|Location Map ( geo)|
|Distance:||44.9 miles (72.3 km)|
|Meets:||A836, A839, A835, A894, Pier|
|Route outline (key)|
The A837 is a varied road ranging from narrow single-track as it climbs though Strath Oykel to a wide, flowing single carriageway around Loch Assynt and in to Lochinver. This change in character is mainly because of a concerted effort to improve the main coast roads, and funnel west coast traffic onto the A835 through Ullapool, rather than upgrading all of the individual routes in the far north. Much of the road was built in 1823-27 by the county of Sutherland under the direction of Joseph Mitchell, who succeeded Thomas Telford as being responsible for the Parliamentary Roads built under the commission for Highland Roads and Bridges. However, the commission had ceased construction in 1822, so the road was built directly by the county.
Invershin - Ledmore
The road leaves the A836 at Invershin, just north of the spectacular Invershin viaduct. The junction is a very sharp fork, slightly reprofiled to bring the A837 up to the A836 at a right angle, although there is unlikely to be much turning traffic. The A837 is more-or-less S2 for the first half-mile north to the Shin Bridge, just beyond which the B864 joins on the right after running down the western side of the River Shin. The A837 immediately becomes a reasonably wide single-track, as it now heads west along the banks of the Kyle of Sutherland. Although wide and straight enough for traffic to make steady progress, passing places still have to be used to pass oncoming traffic. A patchwork of fields lie between the road and the river, mostly used for grazing, while above the road the hill is a mixture of forestry plantations and small areas of woodland leading up to open hill.
The small settlements of Linsidemore and Altass both lie up the hill on loop roads, perhaps once the line of the main road, but it seems more likely that the A837 still follows the line laid out by Joseph Mitchell in the 1820s. At the far end of Altass, the road crosses the Allt Mor and soon gains width as it continues north west, climbing towards Rosehall. The junction with the A839 is a sharp west-facing fork, from which the road drops back down the hill and across the River Cassley at Cassley Bridge into Rosehall.
Now following the River Oykel, the road remains almost wide enough for two-way traffic as it runs through the trees. A left turn crosses the river on a Bailey bridge to access the scattered farms and crofts on the southern bank, but the A837 sticks to the north bank for now. At times the river is almost eating into the road, offering great views up and down Strathoykel, albeit with substantial forestry plantations often obscuring the hilltops above. The road finally stops pretending it's two-way and once more offers passing places, but the lack of traffic means they aren't used very often. After crossing the Tutim Burn, the road climbs round some twisty bends briefly losing sight of the river. Then, after a run along a slight ledge in what has become quite a steep side to the valley, the A837 climbs again over a low hill, before dropping down to Oykel Bridge, where it crosses the river and passes the Oykel Bridge Hotel. A minor road at the bridge winds southwards for a short way, beyond which estate roads lead deep into the hills, offering a selection of old hill passes to places such as Ullapool, Aultguish and Ardgay.
After the road crosses the Oykel Bridge it again briefly loses sight of the river, as it meanders westwards past more forestry to Lubcroy Bridge and farm. The bridge requires a sharp right turn, but the road to either side is almost two-way for a time. Turning north west, the road starts a long climb up away from the river, which turns further to the north heading deep into forestry, and so finally out of sight. The road too heads into forestry and passes Loch Craggie before reaching the summit at just over 170m, not high, but certainly remote. The summit offers the first view of the two stunning mountains of Suilven and Canisp on the horizon. The views of Suilven are particularly wonderful, looking at its narrowest side it looks near impossible to climb; it is in fact a ridge about a mile long.
The road drops gently down to the Allt Eileag, a tributary of the Oykel, before climbing slightly to cross the watershed. The magnificent twin peaks of Suilven draw tourists westwards, coming and going as they are wrapped in swirling mist and cloud, and frequently disappear as the road undulates across moorland and through forestry. Emerging from the forest, the road runs along the north shore of Loch Borralain, with a hotel looking out from the roadside, and then follows the River Ledmore another mile down the road to the A835 at Ledmore Junction.
Ledmore - Lochinver
Ledmore Junction is a simple T-junction, where the A835 ends after its long journey up from the east coast. From here the A837 forms the next part of the main west coast road, used by the lorries loaded with fish from the major fishing port of Lochinver and indeed Kinlochbervie even further north. As such it is now a full S2 road on a modern alignment for the rest of its journey, in stark contrast to the meandering single track of just a mile further east. Heading north now, Suilven disappears behind Canisp as the road crosses the low watershed beyond the Ledbeg River and starts the gentle descent alongside the River Loanan. The descent steepens as it approaches the hamlet of Inchnadamph at the head of Loch Assynt. This is probably the third largest settlement on the route, with a hotel, hostel, disused church and a smattering of houses.
