The A839 is one of the shorter A83x roads, running for less than 25 miles through south Sutherland. It is not a route that many people will drive from end to end in one go, indeed it seems unlikely that many people even complete the eastern section from The Mound to Lairg in one go, but it is nevertheless an important connection for the communities that live along it, and also a dramatic route for tourists to explore.
The A839 through Pittentrail
The route begins just north of The Mound across Loch Fleet, at a T-junction with the A9. The A9 is climbing up the hill in a shallow cutting, meaning that the start of the A839 is also in a slight cutting, although disguised by dense banks of trees on either side of the road. It heads north west, dropping down to find the railway line which runs along the hill foot at the north edge of Strath Fleet. Before the Mound was built, Strath Fleet was a vast intertidal salt marsh, but it has now been reclaimed as valuable farmland. The first few miles are relatively level and lined by birch, alder and ash trees before it reaches open land near Morvich – arable on the valley floor but with steep slopes and crags above. While the road hugs the contours at the foot of the hill, the railway winds off across the fields on the valley floor, to find a slightly shorter line.
The village of Rogart is more a collection of villages scattered along the roadside and sitting high up in the hills to the north. The main centre is Pittentrail, where Rogart Post Office and Station lie. Beyond Pittentrail, the scattered settlement of Rogart continues to be dotted along the roadside, while the scenery becomes more varied; still arable land on the narrowing valley floor but elsewhere there are boulder-strewn and bracken-covered hillsides and patches of trees to be seen. The Strath continues to narrow, with a series of pinch points where there is almost no level land, but it soon opens out again a little. Side roads turn off to climb the hills on either side of the Strath, but the A839 continues to snake north west along the floor of the valley which, incredibly is still only around 20m above sea level as the road passes Pitfure Church, dramatically sited above the road.
A couple of bends after Pitfure, the tree-lined road starts to climb, almost imperceptibly gaining height as it now snakes westwards above the river. After crossing the Lettie River at Blarich Bridge, the gradient increases, and the trees thin out with the gain in altitude. There are now good sight lines ahead as the road snakes westwards, its exit ahead still unsighted. Beyond the turning for Acheilidh the farmland finally disappears and the last houses are soon left behind. The road is now following the 100m contour, the valley a lot narrower and the hills appearing lower with the gain in height. Still the exit from the Strath is unknown, until suddenly around a bend the road ahead opens out and climbs to a shallow pass at about 150m above sea level.
As soon as the summit is crossed, the road dips downhill. Upper Strath Fleet was a stunningly empty landscape, but here, just over the watershed, there are trees, fields and farmhouses again, and after a mile the road skirts around the edge of a conifer plantation before entering Lairg, the main village of central Sutherland, and a hub of the road network in the far north. The A839 forms the village's Main Street and runs past shops and a hotel to a T-junction with the A836 on the lochside. The loch here is a stretch of the River Shin which has been dammed for hydro-electricity, and makes for a pleasant scene on a sunny day.
The A839 and A836 multiplex south along the loch shore for about 0.3 miles; before the A839 turns right at another T-junction and immediately crosses the loch – which by now is almost down to river width – on Black Bridge. On the opposite side, it turns left in front of a petrol station and some houses to leave the village. Just above the dam, the B864 continues ahead, while the A839 turns away from the Shin to climb once again. At this point it becomes single track with passing places, having been double track all the way from The Mound. The road now passes through rough pasture, with a fine view of Ben Klibreck if you look north, and then more forestry plantations as it slowly gains height. There are occasional glimpses of the mountains of Assynt ahead in the distance. The summit of the road, at 186 m is in amongst the trees, and while the climb has been rather up and down, around bends, the descent is straighter at first and steadier. Sections of the forest have been clear felled for replanting, meaning that despite the bends there are often good sightlines, and some of the worst bits have been widened. A left turn drops down through the forest to the village of Altass, after which the A839 steepens its descent to meet the A837 at a sharp west facing fork just before Rosehall.
Originally, the A839 ran westward from The Mound only as far as Lairg; the road beyond there to Rosehall was the B869. However, this situation did not last long and the A839 was extended west in the late 1920s. The origins of this route undoubtedly lie in a drove road through the hills, but it is unclear when it was formalised into a defined road. The Duke and County of Sutherland were between them responsible for the construction of many roads across the county in the 1820s and 1830s, but as yet it cannot be confirmed that the A839 was amongst them, and unfortunately none of the old bridges survive to help with the dating.
While the western section is largely still single track and following the original alignment, the eastern section has been fully upgraded as a modern S2 road. Even the start on the A9 is new, the old junction lying at the bottom of the hill alongside the old railway bridge - the A9 previously took a much more sinuous route to climb the hill. Heading west, a new bridge over the Morvich Burn removes a sharp corner, and the farm of West Kinnauld has been bypassed, but otherwise the road appears to be an online improvement. Blarich Bridge has been replaced, with a new straighter alignment a little way upstream, but other than the easing of bends and widening, there are few other changes in Strath Fleet.
Across the watershed, an old S bend survives as farm access, but otherwise the descent into Lairg also seems to be largely a case of online widening. As it leaves Lairg, the A839 has been moved westwards to allow for the construction of the dam and raising of the water level in Little Loch Shin, but beyond that there seem to be very few changes to the western section of the road.
Improvement Opening Dates
|Muie - Rogart
|The 4 mile mostly online reconstruction was completed in 1967 per the 1967 Scottish Development Department Report.