|From:||Cromarty, Black Isle (NH785676)|
|To:||Braemore Junction, Wester Ross (NH208776)|
|Distance:||125 miles (201.2 km)|
|Meets:||Pier, A9, A835, A862, A835, A890, A896, A835|
|Former Number(s):||A833, B859|
|Old route now:||A835|
|Route outline (key)|
The A832 is, without a doubt, one of Britain's finest roads. What it may lack in quality of engineering, it more than makes up with some of the best mountain, moorland and ocean views that Britain has to offer. It is also one of Britain's few true coast-to-coast roads. As far as I know, it is the longest road in Britain that remains in a single county (Ross and Cromarty) for its entire length of 125 miles. Those 125 miles also make it the longest 3-digit A road in Scotland and the fifth longest in Britain. Unlike the four roads longer than it (the A361, A470, A483 and A487), it is almost entirely non primary; the only green signs one sees on its route are on the 9 miles where it multiplexes with the A835 near Garve.
Section 1: Cromarty - Kinlochewe
Cromarty is situated on the tip of the Black Isle, at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth. It is possibly one of the Highlands' best preserved historic towns. It has managed to keep its character without giving in completely to the tourist trappings which are so prevalent in other towns of this type. The A832 begins its journey at the harbour, and heads west, running briefly down Bank Street and the High Street, before heading out of town along Denny Road. Initially, it crosses flat, fertile land but after about four miles, it starts to climb gently towards Janefield. Turning south, it runs through the 'Fairy Glen' into the small village of Rosemarkie. From here, one can also see the historic Fort George across on the other side of the Moray Firth.
Fortrose is a mile further on, and the road goes straight past the partially ruined Fortrose Cathedral. The next section runs alongside the Moray Firth and, if you're lucky, it's possible to see dolphins swimming in the water. After passing through Avoch, the road runs inland again, and the roundabout with the A9 and the A835, at Tore, is reached shortly thereafter. This won't be the last time we meet the A835 which is, in fact, the direct route from here to the far end of the A832.
After taking the second exit off the roundabout, the A832 drifts westwards. Mostly running inland, we catch a brief glance of the Beauly Firth, just west of Milton. Passing through Muir of Ord, there is a brief multiplex, near the station, with the A862 (the old A9) as the road passes over the Inverness to Wick railway line. Heading west out of Muir of Ord, we are leaving the Black Isle behind us as the road heads back out into the countryside. On a clear day, one can see the hills of Glen Orrin and Strathconon in the distance from here. After passing through Urray there is a sharp right-hand turn in what passes for the middle of Marybank. A mile further on, the narrow Moy bridge carries the road over the River Conon. At the T-junction with the A835, the A832 multiplexes westwards for about nine miles past Contin, the Rogie Falls and Garve, before the junction at Gorstan, where the roads diverge. While only 19 miles to Braemore Junction along the A835, it's 88 via the A832!
After regaining its number, the A832 now runs through Strath Bran, following the path of the Inverness to Kyle railway line, and into Wester Ross. The first section, to Lochluichart, is mostly through light woodland. After passing the turn for the small road up to Loch Fannich, the scenery begins to open up a bit, but it is not until the road passes Achanalt that one gets the wide, open views associated with this area. The road itself is of pretty good quality on the stretch between Gorstan and Achnasheen. It is now S2, has decent sightlines, is fairly straight and it is therefore possible to drive along it at 60mph. Nevertheless, as one approaches Achnasheen, it is still a surprise to see streetlights in the village.
Section 2: Achnasheen - Gairloch
Just after Achnasheen station, the A832 heads straight across the roundabout, with the A890 continuing to follow the railway towards Kyle of Lochalsh. Leaving the railway and the village behind, the road climbs gently away from the roundabout. After a short run through a 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 now a fast S2, surrounded by magnificent scenery. Leaving the loch behind, the road begins to climb up to the 'pass' of 815 feet. Hemmed in by steep hills on both sides, the road winds gently uphill. The summit is also the watershed and, on a clear day, there are tremendous views of Beinn Eighe, Slioch and Loch Maree. As we descend through Glen Docharty, the picturesque village of Kinlochewe comes into view ahead. The junction with the A896 Torridon Road (formerly the B858) is in the middle of the village, but the A832 continues straight on towards Loch Maree and Gairloch.
