A82/Ballachulish - Fort William
|Length:||16 miles (25.7 km)|
|Meets:||B863, A828, B863, A861|
|Former Number(s):||A828, A829|
|Old route now:||B863|
|Route outline (key)|
After emerging from the desolate Glencoe to the sunny shores of Loch Leven, the A82 immediately splits past from present. In 1922, the route of the A82 continued, as it does now, westwards along the southern shore of the Loch to Ballachulish and then crossed to North Ballachulish by ferry. However, the road to Kinlochleven (but no further) was already open, and numbered the A829. A few years later, the road along the loch's north shore was also opened, and so in 1935 the A82 was re-routed around the loch (extending the A828 slightly) to avoid the ferry. In 1975, the new Ballachulish Bridge opened, and so the A82 was returned to its original route, the road around the loch now the B863. From North Ballachulish, the road north to Fort William has hardly changed since Telford's time, although the Military Road never came this way at all!
Having crossed the Devil's Staircase from Rannoch Moor, and so missing Glencoe out completely, the Old Military Road then passed through the Lairig Mor to the north of Loch Leven, and approached Fort William through Blacmachfoldach. This route is still easy to follow, being the West Highland Way as far as the road end at Lochan Lundavra, and then public highway into Fort William.
We pick up the route on the banks of the Water of Leven in Kinlochleven, and head north along the residential Wade's Road. At the far end of the road the bridge is now lost, although it was in use as the main road when the village was created in the early twentieth century. We then follow the modern B863 route for a short distance westwards, before the West Highland Way forks off to the right. After another half mile, the driveway to Mamore Lodge also turns off to the right, doubling back up the hill. Unfortunately, it is now impossible to say which of these routes was the Military Road, although further research is ongoing! Indeed, the Military road may have taken a 'third option' to climb up from the shores of Loch Leven.
Our journey is resumed somewhere near the 250 m contour, as we find the modern track through the Lairig Mor. This rough estate road is still used by the occasional Land Rover, in addition to thousands of walkers every year. The road slowly climbs to the watershed, with the Mamore range on our right and the hills of Beinn na Caillich and Mam na Gualainn between us and Loch Leven on our left. Along the way, a couple of ruins are passed, old farmsteads dating back to the times when this was still an important route on the long north-south journey. At length, the track enters forestry land (much of it felled in recent years) and turns northwards towards Lochan Lundavra.
After passing the loch, the route becomes public Highway once more, as the twisty and undulating route through Blamachfoldach into Fort William. The town is reached just beyond a stunning viewpoint, and then the long descent of the residential Lundavra Road begins as we approach the West End Roundabout.
Old Loch Linnhe Road
Prior to the road built either by Telford in the 1810s, or perhaps earlier in the 1780s as a drove road, along the shore of Loch Linnhe, there was an older route south out of Fort William. This route ran higher along the hill, and can still be traced in places today by the most intrepid explorers! Whilst this road does appear in places as a wide grassy ledge on the hillside, it is unlikely that it was ever much more than a path wide enough for two horses to pass. A report of 1770 describes a coach and horses becoming stuck on a narrow cliff track and the coach having to be turned by hand, whilst its occupants continued on horseback.
It seems to start at Inchree, just off the A82 and doubtless the current minor road running north through the small village is roughly on this old line. The initial climb up the hill from the car park area may follow the zig-zagging forest road, or may have been destroyed by the planting, however the forest path labelled as 'Wades Road' is undoubtedly this historic route which as far as can be ascertained has nothing to do with Wade at all. Indeed, it probably pre-dates the start of Wade's road building. There is, however, a possibility that the road was later adopted by those responsible for the Military Roads, as it may have been easier and cheaper to maintain than the Devils Staircase, and the local political climate that forces Caulfeild to chose his route had become somewhat less volatile.
The path is easy to follow, and leads up to a forest road in a quarry area. From here there are two tracks continuing northwards, and it is the lower lefthand one which more closely follows the old road line. Almost immediately, a narrow forest ride forks to the left, and this is likely to be the old road line, although it is difficult to be certain - it could just be a roadway that was in use when the forest was planted. As the road leads deeper into the forest, so it reaches areas which are being felled, and indeed much of this area is due to be felled in the next few years, so explorers should exercise caution, and be prepared to turn back.
This narrow forest ride leads down to another forest road, which can also be reached by sticking on the first forest road, and taking first left. This leads to the other forest road, with the forest ride having reached it just a few paces to the south. Turning right onto this road and follow it until it swings sharply to the right to negotiate a stream gulley. Again, from this bend a narrow forest ride continues ahead, plunging down the hill more directly and is likely to follow the old road.
