|Location Map ( geo)|
|Distance:||36.3 miles (58.4 km)|
|Meets:||A83, B841, B8025, B840, B8002, B844, A85|
|Route outline (key)|
The A816 is approximately 36.5 miles long and forms an important connection on the west coast of Scotland between Lochgilphead on the A83 and Oban on the A85. Oban is the railhead and main ferry terminal for the Lorn and Mid Argyll areas, while Lochgilphead is now home to the council offices. The entire area is littered with Neolithic, Bronze-Age and Iron-Age monuments, and is one of the most interesting and least-known prehistoric sites in Europe.
Lochgilphead - Kilmartin
The A816 commences at its southern end at a roundabout junction with the A83 trunk road on the western fringes of Lochgilphead, in the historic Mid Argyll district. Heading north it passes residential and light industrial areas to the east, with the Crinan Canal on the west side of the road, rather alarmingly at the top of a bank to start with. The Canal was built towards the end of the 18th Century and is still used extensively today by boats traversing between Loch Crinan and Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne as a safer route than navigating the Mull of Kintyre. As the road leaves the town, the canal meanders away a little as well, and there are some good fast straights north west to Cairnbaan. The village is accessed via the B841, for which there is a junction on a sharp bend, perhaps showing that the road along the canal was busier and more important in the past. Achnabreck, near Cairnbaan village, hosts the largest collection of rock carvings anywhere in Britain.
Heading north now, the road quickly passes through an area of forestry, and then crosses the River Add at Bridgend, with the old stone Kilmichael Bridge lying just upstream. Passing Bridgend and its twin of Kilmichael Glassary, the road has to curve left to follow the edge of the hills that rise up from the vast Moine Mhor, a nature reserve encompassing a vast raised bog dotted with small rocky outcrops. At the kink between two long straights, a tiny sign points down a lane to the left, which leads to Dunadd Fort. It is little more than a rocky knoll to look at, but it is considered to be the royal capital of Dalriada, the kingdom that was founded in c. 500 AD and spanned Argyll and Ulster, before expanding eastwards to rule all of Scotland. Therefore this innocent looking rock, which claims to be the birthplace of Scotland, is one of Scotland's least well signposted, and yet most important historic monuments.
This then is the entrance to the Kilmartin Glen, an area of Neolithic and Bronze-Age chambered and round cairns, stone circles, rock carvings, Iron-Age forts and duns, early-Christian sculptured stones and medieval castles. The village of Kilmartin itself has a small museum, but only limited parking, with a better car park at the junction with the B8025 just to the south. It is worth making the time to stop as the landscape around here is quite amazing, and inspiring. People have lived here for thousands of years, leaving their mark in almost every field, and it is all free to be explored.
Kilmartin - Kilninver
Intriguingly, many of the signs at this end of the road are still green, trunk route signs from its previous life. It was presumably 'de-trunked' because of the large number of rather appalling bends and narrow bridges that still line the route north. Leaving Kilmartin behind, the road climbs up the narrowing glen to cross the first ridge of hills that block the direct route north. The ruins of Carnasserie castle stand off to the left , built between 1565 and 1572 by John Carswell, the first Protestant Bishop of the Isles; he translated the first book printed in Gaelic (also with a large car park, and now linked to Kilmartin by the NCN78 cycle route), and a short distance further on the B840 turns right at the start of its long journey up the shores of Loch Awe. It is believed that before the last big ice age, Loch Awe flowed out to the south, through Kilmartin Glen, until the ice cut through the Pass of Brander which the A85 uses to make its way west.
The road now winds through the hills, before dropping back to sea level at Kintraw (site of the Watchman Well and the Watchman Stone). The descent is through the narrow Bealach More, a rather tortuous series of bends hemmed in by concrete walls on both sides in places. Then after a short straight, the road suddenly emerges on the hillside high above Loch Craignish, and plunges steeply down to cross the elegant Kintraw Bridge. A long straight across the flat lands at the head of the loch carry the road across the Barbreck River. At the far end of the straight, the single track B8002 turns off and heads south-west through Ardfern along the Craignish Peninsula. From here, the road continues north, climbing over the hills once more to Barravullin with its seemingly endless series of tight double bends, before dropping back to sea-level near Craobh Haven. This is an interesting modern 'village' developed as part-holiday resort, part-marina.
Beyond the junction, the road opens out as it sweeps along the shore round Asknish Bay. It then climbs over the peninsula at Arduaine, home to some exotic plants in the Arduaine Gardens. Back at shore level, the road passes through the scattered shoreside settlement of Kames, lying along the southern shores of Loch Melfort. At the head of the loch, the road turns north through the growing village of Kilmelford, where minor roads turn west along the north shore of the loch, and east climbing steeply into the hills to reach Loch Avich and Loch Awe beyond. The A816 also has a steep, narrow and twisty climb up from Kilmelford to the shore of Loch nan Druimnean, where a short straight runs along the east shore. Another long, twisty climb above the Pass of Melfort lifts the road up to the Oude Dam, a reservoir built in the 1950s to provide electricity for the surrounding communities. At the end of the loch, the road takes a double bend across the Oude Bridge, crosses the River.
