|Location Map ( geo)
|29.7 miles (47.8 km)
|A84, B8075, B822, B8037, B8034, B835, A875, A81, B858, A809, A813, A82
|Old route now:
|Route outline (key)
Heading south on the A9/M9 to the south-western part of Scotland? Dreading the crawl through Glasgow? Fear not - there is another way and it's called the A811. It was a primary (but not trunk) route until 1996, and for a time signed (from the Stirling end) to Erskine Bridge after that bridge opened.
Stirling - Balloch
Since the route through the centre of Stirling was downgraded, the starting point is on the A84 at Ballengeich Roundabout, and the road briefly runs south along the former B8051 to reach the Kings Knot Roundabout, at which point it resumes its original line westwards.
Leaving the city behind, the route quickly crosses over the M9 on a bridge which is a significant landmark in the surrounding flat lands of the Kerse. The crossing is without a junction; motorway traffic needs to follow the A84 to reach M9 J10 a little to the north. Continuing west, the A811 heads in a succession of long, straight lines for almost ten miles along the south side of the River Forth, interrupted only by a roundabout with the B822. These straights take it past the villages of Gargunnock and Kippen, although both were bypassed long before the A811 came into existence. Towards the western end of Kippen, the old road used to climb over the hill, but even this was avoided when the current road was built in the early 1970s, and the B8037 took over most of the old line.
After the route regains its old line at the B8037 junction, it passes through the tiny village of Arnprior - the B8034 heads off north from here to Scotland's only lake, the Lake of Menteith. The road becomes somewhat less straightforward (and less straight) from here as it twists and turns gently between the fields. At the entrance to Buchlyvie, a long layby indicates a minor improvement, and in the village the B835 goes off to the right, forming a short cut to the A81. A couple of miles after the village, the A875 departs southwards for Balfron and Killearn.
Shortly beyond this junction, the A811 dog-legs over the A81 bound for Strathblane and the northern suburbs of Glasgow at Ballat Crossroads. Even though the A81 has been the quieter route for many years, it has priority due to the skew introduced sometime after the Stirling - Balloch railway was closed. A few miles later the A811 enters the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, and even though Loch Lomond is very close by, you never see it. The road bypasses Drymen, where the old line is now the B858 and then, after crossing Drymen Bridge, the route ahead becomes the A809, another non-primary road (this time bound for Milngavie). Astonishingly, even though it is again the busier route, to stay on the A811 one has to take a right-turn.
The next couple of miles are, in stark contrast to the eastern end of the route, little more than a narrow country lane winding between hedges and under trees. It is a very pleasant drive, especially on a sunny day when dappled light reaches the road, as long as you're not in a hurry as traffic is generally slow, and there are few overtaking opportunities. After some twistier bends, the village of Gartocharn is strung along the roadside for almost a mile before some longer, undulating straights are reached as the road slowly turns southwards.
As the road drops down towards Balloch, it is lined with garden centres, builders yards and the like, foretelling the urban sprawl that lies just around the next bend. And that Urban sprawl is Balloch, very nearly the end of the A811. At the entrance to the town, The A811 continues down the middle 'prong' of a fork junction. The left turn is roughly on the original line of the A811, although the whole area has been thoroughly redeveloped. The right turn was once the A813, while the road ahead was built in the 1930s. It crosses two roundabouts (the first for the new A813 through Bonhill, and the other for the B857 into Alexandria town centre). The after a long climb it finally meets the A82 to Glasgow at Stoneymollan Roundabout. Travellers to south-west Scotland can leave via the Erskine Bridge a few miles away, avoiding Glasgow altogether.
There have been a number of changes to the route of the A811 since 1922, as noted above. In Stirling, the route originally started at Craigs Roundabout and cut across Wellgreen onto Dumbarton Road and Albert Place to pick up its current line, the changed happening in the late 2000s. Continuing west, there is the new line to the west of Kippen, then some minor improvements near Buchlyvie, and of course the Drymen Bypass which is now the B858.