Carrying on as S2, the road is relatively straight and flat. The Beinn Eighe (The Peak) Visitor Centre is about three miles northwest of Kinlochewe. This loch 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. Running north along the shore, the road is enclosed by trees on both sides, with occasional glimpses of the loch. Another five miles or so brings us past the Loch Maree Hotel, 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 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. Now S2 again, the road is nevertheless of very poor quality into Gairloch, and there is no scenery on this bit to compensate for it. While there may be no spectacular views to be had, there is a very pretty golf course that looks out on to the loch, just after passing Charlestown. Once in Gairloch, there is the unexpected sight of a very unnecessary double yellow line just by the junction for the Melvaig road! Just down that road lies 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.
Section 3: Gairloch - Gruinard Bay
Leaving Gairloch, and now heading northeast, the road climbs out gently through a rocky landscape. The road is now S2 all the way to Braemore Junction. After a couple of miles, and emerging back out on the moorland, the road heads towards Loch Tollie and Poolewe. On a clear day, it is worth stopping to take in the views. To the west, there are 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 Tollie, there are some more small wooded portions of the road, as well as moorland. As the road heads towards Poolewe, it runs alongside the River Ewe for the last mile before the village.
Poolewe, is a pretty little village standing at the head of Loch Ewe, and is famous for its salmon, but more especially for Inverewe Gardens, a mile to the north. Still heading north, the A832 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.
For the next three or four miles, the road drifts across moorland, but as it approaches Laide, there are some fine views of Gruinard Bay, and on a fine day, one can see the hills of Coigach too. Skirting the southern side of Laide, it climbs up through the strangely named settlements of First Coast and Second Coast. Twisting along the edge of the bay, the road descends steeply to Little Gruinard, before crossing the Inverianvie River. The road passes through more scrubland before crossing the Gruinard River, after which there is a small patch of woodland. Just after passing the jetty beside Gruinard House, there are glimpses over to Gruinard Island.
Section 4: Gruinard Bay - Braemore Junction
Leaving the coast for a while, the road deteriorates in quality and climbs up eastwards towards the woodland at the top of the 585-foot Druim nam Fuath. Following Allt Mhungasdail (the Mungasdale Brook), this is a gentle interlude before what may be some of the grandest scenery that Britain has to offer. There is a car park from where there are some truly superb views of Little Loch Broom and the mountains. The road then slowly descends through the small settlements of Badcaul and Badbea, where it joins the southern bank of Little Loch Broom. Again, there are some tremendous views on this stretch of road, with the old passing places now being used as lay-bys. The views of the loch, Sail Mhor and the peaks of An Teallach make this a road to savour. Running east along the loch, we pass the Ardessie Falls and Camusnagaul to reach the end of the loch at Dundonnell.
Just after the Dundonnell Hotel, there is a little car park. This is the the place to stop if you wish to walk up towards the hills of An Teallach. An Teallach is a strong contender for the title of Britain's best mountain. As with Liathach, the mountain is composed of sandstone, and different weathering rates produces a ridge of pinnacles that mountaineers love. An Teallach has two Munros, and is also situated near the coast which enhances the views on clear days. This, however, also means that the mountain takes the full force of Atlantic storms. Despite the coastal location, the mountain rises to nearly 3500ft and, this far north, snow can fall at any time of the year. It is worth stopping here just to see the tiny loch of 'Toll an Lochain', which is about 2000 feet above sea level and situated underneath the great cliffs of Sgurr Fiona. A word of warning though! The inexperienced should be careful though as there have been fatalities on the mountain, particularly in descents. Many climbers just visit Bidean a Ghlas Thuill (the summit) and Sgurr Fiona, and thus miss out the harder parts of the mountain.
The road now enters Strath Beag and follows the Dundonnell River inland. After passing Dundonnell House, the road starts to climb again. It first passes through a stretch of heavily wooded land, but after passing another waterfall, the road runs through the rocky Dundonnell Gorge. Still climbing, the scenery opens out on your left hand side, while remaining thickly wooded on your right. Passing waterfalls every mile or so, the road is of a surprisingly good quality on this section despite all the bends. As the road crosses the 1110-foot Fain Summit, there are more great views of the surrounding hills. Drifting downhill towards Braemore, the scenery is the usual mix of moorland and scrubby woods but there is one last surprise in store. The Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve fills the hollow between the A832 and the A835, just before Braemore Junction. Paths from the car park lead to the suspension bridge, a little way downstream from the falls and further downstream, a viewing platform provides an excellent viewpoint looking up towards the waterfall.
Just after the gorge, the A832 finally reaches its terminus of Braemore Junction. Overall, despite the sinuous nature of much of this road, it is, without a doubt, one of the finest in Britain. If you get the chance, it is well worth a trip, either driving or cycling.
Original Author(s): Graham Mackay