Half a mile or so to the north, the ruins of Calda House stand prominently at the roadside, remnants of the folly of a clan who bankrupted themselves in its construction. Its predecessor, Ardvreck Castle, also stands ruinous on the loch shore a little further on, with a car park in between to cater for the tourists. After another half mile the road reaches Skiag Bridge. This is an insignificant little bridge, but it is where the A894 leaves to head north towards Kylesku, Scourie and Durness, so continuing the main coast road. However, the next stretch of the A837 along the shore of Loch Assynt is one the finest stretches of roads in Britain, up and down with fast corners and great views, very similar in some respects to the A817 from Loch Lomond to the Gareloch. There are a number of laybys from which the views can be enjoyed, some of which are clearly the old road alignment.
The road then turns southwest with the loch, past a car park offering access to the ruined townships of Assynt. The loch finally narrows to the River Inver, and the road climbs sharply over a low hill, dropping through a cutting and down a long embankment back to the riverbank. From here in to Lochinver, the old road often sticks closer to the river, with long stretches still open for walkers. A couple of long straights have been carved through this lumpy bumpy landscape, with shallow cuttings and embankments helping to ease its way, and offer some sightlines for overtaking. The second long straight leads into forestry above the river where it meets the B869 opposite the fire station.
With just over a mile left, the road winds down the hill into the village, crossing the River Inver on Lochinver Bridge on the edge of town. Lochinver is a pretty little port, somewhat spoiled by the large fish processing plant on the harbour, where the A837 ends. Boats from all over Europe are commonplace here. From Lochinver you can head south along the narrow road towards the A835 and Ullapool, or head back north on the B869 around the coast to Kylesku.
As explained at the top, much of the route of the A837 was built under the direction of Joseph Mitchell in 1823-27 by the County of Sutherland to provide a road across the county, so connecting the district of Assynt with the county town of Dornoch. The A838 further north was built at a similar time. As a former pupil of Thomas Telford, Mitchell followed many of the great engineers principles in road design, and so there are many aspects of the route which are similar to those designed by Telford himself, including some bridge designs and the manner of cutting a road into a slope with a short stone retaining wall on the uphill side. From the Shin Bridge to Ledmore Junction there seem to be few changes to the line of the road in nearly 2 centuries, a handful of replacement bridges being the most obvious.
Heading north from Ledmore, the road has obviously been widened online. Bends have been ironed out, some leaving laybys and bridges replaced, but there are no obvious signs of any major realignment before Inchnadamph. As the road runs along the shore of Loch Assynt before Ardvreck, however, there is a short section below a significant cliff face which is clearly a modern cutting. The old road did run here, but it is likely that it was narrower, and quite possibly at a higher altitude than the current road.
Immediately beyond Skiag Bridge, there is some evidence from old mapping, and also on the ground, that the current set of fast sweeping bends have replaced short straights connected by tighter corners, albeit on almost the same line. As the road continues westwards, a series of laybys and shallow cuttings show where the curvature of the old road has been eased at almost every bend. It is only when the foot of the loch is reached, however, that the new alignment differs substantially from the original line, showing just how well Mitchell, and Telford before him, could lay a road out in the landscape.
Just beyond Little Assynt, the old road sticks close to the riverbank, curving around the hill as a narrow muddy track while the new road takes a straighter line. Indeed, as the new road rejoins the river, the old road stays alongside, albeit closer to the river, curving with the meandering river rather than climbing over the moorland as the new road does. A no-through road signed to the left is again the old road through Brackloch, while the new road takes a much faster route through a low pass a little to the north. Then, at the B869 junction, the fire station and industrial estate seem to be on the old road alignment, and obviously the old Lochinver Bridge is the old road.
In 1922 when the roads were first classified, the A837 appears to have stopped at a random point outside, or at least close to, the Church of Scotland on the shore side of the main street. It was subsequently extended right round to the end of the road at the harbour, before being cut back to the Culag Hotel at the entrance to the port area.
|1976||Loch Assynt Lodge - Lochinver||The 9.9 mile scheme with diversions was work in progress in 1976 per the 1975 and 1976 Scottish Development Department Report, but was not on the 1977 report indicating completion in 1976.|