|To:||Kerrysdale, Gairloch (NG820729)|
|Distance:||26 miles (41.8 km)|
|Meets:||A890, A896, B8056|
|Route outline (key)|
From Achnasheen Roundabout, where the A890 turns southwards towards Loch Carron, the A832 continues to head west. The railway has turned to follow the A890 on its way to Kyle of Lochalsh, so the road is now a lonely sign of mankinds existence in this vast wilderness. Leaving the railway and the village behind, the road climbs gently away from the roundabout. After a short run through a lovely wooded glade, the road emerges on the banks of Loch a'Chroisg. Thanks to recent upgrade works, the quality of the road on this section is dramatically improved, and it is now a fast S2, surrounded by magnificent scenery.
Leaving the loch behind, the road begins to climb up to the 'pass' of 815 feet (270m). Hemmed in by steep hills on both sides, the road winds gently uphill, but is straighter and better aligned than it used to be. The summit is also the watershed and, on a clear day, there are tremendous views of Beinn Eighe, Slioch and Loch Maree. Just across the watershed, a car park and viewpoint make a great place to stop and soak in the scenery stretching out to the west. As the road then drops through Glen Docherty, the views disappear somewhat with the initial sharp descent, but the majesty of this steep narrow glen is still enthralling. From below, looking up, the road appears to switchback down the descent, but the reality is that the bends are much gentler and do not impede progress.
The whole of the road down the glen is surprisingly new, having been built throughout since 2000. The old road was single track with passing places, and wasn't as straight, but due to environmental concerns, there is little evidence surviving, as it was dug out and covered in topsoil to allow nature to reclaim it. Towards the bottom of the glen, as it opens out a little, a large forestry plantation sits on the south side of the road, and then as the roads sweeps round to cross the river - the old bridge and road survives to some extent in the trees to the right. Half a mile or so further through the trees, and the picturesque village of Kinlochewe comes into view ahead.
Kinlochewe is the junction with the A896 Torridon Road (formerly the B858). The junction sits in the middle of the village, but most people who stop here are heading out to climb the lone Munro of Slioch which dominates this tiny settlement, despite lying 4 or 5 miles off to the west. Once through the village, the road drops down through woodland to the head of Loch Maree, just a couple of miles away. Indeed the trees along the roadside obscure the view so much that it is not immediately apparent that the loch has started. The road ahead is relatively straight and flat, although a much older improvement than the other side of Kinlochewe. A mile further along the loch shore, the Beinn Eighe (The Peak) Visitor Centre is the first place where the loch shore is properly accessible, with shoreside parking. This area is home to many types of rare wildlife such as eagles, as well as many uncommon types of plants and vegetation. The ancient Caledonian pines seen from the road here provide an unbroken link dating back to the end of the last Ice Age 8,000 years ago.
Loch Maree is, without a doubt, one of the finest lochs in Scotland, and if not for some of the wonderful views further on, would undoubtedly be the highlight of this entire road. For many travellers, it is the highlight! It is a freshwater lake and reputed to be Queen Victoria's favourite. Its name, of which Maroy and Mourie are older variants, does not, as is often supposed, commemorate the Virgin Mary, but St Maelrubha, who was one of St. Columba's closest followers, and who founded a chapel (now in ruins) on Isle Maree.
Running in a south-easterly to northwesterly direction, the lake has a length of 13 miles from Kinlochewe to the short but impetuous river Ewe, by which it drains to the sea. It lies at a height of only 32 feet above sea-level with a greatest width of just over 2 miles at Talladale and greatest depth of 367 ft. A remarkable feature is the large number (more than 30) and considerable area of the islands. With the exception of Loch Crocach, a small lake near Lochinver in Sutherland, its insularity (i.e. the ratio of the total area of the islands to that of the water surface) is higher than that of any other lake in Great Britain, Loch Lomond coming next. Nearly all the islands lie north and east of Slattadale, the largest being Eilean Subhainn, or St Swithin's Isle, which contains a small lake 750 feet long, 300 feet wide and 64 feet deep. For two-thirds of its length the loch is flanked by magnificent mountains. On the north-east the principal heights are Ben Slioch (3217 ft), which dominates the landscape, Ben Lair (2817') and Ben Airidh-a-Char (2503'), and, on the south-west, the peaks of Beinn an Eoin, four of which exceed 3000 ft.
Running north along the shore, the road is enclosed by trees on both sides, with occasional glimpses of the loch. Laybys are few and far between, but there are sufficient to allow you to stop and enjoy the views. The fact that this is a new alignment is also frequently apparent, with the road cutting through a series of rocky cuttings, where the old road doubtless curved around the shore side or climbed over the low ridge. After passing Slioch on the far side of the loch, the road turns its back on both for a while, curving inland over a second Bridge of Grudie (the first being over a different river near Loch Luihcart).
