|Location Map ( geo)
|The Road To The Isles
|Fort William (NN125758)
|40.6 miles (65.3 km)
|A82, B8006, B8004, A861, B8008
|Old route now:
|Route outline (key)
For many years the A830 was reported as being the only single-track trunk route in Europe, though in fact only five miles of the journey remained single-track until the final upgrade was completed in Spring 2009. It is now one of the finest drives in Scotland, never spectacular, never exhilarating, but a pleasurable journey with many fascinating places to stop and explore along the way.
Section 1: Fort William - Corpach
The road begins at the Lochybridge Roundabout in the shadow of Ben Nevis, on the A82 just to the north of Fort William. It heads west and immediately crosses the Lochybridge over the River Lochy. The bridge is also called Victoria Bridge, although this was the name of the earlier suspension bridge on this site - but postcards from the early 20th century still call it Lochy Bridge. There are a handful of references to the name 'Victoria Bridge' on the web and it is used on the 1:50000 and 1:10000 maps but the name is never used locally.
Beyond the Lochy, the route crosses an area of land, called the Blar Mhor, at either end of which staggered crossroads give access to the B8006 through Caol and the unclassified road through Camaghael. The first has been signalised for the B8006 turn. A large illuminated sign stands just after the end of the 30 mph limit (with 20 mph limit when schools open) at the Fort William end of the A830. It gives details of how the ferries are running and specifically the time of next ferries from Mallaig to Skye and the Small Isles.
After the second junction the road crosses the southern end of the Caledonian Canal at Banavie, with the railway alongside to the south. These two popular tourist routes now shadow each other for the 40 miles to Mallaig, with two steam trains each way a day in the peak season. Road and rail both cross the canal side by side below Neptune's Staircase, an impressive series of seven locks (8 gates) which takes the Caledonian Canal from sea level up to suit the surrounding ground. Incredibly, perhaps, the A830 used to cross one of the locks on a swing bridge, emerging a little further west at the B8004 junction.
Section 2: Corpach - Glenfinnan
Heading west, Banavie gives way to Corpach and then Annat, the western end of the Fort William Urban Area. The old pulp mill has been replaced by a Sawmill, with industrial estates all around providing employment for Fort Williams growing population. Then, rather suddenly, the town is left behind and after a short blast between wooded banks, the road emerges on the shore of Loch Eil with just the railway and some scrubby trees between the tarmac and the shore. The run west along Loch Eil consists of a series of long straight, all built in the 1960s when this part of the road was thoroughly re-engineered. There are several collections of houses on the hillside to the right, including the Loch Eil Outward Bound Centre, and the growing community of Fassifern, once put forward as a good site for a new commuter village for Fort William.
The tiny settlement of Kinlocheil lies at the end of Loch Eil, and here the single-track A861 turns left, quickly diving under a low railway bridge before doubling back along the south shore of Loch Eil. A section of the old road can be seen just North of the junction including the old Druim Na Sallie Bridge. The A830 continues along the floor of the broad valley until the river draining into Loch Eil turns away to the north at Drochaid Sgainnir. A short distance beyond, round a sweeping bend, the A830 also has to negotiate a low railway bridge as it crosses the shallow watershed to pick up the Callop River flowing westwards. The bridge has a tight right hander immediately after, and requires some care to navigate safely.
The railway is now steadily gaining height to the right, but the road follows the Callop River downstream to Glenfinnan at the head of Loch Shiel. This historic village offers a broad sweep of Scottish history in a very small area. To start with the railway loops around and crosses Glen Finnan to the north on a magnificent arched concrete viaduct. Steam trains still ply this line in the summer months, and as the Glenfinnan Viaduct appears in both the second and third Harry Potter films, many carry Hogwarts Express branding. This is also the place where the train almost runs down the flying Ford Anglia; and in the third film as the place where the Dementors stop the train. On the opposite side of the road lies Loch Shiel disappearing into the distance between the mountains. But the thing that makes Glenfinnan famous is the tower, a monument built in the early 19th century in memory of those who fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie in his bid to secure the British Throne.
