|The Road To The Isles|
|From:||Fort William (NN125758)|
|Distance:||40.6 miles (65.3 km)|
|Meets:||A82, B8006, B8004, A861, B8008|
|Old route now:||B8008|
|Route outline (key)|
Reportedly the A830 was 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.
The road begins in the shadow of Ben Nevis, on the A82 just to the north of Fort William, by crossing 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.
We cross a small strip 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. After the second junction, we reach the southern end of the Caledonian Canal at Banavie, where we also come alongside the railway that we will shadow to Mallaig. To the right we can see Neptune's Staircase, an impressive series of seven locks (8 gates) which takes the Caledonian Canal from sea level to suit the surrounding ground. We also pass the B8004 which rejoins the A82 by the Commando Memorial.
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.
We continue west, slightly inland from the north shore of Loch Linnhe, keeping the railway between us and the water. We pass the new sawmills on the site of the former paper mill alongside The Narrows, then eventually make it to the waterfront itself (now Loch Eil). We pass an Outward Bound centre with its own station, the road continuing alongside the railway, with trees planted on the hillside to our right.
At the end of Loch Eil, we pass a turning on the left for the single-track A861, then continue along the floor of the broad valley until the river draining into Loch Eil turns away to the north. A section of the old road can be seen just North of the junction including the Druim Na Saille Bridge. We cross the watershed (and under the railway), and pick up the Callop River flowing westwards, and soon after arrive at Glenfinnan.
We start by looking to the right, where the railway loops around and crosses Glen Finnan on a magnificent arched viaduct. Steam trains still ply this line in the summer months. The Glenfinnan Viaduct appears in both the second and third Harry Potter films, as 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.
To our left, we see 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
Once again, the road continues westwards - now in a steep-sided valley, still sharing its course with the railway. The earlier woodland is now giving way to a more exposed scenery. We cross another watershed, passing around twisty bends through narrow rocky chasms, then follow another river to Loch Eilt, which we pass on the northern shore whilst the railway takes the southern route. West of the loch, we cross the railway once again, before arriving at Lochailort, where a left turn gives us the other end of the A861, heading towards Moidart. To negotiate the head of the loch, the road passes through more rocky cuttings. The railway goes one step better and uses a tunnel.
The next leg of the road moves away from a watercourse, and, apart from the absence of water, you can tell this because we now have to fight the contours rather than work with them. Soon we reach the shore of Loch nam Uamh, which we pass on the cliff top affording good sea views to the left. We've now reached the start of the newest piece of the road, which takes us inland. The road has been built partly as on-line widening and partly on new alignments crossing the hillside in wide open straights to replace the tortuous single track of its predecessor. We pass through woodland once again, into Arisaig, where the final upgrade ends and the road turns northwards. Arisaig, incidentally, has the westernmost station in Great Britain and the A830 passes to the west of that.
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, on an almost dead-straight track, heading for Morar.
Section 4: Morar - Mallaig
Morar is situated on the thin strip of land separating Loch Morar from the Atlantic. At the south end of the strip, the road round 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. We bypass the village of Morar to the west then continue on a road cut into the hills, still alongside the railway, towards Mallaig, terminating at the busy harbour (again on the B8008) 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 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).
Original Author(s): Simon Davies and Mark Hewitt
The final upgrade
In May 2009, the final piece of the A830 was opened, after being upgraded to proper S2 over the previous couple of years. The new road is initially an online upgrade, but after passing Glen Beasdale Station, a new alignment has been found. Initially, this tends to the north of the old road, sections of which remain to serve Drumindarroch and Arisaig House. However, after this the two roads cross, with the new road then remaining to the south of the old route until we reach the new bridge next to the railway viaduct just east of Arisaig. The final half mile then sees us straightlining the twists and turns of the old road, before 'plugging in' to the Arisaig bypass.
The new road features a cycle path from the Princes Cairn layby on Loch nam Uamh through to just short of the first railway overbridge. There is then a break for about 1.5 miles (although the second railway bridge has short pavements to allow pedestrians and cyclists access to the push-button controls for the traffic lights). Once the new road diverges from the old alignment, the cycle track resumes, alongside the new road. It seems a shame that the old road couldn't have been retained for the cycle track, but after less than a year since its abandonment, much of the old road has returned to nature, albeit with a little help!
A comparison of the two images below will show how much the old road has changed in just eight months, and if you don't believe that they are of the same spot, compare the tree trunks too! The gates have been moved about 200 m further east to the end of the Tarmac road at Druimindarroch.
|1815||Lochybridge||Morroch, Arisaig||Loch nan Ceall Road built by Thomas Telford|
|1850s?||Lochybridge||Suspension Bridge designed by James Dredge|
|193x||Banavie||New swing bridge across the Caledonian Canal|
|1961||Glenfinnan||Lochailort||Earliest and longest section to be upgraded in one go|
|1965||Banavie||Annat||Upgraded through Corpach|
|1969||Lochybridge||The new bridge opened|
|1978||Loch nan Uamh||Just a mile near Princes Cairn|
|1994||Morar Bypass||Including Morar Bridge|
|1998||Polnish||Loch nan Uamh||Includes two climbing lanes|
|2009||Loch nan Uamh||Arisaig||The final missing link!|