Both ride and forest road lead to a large cleared area which (autumn 2014) is currently occupied by a works compound for the felling operations. Heading north from here, and crossing a concrete bridge is another forest road, which most closely follows the old road line. Indeed, if it is anywhere else (as it may well be) then it has not yet been found. This forest road first drops in quality, and then comes to an end, with a rough path continuing the short distance to the forest fence. On the far side of the fence, there is a sharp gulley to the left, rising to a low ridge. The route that the old road takes, if indeed it has been followed by the forest road, is far from clear, but by crossing to the ridge, it is easier to find the road itself.
Keep to the crest of the ridge, and drop down through some bracken, where the road is clearly visible as areas of thinner growth. This leads down to a stream where a very obvious grassy ramp runs alongside the stream for a short distance, and is a sure-fire way of relocating the old road. From here there is a slight earthwork with a sometimes muddy deer track running along it that follows the contours of the hill, albeit dropping gradually, as it crosses the natural scrub and woodland. Another rickety old fence needs to be crossed, although the deer track seems to continue unhindered! This then leads through another forested area, but this time the old road is very obvious as a muddy track between the trees.
This track then reaches a stream, alongside which a rough path drops precariously to the A82 at a layby, useful for access. The stream is the current boundary of a felled area, and unfortunately this means that the old road has once more disappeared. A short distance from reaching the stream is a narrow forest road, and climbing it to the right leads to Coruanan, a house which surely once stood alongside the old road above Three Mile Water on the A82. The old road itself seems to have passed on the other side of the low ridge that the forest road drops down from, reaching the track at Coruanan. The driveway to the house then leads down to the A82 at Kiachnish Bridge, and at present there seems to be little evidence of the old road on the hillside above the A82 as it leads into Fort William, suggesting that the last 3 miles were, as they still are, along the loch shore.
As with the section through Glencoe, Telford had little work to do along the shores of Loch Leven. The Drover's Road was still only a couple of decades old, and so presumably still in good condition. From Glencoe Crossroads, it headed west along the southern shore of Loch Leven, through Tigh a'Phuirt, then passed under both of the Arches (these may post date Telford's road) at Ballachulish Quarry and so into the village. The bridge on Albert Road wasn't built until 1951, so the road had to loop through the village, crossing the narrow Brig O'Laroch and then return to the shore near the West Quarry. From here to the ferry, the road was set close to the loch shore, often on a narrow ledge that was later shared with the Railway line from Oban. The road passed on the shore side of Craigrannoch House, before picking up the route of the modern A828 to the ferry slipway opposite the Ballachulish Hotel. Old Ferry Road on the north shore, running to the slipway at the Loch Leven Hotel marks the course of the old road.
Once across Loch Leven, it is believed that Telford followed the existing lochside path north, first through Onich and then northeast along Loch Linnhe. Much of this appears to have been constructed as a road at the same time as the Drove Road through Glencoe in c.1786, but it may have been little more than a rough path along the foreshore in places. However, the old bridges along the route have been dated to the early 19th century by Historic Scotland, supporting the theory that the road was effectively built from scratch by Telford.
Most of the road was rebuilt on-line in the 1930s, with surviving evidence for Telford's work only visible at Corrychurrachan and Kiachnish Bridges (see below). However, with the land available being so restricted along Loch Linnhe, this is perhaps hardly surprising.
In 1922 the 'High Road' from Glencoe to Kinlochleven was more or less complete and open to traffic. Work had started during WWI, with German POWs providing the bulk of the workforce. However, it was to be another five years before the 'Low Road' along Loch Leven's north shore was built, and another two years before the route, including Invercoe Bridge and the Kinlochleven Viaduct was complete. As a result, the High Road was originally numbered as the A829, with the A82 routed along Telford's Road through Ballachulish, and across the Ferry to North Ballachulish.
Major changes were afoot however, and with the completion of the 'Low Road' along Loch Leven's north shore, it was only a matter of time before the A82 was rerouted along the route of the A829, with that number being consigned to the history books. The most surprising thing is that it was left until the major renumberings of 1935 before the A82 was rerouted. For more information on the route around Loch Leven, see the A829 and B863 pages.
From North Ballachulish, Telford's road was followed through Onich, with on-line widening to bring it up to the standards of the day. With so much property along this route, the road has changed little in the last 80 years. It is not until we reach the Inchree junction that the road deviated from Telford's route, cutting a new straight alignment away from the hamlet which had recently spawned a small housing development. The old road can still be traced through the village, before ending on a slightly cut off bank at the Four Seasons Restaurant. At Corran, the A82 formerly dipped down the hill, along the current footpath, before resuming its route along the A861 spur. This section of road was built slightly further from the ferry slip in the 1930s, and reprofiled again in the 1960s to its current design.