Section 3: Glenfinnan - Morar
After crossing the River Finnan, the road continues westwards climbing up past a pretty church into the main village where a museum occupies the station building. At the end of the village, the road sweeps over the railway, having climbed up past it, and follows a steep-sided valley, still sharing its course with the railway. The earlier woodland is now giving way to more exposed scenery with the hills and mountains rising dramatically on either side. Just after crossing another watershed, the road winds around some twisty bends through narrow rocky chasms, then follow another river downstram to Loch Eilt. The road stays on the northern shore whilst the railway takes the southern route. West of the loch, the road quickly crosses over the railway once again, before arriving at Lochailort, another tiny village scattered around the head of Loch Ailort. Here the other end of the A861 arrives from the south, having taken the very long way round through Ardgour, Sunart and Moidart. To negotiate the head of the loch, the road passes through more rocky cuttings, while the railway goes one step better and uses a series of short tunnels.
The next leg of the road is relatively new, dating from the 1980s and replaces a series of extremely twisty bends which followed the contours under the railway. It also moves away from a watercourse, and so it now has to fight the contours rather than work with them. Climbing lanes are provided, although perhaps rarely needed, and at Polnish stands the landmark white church on a loop of the old road, and a short distance further on laybys provide access to the path out to the abandoned village of Penmeanach on the Ardnish Peninsula. This area was once quite populous, but the lack of roads and facilities saw people drift away in the early 20th Century. The road then drops into Glen Mama and soon reaches the shore of Loch nam Uamh, where it passes under another of the dramatic concrete railway viaducts.
A mile to the west, just beyond the Princes Cairn which marks the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie first landed on Scottish mainland, is the start of the newest piece of the road, which quickly curves inland. The road has been built partly as on-line widening and partly on new alignments crossing the hillsides in wide open straights to replace the tortuous single track of its predecessor. Much of the route is through woodland, the various environmental designations making the engineers job harder. After passing under the railway at the low Beasdale Bridge, the road sweeps round in a second 180 degree turn to run alongside the tracks before dipping back under at Borrodale Bridge. Both of these bridges are low and narrow, the latter controlled by traffic lights. After a sweeping bend around Borrdale and Arisaig Houses, a long straight carries the road over a hill and down for a final 180 bend alongside the railways Larichmore Viaduct, which leads into Arisaig. where the final upgrade ends and the road turns northwards.
Section 4: Arisaig - Mallaig
The pretty village of Arisaig, home to the westernmost station in Great Britain, lies curved along the shore, but is now bypassed by the A830, which sweeps round to the north and crosses the low hills to the Mointeach Mhor, a vast low lying peat bog. From here, the old route of the A830, hugging the shore, is now the B8008, one of the most scenic routes in the West Highlands and a road we'll meet several times on the rest of the journey. The new road passes inland, with a series of long fast straights, heading for Morar.
Morar is situated on the thin strip of land separating Loch Morar from the Atlantic. At the south end of the strip, the road rounds a sharp bend, where a junction gives access to the old A830 (now also B8008) before crossing the River Morar - reputedly Britain's shortest river. Like Arisaig, the village of Morar is bypassed although this time to the west, crossing the river on Morar Bridge, with some of the vast white sands laid out below. Beyond Morar, the road returns to its original line, although greatly improved with more climbing lanes and still alongside the railway. The old road turns right into Mallaig, while the A830 sticks next to the railway, terminating at the busy harbour (again on the B8008), from where you can still go "over the sea to Skye". The Armadale ferry links up with the A851, itself single-track in places until very recently but upgrades have also turned this into a high-quality S2 route which is nicknamed on brown signs as 'The Road to Lochaber', mirroring the nickname of the A830 as 'The Road to the Isles'.
The upgrades mean travellers can now use the A830/A851 combination together with the ferry as a real alternative route to the A87 over the Skye Bridge without having to deal with any single-track road. In fact there are also ferries to Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna and Inverie on Knoydart, the UK's most remote piece of the mainland, with no roads in or out (and, indeed, no public vehicle ferry).
History and Opening Dates
The A830 has a long and complicated history, starting in 1804 when Thomas Telford first surveyed and laid out the route west from Fort William to Loch nan Ceall. Upgrades started in 1961, and were finally completed in 2009.