The road then curves back towards the loch, but never gets as close as the first couple of miles, despite being on the shore side of the old, single track, line which sits higher up the hill. Another four miles or so of winding around the contours and over headlands brings us to the Loch Maree Hotel at Talladale, where Queen Victoria stayed in September 1877. The falls, a mile further up the road, were renamed in her honour at the same time, and a plaque to commemorate the visit is situated by the hotel. The road, which had returned to the loch shore between the hotel and falls now peels away from the loch and starts to climb again. It also narrows again to S1 with passing places, and remains like this to the junction at Kerrysdale, with the B8056 to Badachro and Redpoint, although the Highland Council are keen to widen this last section of S1.
From the car park at the falls, the road climbs steadily up through Slattadale forest, before emerging from the trees just before the shallow summit of the pass. It then drops a little, past Am Feur Loch and Loch Bad an Sgalaig to the north bank of the River Kerry. The road is a pleasant drive, despit ebeing single track, winding along with the river, sometimes through trees, sometimes across open moorland. There are cuttings too, with sharp rocky cliffs hollowed out to provide a small passing place, and barriers opposite to stop cars slipping off into the tumbling, cascading river below.
After so many miles of wide two-way road, this is almost a fitting welcome to the wilds of the Wester Ross coast, although those locals having to navigate it every day obviously won't agree! At length, the road reaches the junction with the B8056 turning off to the left, immediately crossing the river, before heading for the coast. The A832, takes a little longer to reach the shore, but both routes are worth exploring.
After leaving Telford's road behind at Achnasheen, the onward route is a little newer. Not that there wasn't a well-used route west from Achnasheen via Kinlochewe for centuries. However, that trail ran along the north shore of Loch Maree, on a more direct route to Poolewe, perhaps crossing from Letterewe to the Fionn Loch, before turning back to the coast. This route, however, wasn't so well suited to large volumes of traffic, with steep slopes through scree and woodland to navigate, and so the road was routed along the southern shore where the landscape was more forgiving.
The new road from Achnasheen west appears to be largely an online upgrade of the old route past Loch a'Chroisg, with the exception of a straightening where the old road looped around the shore over the old bridge over the Allt Duchainidh. As the road turns away from the loch, however, less and less of it is online as it heads ever westwards. Where the road enters the forestry, just past Lubmore, the old line can be seen weaving around at the top of the slop on the right, with a gated link connecting the two a little further on. The earthworks required to minimise the gradients on this stretch mean that the old road survives intermittently, but enough is there to show that it lay a little to the north of the current line all the way along.
The two lines rejoin as they turn into the narrow pass through to the headwaters of Loch Maree, but even here old maps suggest that a couple of wiggles have been ironed out, even if the evidence on the ground is largely destroyed. Once across the summit and past the viewpoint, the new road is so new that even Google Earth doesn't show it built (May 2016). This means it is fairly easy to see where the new deviates from the old, even if the old road has been pretty comprehensively removed from the landscape for the sake of the environment. The most noticeable feature of the old road is the long, shallow bank of consistent width that runs along loosely parallel to the new road. It is also of interest that at one point the new road has been built out over a former gravelly oxbow of the river below.
The line of the old road does survive, as property access, where the road has been realigned across the new bridge over the Glen Docherty Burn. However, this is the last deviation before Kinlochewe. Between Kinlochewe and Loch Maree, a couple of minor wiggles have been ironed out, but there is little evidence on the ground. Along the loch shore, however, the old road used to hug the shore line much closer. Some old loops can be found amongst the trees, a few are gated tracks to the beach, others no more than gravelled areas within the trees. One is the car park at the visitor centre. However, the general lack of laybys and dense undergrowth between road and shore make further investigation difficult.
The approach to the Grudie bridge has been realigned, to take a more sweeping bend and the old bridge can still be seen standing at right angles to its replacement. Beyond the bridge, the old road briefly loops to the right, but then climbs away up the hill and remains above the new road almost all the way to Talladale - about 3 miles away. In a couple of places the new road seems to be an online upgrade, but it may just be that the earthworks required have obliterated the evidence of the older line. There is also one further loop towards the loch to be found.
Beyond Talladale, the bends have been eased as the road again winds along the lochside. A couple of loops of the old road can be found amongst the trees, either as laybys or blocked off. The loop of old road at the Victoria Falls is also obvious, but the loop of old road a little further on is now lost in the forest. Beyond Slattadale the old road cut the corner more sharply, and is still in use as a forestry track, but only accessible from the newer forest road built in to reach it. A layby on the right of the modern A832 then shows where the old and new roads cross, before the A832 once more becomes an online upgrade.
From here to the junction at Kerrysdale, the road is mainly single track, and apart from a couple of loops of old tarmac in the trees, there is nothing to suggest that its line has been changed since it was built nearly 2 centuries ago.