|Location Map ( geo)
|15 miles (24.1 km)
|A81, B829, A84
|Route outline (key)
The A821 is one of the few roads to delve deep into the Trossachs, a famously scenic area of the southern Highlands now part of a National Park. Although a through route, it is likely that much of the traffic using it never covers more than half the total distance in any one day, as most traffic will be aiming for one of the many car parks or attractions along the way, not least Loch Katirne. It is therefore either a 'tourist route' or for a few a heavingly stomach-churning twisty drive, depending on the nature of your journey. It is undoubtedly a very scenic drive, and one which is very definitely slower than the alternative A81 route, despite only being a couple of miles further.
Braeval - Kilmahog
The A821 begins about half a mile south-east of Aberfoyle on the A81 Callander Road, at the Aberfoyle Roundabout and also ultimately ends up near Callander, but takes very much the long way around. A couple of short straight lead to the tourist den of Aberfoyle, which can be bustling even in mid winter. The forests above Aberfoyle, and around Loch Ard to the west are home to walking routes, mountain bike trails, and a Go Ape Centre to test your fitness levels to the extreme! As traffic crawls through the village, however, there is no hint of what's to follow. Large car parks lie on the river bank behind the buildings to the left, and then at a former TOTSO with the B829, the route swings sharply right and climbs a series of hairpin bends up into the foothills of the Trossachs. The Forestry Commission's David Marshall Lodge nearby marks the remnant of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park (most of it was swallowed up in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park), and is home to a variety of walks and activities. From here the road winds, swerves and generally heads in every possible angle and direction northwards, then eastwards for around ten miles. Even drivers can feel car-sick on this one.
In little more than a mile, the road has gained 150m altitude and is following a small burn through a wide moorland clearing in the forest. For much of the time, the road ahead is visible in the distance, but there is a hidden stretch before it is reached. While it is possible to get a feeling of where you will meet approaching traffic, even after it has disappeared from view, there are enough laybys, forest entrances, and even just idiots who stop in the road for a selfie, that nothing should be taken for granted. Respite is possible at the Achray Forest Drive (Toll) which is around six miles long, and starts near the summit, although you will emerge back on the A821 a couple of miles or so further on.
The road drops down from the summit without relenting, but there are plenty of places to pull over and pause, but often you will need to climb on foot to get the best of the views. Suddenly, the modestly picturesque Loch Achray is spread out ahead and, spoiler alert, the road that winds between the trees on the far side is still the A821! The road never quite reaches the loch shore, but laybys provide somewhere to stop and enjoy the views. On the left the first of the large hotels sits back from the road and soon after a short spur, barely a mile long, leads to the lovely Loch Katrine and a progressively uglified tourist-spot, complete with gift shops, tea room and quad bike hire. There is a historic steamer still taking passengers the length of the loch, and it doesn't take a lot of effort to walk or cycle a mile or so along the north shore to escape the crowds and find the real, beauty of Loch Katrine. The loch has been dammed, out of sight, and is now a reservoir for Glasgow; on Bank Holidays it might as well be Sauchiehall Street gone north, with parking charges to match!
The main A821 turns east along the north shore of Loch Achray, past another hotel and the picturesque church to reach the quaintly named Brig O'Turk (with a 40mph limit through the village). Despite the road running along the gently sloping loch shore, it still twists and turns as much as ever, and with trees and hedges along the verges it feels narrower too. A pity then that this is the favoured route for coaches to access the hotels. Beyond Brig O'Turk, the only real settlement on the road other than Aberfoyle, comes Loch Venachar. Having climbed a little out of the village, the road drops down to the shore and this time a couple of small parking areas offer direct access to the waters edge.
Continuing east, while the road has been improved in places, it is still water's-edge stuff at times and correspondingly winding. It then starts climbing away from the loch, and suddenly a long straight appears ahead, the dips not quite severe enough to hide oncoming traffic. At the far end, however, is a sharp double bend and the road reverts to type for the last couple of miles as it winds down into the Teith Valley. The road ends at Kilmahog, just a short straight after Kilmahog Bridge and about two miles to the west of Callander. Throughout the route, traffic can be busy, even out of the main season, with coaches and mini buses crawling round the tight bends and struggling up the hills. It is also increasingly busy with cyclists, especially the southern, Dukes Pass, section. Without any real overtaking opportunities, patience is necessary, but at least it allows you a better view of the surrounding scenery.
In 1922 the Dukes Pass section of the route appears not to have been suitable, or even open for motorised traffic, so the route ran only from Kilmahog to Loch Katrine Pier. At this time it was therefore only the A81 that made the trip from Aberfoyle to Callander. The pass had originally been constructed in 1885 by the Duke of Montrose, and so it might be possible that the road was technically still a private road through his estates. However, work on improving the road was underway in the later 1920s, and while the date of full opening is not currently known, it became part of the extended A821 in 1935, giving us the road we see today. This also saw it take on a short section of B829 from Aberfoyle to end on the A81. This history explains both the spur and the former TOTSO in Aberfoyle.