At the western end of the route, the A811 originally turned left in Balloch and headed along what is now the A813 through Bonhill, then the A82 across the northern edge of Dumbarton, to end on the original A82 on the edge of Milton. The A82 was re-routed around Dumbarton in 1934, and continued along the former A811 line into Bonhill where it crossed Bonhill Bridge. The current A811 route is an improved version of the original route of the A813, with the numbers being swapped upon completion of the A82 Alexandria Bypass.
The origins of the route now taken by the A811 are perhaps an ancient trackway along the southern side of the vast, and often boggy Forth Valley. There were undoubtedly paths and routeways along the base of the hills centuries ago, but between 1770 and 1780 these were formalised as one of the last Military Roads built in Scotland. It was built after the death of Major Caulfeild, but doubtless was influenced by his methods, and was designed to connect the two important military castles of Stirling and Dumbarton.
The route starts on the western edge of Stirling, in the shadow of the castle, and is initially still followed by the A811 as it heads west. There is a slight deviation as the road crosses the M9, and again where the road crosses the Touch Burn. Here the road used to kink north to cross the burn further downstream at the old Polrogan Bridge. Nearly a mile further on, and a large layby on the left shows another section of the old road, with some less obvious kinks ironed out on either side as well.
A little further on, and the A811 forks right at a short row of houses. The now dead-end road serving these properties is the original line of the Old Military Road, with the old and new roads going their separate ways for around the next 6 miles. The tarmac ends just beyond the houses, but a grassy track continues ahead in a straight line, crossing a farm road to reach the village road for Gargunnock. This then follows the old road into the village, where the precise route becomes unclear. This is partly due to the development of the village, and also the changes to the Leckie Estate, particularly Watson House. Today walkers should follow Leckie Road, forking left past Bield Farm, and then following the path around the edge of the grounds to Watson House. It seems possible that a more direct line, perhaps along Main Street, was followed in the past.
The path brings us to a bridge over the Leckie Burn, and on the far side we are definitely back on the old road. However, the bridge is a new structure, probably contemporary with the house, and not the original military bridge. A little upstream, another bridge stands, an old packhorse type bridge, which could date back to the C17th century, despite almost looking like a Victorian garden ornament! The road then remains fairly straight as it continues west, past the houses at Burntown, where a short section is still public road, and on towards Boquhan. The Boquhan Burn is crossed by another Victorian Estate bridge, beyond which the road climbs into a field. A partially collapsed retaining wall on the right could date back to the original construction.
The route across the field is wide and level, and perhaps the best opportunity to see the original profile of the road. It is, however, covered in turf which disguises the side ditches. The bank on the uphill side seems to survive as the foundation of the field boundary, but there is no such mound on the downhill side. Once across the field, the path becomes narrow and overgrown, but still follows the old road line as it climbs up to the houses of Glentirranmuir. Initially a private drive (open to walkers), the old road appears to become a public road beyond the estate gates, and continues ahead into Kippen.
The old road crosses Kippen Main Street, and probably continues ahead along Fore Road, the B8037. The alternative is that the narrow and cobbled Rennies Loan is the old road line, either following the path down to the old A811, or running along a field boundary. Either way, the old road crossed the Broich Burn at the Broich Bridge, just before which the old line of the A811 rejoined after its long bypass of the villages. Beyond Arnprior, old field boundaries suggest a straighter line over the hill to Buchlyvie, part of which is still a farm track, but there is little evidence on the ground that this is any more than a coincidence.
The only other substantial deviation between the modern A811 and the Old Military Road before Balloch is the Drymen Bypass, where the B858 follows the old road line through the village. At Balloch, the old road is now mostly the A813, the corner being cut by Shandon Brae. This was all originally the A811 in 1922, but the roads have been realigned, renumbered and partially built over in the intervening years.