suggested that the A85 be extended southwards along the entire length of the A816 to Lochgilphead. The suggestion was rejected with a curt 'No', but no further reasons. Presumably, however, it was seen as inappropriate for a major east-west trans-Scotland route to suddenly turn south for 30-odd miles to terminate on the A83 in a small town. Oban, at least, was and still is a major port for Island ferry traffic.
The military road's western end appears to be Bonawe on the shores of Loch Etive. At the time, Oban was not the important centre that it would become, and Bonawe was the main ferry point across Loch Etive. Even the Bridge of Awe probably wasn't constructed until 1780, while the military road dates back to the early 1750s. The route roughly follows the unclassified road through Inverawe, albeit reaching the A85 somewhat east of the modern junction. As it enters the Pass of Brander, with so little available land, the A85 sticks very close to the 250 year old alignment, along the shores of Loch Awe and also through the village of Lochawe.
At the eastern end of the village, the old military road continues north east, along what is now the B8077, since the A85 was diverted in the 1930s. After crossing Dalmally Bridge the A85 once more picks up the alignment of the old military road, although as it climbs through Glen Lochy, there are a couple of realignments, where the old route disappears in the forestry alongside the road. Between Tyndrum and Crianlarich, the story of the routes is told at A82 Strathfillan.
Beyond Crianlarich, the A85 is pretty true to the military route, although there are a few minor realignments most are identified as laybys or house accesses these days. At the Loch Iubhair car park, a little exploration in the trees between the car park and the road will discover the embankment of the old route, complete with a culvert across the little stream. Oddly, this piece of road (according to the map) seems to dive into the loch. There is no evidence of the loch having been dammed to increase the water level, and equally a wander along the shore yielded no clues as to the location of the road here.
It would be easy in Glen Dochart to mistake the old railway line as the old road in places, but just before the next 'twisty' section of the A85 is reached, a 'farm track' crosses the railway track on the left, and actually proves to be the course of the old road. This drops down the hill, past a ruined cottage and vanishes at a modern wooden bridge across the stream. According to the map, the route is picked up a little further east, following the river, before rejoining the A85 where it used to cross the railway line itself.
The Suie Lodge Hotel seems to sit between the old and new roads, with another loop to the north just beyond Luib now a long layby. Then, at Ardchyle, the A85 starts to drop a little down to Lix Toll, while the old road climbs through the forest to pick up the West Lix access drive. As it climbs towards the lairig into Glen Ogle, the old road has been brought back to life for a while as the cycle track between Loch Tay and the south, NCN7. However, at the Glenogle picnic site, the old road disappears into the trees, its course only identified by a forest ride.
After leaving the forest, it crosses the modern A85, and starts the long descent of Glen Ogle a little downhill of the modern road. However, despite some intensive searching of the boggy field, no sign of an old road could be discovered. The two routes rejoin a little to the north of Lochearnhead, but then the old road continues south, followed by the A84.