|Location Map ( geo)|
|From:||John o' Groats (ND380727)|
|To:||Tarlogie (Dornoch Firth Bridge) (NH750843)|
|Distance:||122 miles (196.3 km)|
|Meets:||A99, B855, B876, A9, A897, B871, A838, B873, A839, A837, A949, B9176|
|Former Number(s):||B876, A882, B870, A9, A88, B864|
|Old route now:||B9176|
|Route outline (key)|
The origins of the route of the A836 lie with Thomas Telford and his commission on Highland Roads and Bridges. He identified two routes north to the far north of Scotland, the first is more or less the route taken by the A9, albeit round the Firths rather than across them. The second branched off at Bonar Bridge and ran north to Tongue. These routes would undoubtedly have followed traditional droving routes to a significant extent, but they were the first formal roads to be built in either Sutherland or Caithness. Most of the older bridges north of Lairg date from between 1810 and 1820, and were built to Telfords designs, and as he was also responsible for the section along the south shore of the Dornoch Firth, and indeed the Struie Road (B9176) from Alness to Fearn, all of the routes followed by the A836 since 1922 as far north as Tongue owe their origins to Telford.
The commissioners ceased construction work in 1821, and it was then left up to the counties to continue expanding the road network. As the major landowner, the Duke of Sutherland worked with the county and their county surveyor, Telfords former apprentice, Joseph Mitchell to construct most of the counties main road network during the 1820s, and Caithness also employed Mitchell to create a road network across the county, so the section of the A836 from Tongue east to John o Groats is largely the work of Mitchell. He continued to use Telfords bridge designs for much of his work across the north of Scotland, meaning that until replacement work started in the 1930s almost every bridge along the A836 route was a Telford Design.
In the 1922 Road Lists the A836 "only" ran the 50 or so miles from the then - A88 at Bonar Bridge north to Tongue, where it ended on the B870. It was extended both ways in the late 1920s. To the south, it was given a multiplex of about five miles along the A88 to Easter Fearn and then took over the B864, to join up with the A88 again at Skiach near Alness. To the north, it was extended east from Tongue along the B870 as far as the A88 in Thurso. The A836 thus met the A88 four times but never crossed it. With the general renumbering in 1935, the A88 was mostly renumbered as the A9 and the A836 was extended east of Thurso to meet the newly extended A9 at John o' Groats. This section of road was originally B876 but at the time of renumbering was the A882 (which was rerouted).
This setup continued until the major refurbishment of the A9 north of Inverness. In 1991, the Dornoch Firth Bridge allowed A9 traffic to avoid the major detour via Bonar Bridge and so the A836 was diverted east of Easter Fearn, taking over the route of the old A9 along the southern side of the Dornoch Firth. The old road from Easter Fearn to Skiach became the out-of-zone B9176.
John o'Groats - Tongue
At first glance, the route from John o Groats to Thurso seems to have changed little since it was built nearly 200 years ago. However, when built, the road had many sharp corners as it worked its way between square fields, and most of these have been eased to some extent since cars and lorries started to use the roads. The first realignment comes just after the bridge over the Burn of Duncansby, where a track continues ahead to meet a side road at a T junction, forming a double bend. The next three bends through Huna have also all had their curvatures improved. An old bridge over a dried up stream has been bypassed at Kirkstyle, by Canisbay Church, and two bends have been eased overlooking Gills Bay, the second now a layby. A couple of embanked culverts, and some shallow cuttings then ease the new road past the turning to Gills Bay, the old road still traceable to the north around a series of much sharper corners.
As the road continues west, almost every bend has been reprofiled. Some very subtly, others more noticeably, with hedgerows stepping back to meet at an angle rather than curving with the road. Beyond Mey, a tiny loop to the south survives at Whitebridge where the bridge has been replaced, but the wide verges at the crossroads for Dunnet seem to be visibility improvements rather than realignment. The next obvious realignment is as the road comes in to Thurso, where a former right angle bend at the junction for Thurso Mains has been replaced with a wide curve, the old line retained as part of the junction.