Following the river north, the road curves across the flat moorland valley floor, with steeply forested hills to either side. As the river turns away to the east, the road turns north west into the upper reaches of Glen Gallain, which it follows down stream. Although neither as steep or twisty as the route has been to the south, the road is still narrow and has a series of blind summits and hidden dips. One of the longer straights crosses the narrow Euchar Bridge, which limits its usefulness for overtaking. As the road climbs a little again, the minor road to Loch Scammadale turns right, but the A816 is soon descending once more into Kilninver. The main village lies off on the B844 to the left, but the school is on the roadside, providing a short 30 limit. The B844 follows the old line of the A816 here, and so meets the new line twice. It leads across the famous Bridge over the Atlantic to the Isle of Seil.
Kilninver - Oban
After sweeping round a couple of bends, the A816 drops down to the shore of Loch Feochan, passing the second B844 junction along the way. The run along the lochs south shore is another fine fast road, with a series of laybys and picnic sites showing the older line which ran a few feet closer to the shore! At the head of the loch, the road sweeps round to the north, narrowing a little and crossing the vast flat estuary of the River Nell to reach the village of Kilmore. Again, much of the village lies off to the right, hugging the bottom of the hills to avoid the risk of flooding. There is now just one hill left to climb, and despite the proximity to Oban, the quality of the road drops again as it climbs steeply up from Kilmore, past the church and on up to the final summit.
Recycling centres, timber yards and an auction site sit off to either side, largely hidden in the gentle undulations of this rocky landscape, and a final minor road turns right to access the long Lerags Peninsula. Despite the industrial sites at the top of the hill, the road is narrow and twisty as it starts its descent, the entrance to the large Soroba Housing Scheme at the entrance to Oban being on the last long sweeping bend as the road widens again for the final drop into town.
Now finally in Oban, the A816 passes Soroba and meets a roundabout - the first since the start - which provides access to Lorn & Isles District General Hospital and the Glen Schellach Housing estate and Business Park beyond. After passing under the railway, and dropping down the wide straight of Soroba Road, traffic lingers at the traffic lights where traffic turns right for the busy retail park. The road is narrower now, hemmed in between shops and tenement blocks, as it curves round Combie Street before coming to an end at Argyll Square in the centre of town. Here it meets the A85, close to the Railway Station and busy ferry terminal from where Caledonian MacBrayne ferries sail to Barra, Coll, Colonsay, Islay, Lismore, Mull, South Uist, and Tiree.
The A816 came close to being wiped out in the 1935 renumberings. A draft proposal saw it being replaced with the A85, with which it shares an end-on terminus in the centre of Oban. However, the suggestion was turned down with a curt 'No'. Perhaps the suggestion of linking the A816 and A828 together with a single number would have won more favour?
The southern end of the A816 was originally the A817, with the A816 following Bishopton Road, Oban Road and Argyll Street to meet the A83 in the middle of the town. The route was moved to the old A817 comparatively recently. Elsewhere along the route, there are many places as it heads north where evidence of an old road line can be seen, often to the east of the current road. Kilmichael Bridge, Euchar Bridge and Kilninver village have all clearly been bypassed, and there is ample evidence at Asknish Bay, and along the south shores of Loch Melfort and Loch Feochan for the old road line, either retained as property accesses or laybys on the shore side.
Pass of Melfort
As the A816 heads north out of Kilmelford, it has to negotiate the steep climb of the Pass of Melfort, except that it no longer follows the actual pass. The line of the current road does, in part, follow an old track over the hill, but the old coach road takes a lower route in the deep chasm of the pass cut by the River Oude. The route of the A816 has always lain along the present line to the east of Loah nam Druimnean, so the initial climb out of the village is still along the old road. However, just past the north end of the loch, a set of gates on the left marks the start of the Old Coach Road. Just inside the gates, the road splits three ways, but it is the right hand fork which is the old road through the pass. The route straight ahead appears to be an old driveway down to Melford House, while the left hand fork has probably never been more than a farm road.
At first the old road runs along the steeply wooded hillside, gaining height steadily but at a reasonable gradient. The old start of the hill track now followed by the A816 forks off to the right, but is lost amongst the trees. Concrete retaining walls and rusty old wire rope fencing protect against the drop to the left, while the road is cut into the hill on the right in places. The remnants of tarmac can be found underfoot, all belying the survival of this road certainly into the 1930s, if not more recently. The river is far below, heard but little seen in this deep ravine of trees, many of which have fallen.
Around a long right hander, the ravine narrows and the hillside is noticeably steeper. The road itself also narrows, with sections of cliff above where rock has been blasted away to create a ledge for the road as it continues to climb. It is now wetter and muddier underfoot, and in wet weather the rock faces are running with water. Dead trees, straggly bushes and the sound of the river below all add up to a somewhat spooky impression, not helped by the rock falls and blind bends as the road winds steadily through what has become a gorge.
Suddenly, the river is alongside, the road almost built over it, making you wonder what would happen when the river was in spate, even with the low wall separating the road from the water a couple of feet below. Another wiggle round a blind bend, and then the reason why this road was abandoned is starkly revealed in the shape of the massive concrete wall of the Oude Dam. Mapping suggests that the current road line had come into use before the dam was built in the 1950s, but it is difficult to know if this was in preparation or completely unconnected, and simply an effort to improve the road. The old road to the north is now flooded, picked up again by the current line just before the Oude Bridge. You may wish to retrace your steps from here, but there is an alternative. A flight of around 150 steps lead up the cliff face to the modern road far above, with verges wide enough to walk back to the start of the Old Coach Road.