|Location Map ( geo)
|28.1 miles (45.2 km)
|A82, A833, A862
|Route outline (key)
The overall route of the A831 has hardly changed since 1922 when the number was first allocated, and yet it has never been a road that anyone would drive from one to the other, as the A833 is around 18 miles shorter! Nevertheless, the A831 is an important link for the communities of Glen Urquhart, Glen Affric and Strathglass.
Drumnadrochit - Cannich
The road starts in on the north side of Drumnadrochit Bridge in the growing village of Drumnadrochit (home of Loch Ness Monster exhibitions) where the A82 takes a sharp turn over the River Enrick. Heading west, the hamlet of Milton (which is on the old single-track road) has been bypassed and soon after the A831 meets the A833, which is a much shorter road to the final destination of Beauly. The A831, however, continues ahead up the heavily wooded Glen Urquhart. The road is double-track and twisting, with some fairly tight bends and only a few straight sections. There are scattered houses and occasional views of fields, but mostly the scene is deciduous woodland, with conifer plantations on the valley sides. Half way up the glen at Balnain there is an attractive small loch, Loch Meikle. After the Corrimony junction the road climbs more steeply, and leaves the trees to run through moorland and rough grazing for a mile or two. Here the remains of the old single-track road can be seen just to the north.
At the top of the hill the route is in coniferous forest but with an open view straight ahead to the mountains of Glen Affric and Glen Cannich. From here the road descends steadily but steeply into Strathglass, and at the foot of the long straight it narrows and turns sharply to cross the River Glass on Comar Bridge, and the flat valley bottom to reach Cannich, 12 miles from Drumnadrochit. Cannich has a caravan site and a Youth Hostel, and is a popular basecamp for people wishing to explore the scenic splendour of Glen Affric to the south. From the crossroads in the village a minor road runs west into Glen Cannich where it ends at Loch Mullardoch's hydro-electric dam, and another road runs south west to Glen Affric, which is famous for its native pine woods, lochs and mountain scenery. An unsurfaced road and then a footpath continue through the upper part of Glen Affric to cross eventually to Morvich on the west coast. This is a spectacular route through remote country, and every year on the Saturday closest to midsummer it is the route of the Highland Cross charity biathlon (Morvich to Beauly - 20 miles running or walking, and 30 miles cycling), so from Cannich northwards the A831 forms part of the Highland Cross cycling route.
Cannich - Beauly
The River Cannich is crossed on the narrow traffic light controlled Cannich Bridge, and the road quickly leaves the village behind to head down through quiet Strathglass. The road is only just wide enough for two cars, but almost level as it runs along the base of the steep wooded hills rising up from the west side of the flat valley floor. The river meanders sedately back and forth, with the minor road on the opposite side occasionally visible between the trees. The valley floor either side of the river is farmland and there are only a few scattered houses. The Strath narrows a little just before Struy, where there is an inn and a stone bridge across the River Farrar. The confluence of the two rivers has widened the Strath, with the resultant larger flow turning eastwards past Erchless Castle.
A few miles past Struy the road once again becomes properly double-track - a welcome point for Highland Cross cyclists as it means the end is not too far now. A sharp rise after Aigas golf course is followed by a downhill section; here the river (now called the Beauly) flows through a picturesque gorge with a small hydro-electric dam. A mile or so later the road climbs through a little dry valley with grassy sides (a glacial meltwater channel) before dropping into the more open farmland of Kilmorack. Around here, minor roads lead up the valley side to more farms and scattered houses. After Kilmorack there is a short, sharp descent to the junction with the A862 (formerly the A9). This is the end of the A831, but for the Highland Cross cyclists there is one mile more to go to the finishing line and cheering crowds in Beauly Square.
The A831 consists of two different roads. The route south from Beauly to Cannich and on towards Glen Affric is the Strathglass Road, built by Thomas Telford as part of his commission on Highland Roads and Bridges. It dates from the 1810s, and to the south of Struy at least, has been little changed in the last 200 years. Prior to this, the route through Glen Affric had been used by Drovers taking their cattle to the Tryst at Muir of Ord, and while this traffic was small in comparison to the droving traffic heading south, it did mean that the route was well used.
The route up Glen Urquhart does not have such an easily defined history. While some Droving traffic may have used Glen Urquhart, the route identified from the scanty records available seems to have crossed the hills from Tomich to Corrimony, rather than using the current line further north. The communities of Glen Urquhart have ancient origins, however, and would have had paths and tracks connecting one to another and down to Loch Ness, so it seems most likely that the route was formalised after Telford's era when responsibility for roads was increasingly taken up by the counties.
From Drumnadrochit west, there are many laybys, property accesses and meandering field boundaries to suggest that the road has been significantly improved in the past, but the only complete realignments have been the bypass of Milton as noted above and the climb from the Corrimony junction to the summit. The loop to the north at Polmailly Farm is not a recent line of the old road, which instead stuck slightly closer to the river to the south. As the road climbs beyond the Corrimony turn, a short stretch of old single track road survives to the north at Millness, accessing houses, after which some bends have been ironed out and the current line appears to be a little to the north of the old road, although it is now lost under heather and forestry. Towards the bottom of the hill, just before Comar Bridge, the junction with the minor road up the east side of Strathglass appears to have been changed over the years, but it is very difficult to identify if the road has actually been moved.
Heading north from Cannich, the road to Struy is almost as built 200 years ago, only tarred and with very minor improvements here and there. As the road turns east after Erchless Castle, there are some slightly more substantial improvements at Knock na Shalvaig and on to Craigdhu, although the old road line has mostly returned to nature. Around the bend towards Aigas, the line of the old road is much easier to trace as it loops through fields to the east. At the north end of the golf course, an old elbow bend survives as an estate road, but continuing north apart from a single layby, the old road is lost in the trees to the east of the current line, before the two swap places. This is the last of the major realignments, however, and for the rest of the journey to Beauly, the A831 sticks closely to the line set out by Telford.