Once past Corran, apart from the loops mentioned above at Corrychurrachan and Kiachnish, the road alignment today is almost certainly the same as Telford surveyed 200 years ago at the beginning of the 19th Century. Some of the laybys may highlight minor reprofiling, but other than that the modern motorist will have to enter Fort William to find the next evidence for a former road alignment.
The biggest change to this section of the A82 since 1935 was the opening of the Ballachulish Bridge in 1975. This saw the route returned to its original 1922 route, past Ballachulish and across the narrows to North Ballachulish. Of course, the road had become so busy by the 1970s that it was no longer practical to send traffic through the village, so virtually the whole road from Glencoe Crossroads to the new bridge was rebuilt.
Starting at the crossroads, the old alignment through the houses of Tigh a'Phuirt can clearly be seen, with the new road sweeping past on the shore side, leaving the Old Pier House stranded on the 'wrong side' of the road. As the road through Tigh a'Phuirt rejoins, the old road continues through the trees, identifiable as the driveway of a little cottage a little further along, before disappearing into the trees once more. There is still a ledge on the hill in the trees, but in places it is very narrow suggesting that it was excavated to provide enough land for the modern road. As we approach Ballachulish village, the old road passed under the arch on the left, its twin being demolished to make way for the new road. It then swung into the village, past the quarry and along Albert Road. The new road, however, bypasses the village, with an underpass provided for access to the hotel and harbour.
The route past Ballachulish saw the clearance of a lot of derelict old industrial land, left over from the quarries which closed in 1955, and saw the beginnings of the villages rebirth. The River Laroch is crossed on a new bridge, and then the village road rejoins at West Laroch. The old road, however, continues past the west quarry and then into the trees along the left hand side of the road. From here until we pass St John's Church, the new road uses the course of the old railway as much as the old road. As we pass the war memorial, we are reminded of how narrow the old road must have been - there was a railway line here too!
The huge cliff faces as we approach the roundabout show how much work was done to build this new road, again making much use of the old railway line. However, a little investigation in the bushes on the shoreside will reveal the old railway line, and then to the west of the lay-by, the old stone wall sticks to the road edge, with the old tarmac still visible in a couple of places. Obviously, all of the road from Craigrannoch House up to and across the bridge was completely new, as is the new link for the A828 down to the shore.
The section from Glencoe Crossroads to the Ballachulish Roundabout was not, as might be expected, constructed in time for the opening of the Bridge. Obviously the section either side of the roundabout was ready, and connected up to the old road near Craigrannoch. The next section to be constructed, starting at Ballachulish village, was the mile and a half from the village to Craigrannoch. After that attention was turned to the Tigh a'Phuirt 'bypass', and finally Ballachulish itself was bypassed, with work being completed c.1980.
A narrow, single track stone arch dating from 1785, and so presumably constructed as part of the Drove Road through Glencoe which is recorded as having been built in 1786. The new bridge on Albert Road was built in 1951, adjacent to the railway bridge over the river, but was never on the route of the A82 as the road was the A828 at the time. It too was superseded in c.1975 when the Ballachulish Bypass was opened, and the village bypassed.
Main Article: Ballachulish Bridge
Built in 1974-5, the Ballachulish Bridge replaced the historic ferry across the Ballachulish Narrows of Loch Leven. It also saw major road improvements along the former route of the A828 past Ballachulish village to provide a new, fast route north.
Main Article: Righ Bridge
The Concrete structure spanning the Allt na Righ at Inchree is typical of those built all along the A82 in the 1930s. It has 3 spans across the river. There must have been a previous structure carrying the road across the river here, but no trace seems to remain.
Built on a sweeping bend next to the cottage of Corrychurachan, the 1930s bridge is sandwiched between Telford's structure, half obscured by the trees to the east and the bridge that has taken 5 years and counting for the owner of Corrychurrachan to build. This is believed to be to provide better access to his land, potentially allowing further development. A little to the north, another Telford Bridge can be seen on the edge of the modern road, but this stream was later diverted to the main river, removing the need for a second bridge in the 1930s.
Main Article: Kiachnish Bridge
The 'new' bridge between Three Mile Water and Chiochonish is the only bridge on this stretch of the road that appears to bear a datestone. It was opened in 1933, and is a simple concrete structure, similar to the others found along the route.
Main Article: Invercoe Bridge
During the drawn-out construction of the new High Road to Kinlochleven, traffic left the main road before crossing the Bridge of Coe in Glencoe and followed Back Lane through to Invercoe, without crossing the River. However, at some point before 1930 the new 4-span Concrete bridge at Invercoe was built, along with the associated shore-side road.
Main Article: Kinlochleven Viaduct
Built to carry the new road across the industrial railway line from the Aluminium works down to the harbour, the Kinlochleven Viaduct was completed in 1929. This rerouted the road from the residential Garbheinn Road, where a level crossing existed on the railway line.