Beyond Thurso, the route remains largely an online improvement. A small loop survives just after leaving the town, curving between stone walls to the south and past a small quarry. There are then numerous slight improvements as the road continues west, but none of any real note until after Reay, where a grassy loop can be traced as the road climbs up on to the moors. Another loop, still in use, survives at the Bighouse Junction as the A836 drops back down to Halladale Bridge, where a much longer realignment includes a new bridge; the old road taking a straight line across the river to the south. A layby at the entrance to Melvich is the old road line, but the road through the village is little changed.
After the Portskerra junction, the old road can be seen looping off to the north, past some houses. This stretch of tarmac only goes so far, before being overgrown with boggy grass, as the road cuts back across the new line to cross an old bridge to the south. A series of wiggles to the south are then followed by a loop around the back of the viewpoint car park, after which the old road remains to the north of the new one most of the way to Strathy Church, the last hundred metres or so being more or less online. The side road to the church is the old road, which then turned in front of it, and is cut by the new line below. The other subtle improvements through the village are almost all invisible on the ground, however.
A couple of small loops exist at the junction to Brawl, leading to some much longer realignments, the first leading away from a layby past Loch Gainmhich, the second partly still in use as the road to Aultiphuirst. A long loop then survives to the south on the descent to Armadale. The road up and over to Bettyhill is substantially online, the two noticeable realignments are the loop past lonely Druimbasbie cottage, and below the viewpoint as the road starts to descend. Again, a couple of laybys and some small cuttings and earthworks suggest minor improvements. Invernaver Bridge has been replaced, and a bend removed on the western bank, but this is the last substantial realignment before Tongue of which any real evidence survives on the ground, except the replacement Borgie Bridge.
Tongue - Tain
As the road comes in to Tongue, there are a couple of small improvements, but the loop past the old school is old. The junction with the A838 has been changed, with the A836 formerly passing behind the war memorial, but as the road heads south it is almost unchanged since Thomas Telford built it 200 years ago until it reaches the A838 again near Lairg. There are a couple of new bridges, a modern road surface and a rather inexplicable realignment of a bend to the south of the Feith Osdail Bridge, but othwerwise this is a stretch of road which provides a lot of clues as to how Telford routed his roads through the vast empty landscapes of the Scottish Highlands.
The road into Lairg has been lifted up the hill to allow for the construction of the Shin Dam, part of the old road still accessible as the road to the dam. South of the village, however, the road has been thoroughly re-engineered, with a mixture of on and off line sections. The layby past the Auction Mart is on the old line, and then a series of tarred dead ends lie to the west of the road, the third of which gives access to a long parallel section of old road, running for almost a mile before crossing over and climbing up a little to the east. Much of this is still tarred and accessible to walkers. A further section to the west is only really accessible from a link in the middle, being cut at the ends by the new road. the corner just north of Achinduich has been reprofiled, with the old road now used by the farmer for storage.
The next obvious improvement is the railway bridge, where the old road used to kink to the east before diving down under the railway to meet the A837. Some of this road is still open to access properties, but the middle bit beyond the bridge has become overgrown. The A837 quickly rejoins the A836, with a layby showing the old road just south of the junction. The road through Invershin has been straightened, with a number of driveways showing minor realignments, including the parking area in front of the Invershin Hotel. There are then just a couple of laybys and the Bonar Bridge Recycling Centre showing any deviations in the long straights down to Bonar Bridge.
The Bridge at Bonar Bridge has clearly been replaced (twice), but otherwise the road through the village, Ardgay and on to Kincardine has been widened online with very little evidence of the original road having been anywhere else. Indeed, as this section of the road was rebuilt in 1932, it is almost entirely an online improvement, with numerous new bridges, all the way to the end at the Meikle Ferry Roundabout. The bridge over the Dridaig Burn at Evanton has been replaced by a skew bridge, removing a double bend, and the final approach to the roundabout has been swept a little to the south to improve the geometry, but otherwise there is little to discover.