|To:||Glencoe Village (NN085585)|
|Distance:||9 miles (14.5 km)|
|Route outline (key)|
From Rannoch Moor, we enter Glen Coe proper a couple of bends after passing the cottage of Altnafeadh, with the long straight heading north towards the forbiding chasm that marks the entrance to the Lower Glen. The road gets steadily twistier as it approaches the narrow pass of The Study, but then slowly widens and straightens out as it passes the various walkers' laybys and parking areas on its way west towards Loch Leven. At Achnambeithach the old road forks right past the Clachaig Inn, while the new road crosses the river and sweeps round to reach the village of Glencoe at the crossroads on the shore of Loch Leven. A short straight past Tigh a'Phuirt brings us to Ballachulish.
The most remarkable thing about this stretch of the A82 is that the Old Military Road took a completely different route. Further south, the modern route often deviated from that of Major Caulfeild across Rannoch Moor, but at Altnafeadh, the two routes split completely, not to be rejoined until we reach Fort William. In the 1750s, Glencoe was still seen as a trouble spot, despite, or more likely because of the massacre of 60 years earlier. There was also the small matter of crossing Loch Leven to consider, and the Military Roads were intended to be continuous routes, usable day or night without requiring local interaction. A Ferry service would have been temperamental in poor weather, and would have probably required a garrison in hostile country to operate it.
As a result, Caulfeild headed for the only other real option, the high pass above Altnafeadh that crosses into the valley of the Blackwater / Water of Leven. The ascent was a steep one, so a series of zig-zags were constructed to ease the ascent to the summit. It is this section that is known as the 'Devils Staircase'. Climbing this route today, as part of the West Highland Way, most of the zig-zags have been considerably foreshortened, suggesting that Caulfeild was generous with his gradients. The route is certainly not steep even with the shortcuts, but then no-one today has been on a forced march for the last four days carrying 20+kg on their backs! The gradient would also have needed to be easier for the horses, towing gun carriages, supply carts and occasionally carriages when Caulfeild or one of his contemporaries paid the troops a visit.
Once across the summit, the route falls slowly but steadily for a couple of miles, with much evidence of the original road still to be seen. The full width of the old road is easily traceable in many places, with several of the old cobbled fords still in use (albeit almost certainly repaired!). Eventually, however, the modern path reaches the estate road from Kinlochleven to the Blackwater Dam, and as a result the original route of Caulfeild's road is lost, whether under the 1902 road or further down the valley side in the woodland.
On the edge of the small town of Kinlochleven, the West Highland Way is again our guide, looping round the end of the enormous pipes associated with the Hydro scheme and crossing the old brige over the Water of Leven. This bridge cannot be far from the site of Caulfeilds bridge, and his old road can be seen heading into the undergrowth ahead as we approach the bridge on the West Highland Way. On the far side of the bridge, the old Military road is now the residential Wade's Road, heading through Kinloch and onto Fort William
Telford's Road - rebuilding a Drove Road
When Telford came along in the early years of the nineteenth century, surveying his new roads, he was lucky as he arrived in Glencoe. The only route across Rannoch Moor had been the old Military road, but from Altnafeadh at the bottom of the Devils Staircase all the way through to Ballachulish, a Drover's Road had been built in 1786. Being newer, the road was in much better condition than the military roads, and almost certainly built to a better standard too. As a result, it is now unclear exactly how much work Telford did on this stretch of the road. There is little doubt that the surviving bridges bare a striking resemblance to the bridges found elsewhere on his network, but perhaps they are just the 'design standard' of the era.
At Altnafeadh, Telford's road is easily identifiable as the overflow parking area at the start of the path to Buchaille Etive Mor. His route then criss-crosses the current road a number of times as the two follow similar routes northwest, before the two routes diverge near the River Coe. While the new road crosses the river, Telford chose to stay on the river's north side, and follow the contours to avoid the worst of the peat bog. For the next couple of miles, Telford's road follows its own course to the north of the modern route. This involves crossing a number of bridges over side streams, many of which are sadly losing their parapets. However, 200 years after they were built and 70 years since they received any real maintenance, the bridges themselves are still doing their job of providing a crossing point.
