A832/Gairloch - Gruinard
|From:||Kerrysdale, Gairloch (NG820729)|
|To:||Gruinard Bay (NG961911)|
|Distance:||23 miles (37 km)|
|Meets:||B8056, B8021, B8057|
|Route outline (key)|
Just a few yards before the junction at Kerrysdale, the A832 becomes S2 again, indeed the road is now S2 all the way to Braemore Junction, but this is an older improvement, so not of the same quality found further east. It follows the River westwards, before cutting through a natural depression just behind the shore, but the sea views are hidden by trees and a low ridge of rocky land. However, just over a mile from the junction, the sea bursts into view with the little bay at Charlestown. This is the start of the scattered settlement of Gairloch, one of the largest on the Wester Ross coast.
The road quickly crosses the back of the bay, and briefly darts behind another low hill before emerging next to the golf course. Trees line the road, hiding the view, but as the road climbs a little, the full spectacular sweep of Loch Gairloch, it's beaches, and the village ahead appear, with a helpful car park and viewpoint to take it all in. Dropping down again, into Gairloch proper, there are hotels and services along the roadside, and also the unexpected sight of a double yellow line just by the junction for the B8021 Melvaig road! Just down that road lies the old village centre, with the Gairloch Heritage Museum, which covers many aspects of the history of the area, including archaeological finds, a croft house room, schoolroom, shop, and the interior of the local lighthouse, as well as an archive and library.
Whilst Gairloch is a fabulous place to while away a lazy afternoon, soaking in the sea and sand, and enjoying the views, unfortunately a time to leave must come. Leaving Gairloch, and now heading northeast, the A832 climbs out gently through a rocky landscape, with another parking area and view point to stop and enjoy one last view of the place. After a couple of miles, the road has climbed out of the shallow valley and emerges onto the moorland. It is now heading towards Loch Tollaidh, a small loch with a magnificent backdrop of distant hills. On a clear day, it is worth stopping to take in the views; to the west, there are also fine views across the Inner Sound towards the Trotternish Range in northern Skye, and one can see the hills and mountains in every other direction. After running along the edge of Loch Tollaidh, there are some more small wooded portions of the road, as well as moorland. As the road drops quite steeply down to Poolewe, it runs alongside the River Ewe for the last mile before the village.
Poolewe, standing at the head of the Loch Ewe, is famous for its salmon, but more especially for Inverewe Gardens, a mile to the north. These gardens are truly remarkable. The sheer audacity of Osgood Mackenzie's vision in creating this outstanding 50-acre garden, impressively set on a peninsula on the shore of Loch Ewe, is still astonishing today. Plants from the Himalayas, New Zealand, Chile, Australia and South Africa flourish on a latitude more northerly than Moscow's. Combining to give a colourful display throughout the year, this mix of woodland gardens and semi-tropical plants are a testament to the soothing effects of the warm Gulf Stream, as well as to the brilliance of Mackenzie's original concept. The garden, created by Mackenzie, was started in the 1860s and his work was carried on by his daughter. She gave the entire 2,000-acre Inverewe estate to the NTS in 1953.
Returning, for a moment, to Poolewe, this small but pretty village has an interesting history. Set around the head of Loch Ewe, for centuries, it was an important port for the Western Isles, and served as the northernmost mainland port of departure up until Ullapool took over with the advent of roll-on roll-off ferries. There is no man-made harbour, no steamer pier or jetty, but the natural shelter offered by Loch Ewe has made it an important safe haven for ships for many years, with small boats taking people and goods from the shore to the ship. It's importance can be ascertained from the frequent discourses surrounding the quality of the road to Poolewe throughout history. In the 1750s and 1760s, Major Caulfeild started a Military Road to Poolewe, and whilst it was never finished, repairs and improvements to the road that did exist are frequently mentioned in old records.