After many miles of slow descent, the old road starts climbing once more as it approaches The Study. This is to lift it onto the higher ground above the gorge that the modern road uses. The summit of this stretch, provides an excellent viewpoint down the Glen ahead, which must have been quite a desolate sight even in the 1930s. The descent into the glen is steep and rapid, initially including several stretches across bare bedrock. Whether there was ever a better surface on these points or not is uncertain, but it must have been a very hairy experience for the motorists of the 1920s, and the new road would have brought enormous relief.
Telford's road drops to meet the new road a little to the east of Allt na Ruigh, but that was not the end of the descent, as the road emerges about 400 m further west halfway down the huge embankment that holds the new road up. From here, west to Achtriochtan, it is possible to still walk the old road as it has been repaired as the main footpath access in the glen, connecting the car parks and mountain paths together. Sadly, however, one of the bridges is missing (replacement footbridge installed in spring 2010!), requiring a steep descent and reascent. At Achtriochtan, the new road was virtually an online upgrade for a short stretch, before the old road forks to the right and then rejoins past Loch Achtriochtan.
At the other end of the loch, just before the Achnambeithach Bridge across the River Coe, the old road forks right once more, crossing the old bridge over a side stream and following the east bank of the River Coe past the Clachaig Inn and on into Glencoe Village. The River Coe is finally bridged nearly 3 miles further west by the small stone arch Bridge of Coe just to the east of the village. The road then runs down the narrow main street to Glencoe Crossroads, where the B863 Kinlochleven Road is reached before the A82 itself.
The section of the A82 through Glencoe appears to have been one of the earliest sections north of Glasgow to be rebuilt. The culverts and bridges through the glen bear the dates of 1929 and 1930, with the earlier dates east of Achnambeithach. The work had been completed by 1934, when a visiting engineer from New South Wales, Australia, noted that the total cost of the 32 miles of reconstruction and sealing on 'the Glencoe Pass road' was £512,000.1
Starting at Altnafeadh, therefore, the road has been reprofiled from Telford's route, with more straights and sweeping bends. This was not only desirable for modern traffic, but with modern construction methods it was also now possible. The new road was then taken across the infant River Coe and down into The Study. as we pass through the narrow gorge, the road criss-crosses the river, which is virtually tunnelled beneath the road in places, but at the Lairig Eilde Bridge (replaced 2005-7), the river gains strength and has to be left to its own course. The road sweeps out of the gorge in a rock-blasted cutting and round a series of bends, with Telford's road dropping from the right to join the new road near Allt na Ruigh, and then emerging halfway down the embankment on the left a little further along.
Again, as we descend the glen, there are a series of straights split by twistier bends around the contours of the glen. The road maintains its gradual descent, crossing Telford's route a couple of times along the side of Loch Achtriochtan. Then, as we approach the Achnambeithach Bridge (rebuilt 2008-9), the old road forks right past the Clachaig Inn while the new road crosses the River Coe. From here to the end of this section at Glencoe Crossroads, the road was built from scratch in 1930, sweeping along the western side of the glen, while the old road keeps to the east side.
There has been very little change to this section of the road in the last 80 years. Apart from the growth of roadside parking, there are only a handful of points where the road has been changed in any way. Two are minor widenings for turning lanes, the others are new bridges, 2 of which are detailed below.
Lairig Eilde Bridge
Main Article: The Study
The Lairig Eilde Bridge in the Study was replaced in 2005-7, the old concrete viaduct replaced with a much bulkier structure, again built of concrete, but wider and with a different alignment for the bend. In place of the numerous legs that supported the old bridge, the new bridge only appears to have one large concrete support between the two abutments.
Main Article: Achnambeithach Bridge
Further down the glen, Achnambeithach Bridge was replaced in 2008-9, again with a much heavier concrete structure, providing a wider roadway and re-profiled access to the old road past Clachaig Inn and the adjacent parking area on the old road alignment. As with the Lairig Eilde Bridge, a temporary bailey-type bridge was constructed alongside for the duration of the works to maintain one-way traffic through the works.