In the middle of Poolewe, and just before crossing the bridge over the River Ewe, the outflow from Loch Maree, the B8057 turns left, winding out along the coast to Inverasdale and Cove. Still heading north, the A832 meanwhile, climbs and falls to reach Loch Thurnaig and Tournaig. The road then heads uphill high onto a hillside with some lovely views over Loch Ewe. There is a particularly lovely view from a car park, about a mile to the north of Tournaig village. The road then meanders for about two miles in an attempt to stay reasonably level. Just before Drumchork, there is a short descent through a hairpin bend. After passing Drumchork, it's about half a mile until the outskirts of Aultbea are reached.
Loch Ewe and its villages were of great strategic importance in both world wars, but more specifically in World War II. Partly because it is north-facing entrance (and therefore protected from the prevailing westerly winds), the loch was less exposed to air attack than the base at Scapa Flow in Orkney. It was utilised as a gathering place for convoys heading to Russia and across the Atlantic. As well as anti-submarine boom nets, anti-submarine guard loops and mines were used across the mouth of the loch, while anti-aircraft guns and a coastal defence artillery site also defended the area.
From Tournaig the road winds across the hills to Aultbea, with the wide vista of Loch Ewe rarely out of sight. At Aultbea, an unclassified road (but of no lesser quality or usefulness than the B roads further south) winds out to Mellon Charles. Beyond Aultbea, the A832 runs along the path of one of the 'Destitution Roads', built during the famines of the late 1840s. This one, from Aultbea to Dingwall, was completed in 1851. As a consequence, there are still some very steep hills and sharp bends on the last thirty miles towards Braemore, despite the road having been improved in the 1970s and 1980s.
For the next three or four miles, the road drifts across moorland as it crosses the neck of the Rubha Mor headland, but as it approaches Laide, there are some fine views of Gruinard Bay ahead, and on a fine day, one can see the hills of Coigach too. Skirting the southern side of Laide, the road hardly reaches the shore before it is climbing again, up through the strangely named settlements of First Coast and Second Coast. Twisting along high above the edge of the bay, the road then descends steeply to Little Gruinard, before crossing the Little Gruinard and Inverianvie Rivers. The road passes through more scrubland as it crosses another hill, before dropping to and crossing the Gruinard River. The road then turns to follow the river through a small patch of woodland to the shore.
As mentioned in the previous section, there are lots of old documents detailing discussions surrounding the construction of a road westwards from Dingwall to Poolewe, however, despite this being considered as a suitable route for a military road in the 1740s, it was not until the 1820s or 30s that a road was finally started, and perhaps 1849 before it weas complete. Prior to that, the trail used to reach this important west coast harbour ran along the north shore of Loch Maree, and then crossed through the pass from Letterewe to the Fionn Loch, so approaching Poolewe from Kernsary in the east, rather than the later road which approaches from the south. There is a well known tale, oft repeated about the postmen who used to run the route between Poolewe and Dingwall each week, to get the mails to Stornoway. They ran because there was no road suitable for horses.
As for the A832, it originally ended in Poolewe in 1922, but it was quickly realised that this was not the most sensible decision made. As a result, the A832 was hastily extended over the B859 to meet the A835 once more at Braemore Junction. Unlike the sections to the east, there has been little realignment to the road since. Bridges at Charlestown, in Gairloch and at Poolewe were rebuilt in the later 1930s, as were a few others, but most of the road appears to have been upgraded on line.
Whilst a few bends have been realigned, occasionally leaving laybys, it is not until we are past Loch Tollie that the first substantial deviation appears, with a series of wiggles ironed out by a new road a little to the south, and with a new bridge over the Allt a Fhuarain Ruaidh. The descent to the River Ewe has also been realigned, and again the old road can be traced to the left of the new. As the road and river reach their closest proximity, there is the remains of an old loop up the hill a little way, but being lost under development.
Beyond Poolewe, the road used to pass Inverewe House, but this has now been bypassed, with the car park in between old and new roads, but this is almost the last major realignment in this section. Many kinks and bends have been improved, leaving the odd layby here and there, but it is not until Second Coast where the road has again been substantially changed, with the bends between Second Coast and Little Gruinard improved, and the old road line visible looping deeper in land in a couple of places. As the road loops around the head of Gruinard Bay, however, it is back to series of minor changes and a couple of new bridges.
|A832/Gairloch - Gruinard|