|Location Map ( geo)
|46 miles (74 km)
|A848, A884, B8035
|Old route now:
|Route outline (key)
For most people, the A849 is Mull, as it is the road from the Craignure Ferry from Oban to Iona. However, there is more than meets the eye (when isn't there in the Highlands and Islands?)! It can be split into two parts, the shorter northern arm is a good wide modern road which sweeps along the coast to Salen, while the southern arm is a long tortuous drive through breathtaking scenery to reach Iona.
Salen – Craignure
The start point of the A849 hasn't made a lot of sense since Craignure was developed as Mull's main vehicle ferry terminal in the 1960s. Prior to that, Salen Pier was by far the busiest port for southern Mull, and so it is in Salen that both the A848 and A849 start. Today the junction between the two routes is a TOTSO, where the A848 from Tobermory runs straight into the A849, leaving a neglected spur of the former route to run down to Salen Pier. Heading east, the road is full S2, and before it has even left Salen it is on a new alignment, sweeping past a side road lined with houses. The 'dualled' section at Pennygown, marked by the OS, is simply where the two carriageways split over two different single-track bridges, but otherwise the road is a good fast modern alignment. The westbound carriageway crosses a butchered old arched bridge, while the eastbound side uses the new bridge. Curiously, at the west end of the split, there are two crossovers for access to field gates.
Immediately beyond the bridge, a long straight bypasses the old road closer to the shore. The A849 then finds the shore itself and enjoys a long level run along the ancient raised beach of the Sound of Mull. The old road lies away up the hill, while the new road hugs the coast with stunning views across to Morvern. Calmac ferries connecting the outer isles are a regular sight as they travel up and down this veritable motorway of the sea. During the summer months there are also a multitude of yachts tacking back and forth, providing a mobile slalom course for the ferries, not to mention fishing boats, timber boats and a little further to the east the Lochaline to Fishnish Ferry crossing back and forth.
After about five miles from Salen, the road sweeps around the back of Fishnish Bay and climbs slightly through forestry to bypass Fishnish Point. Near the summit it meets the southern end of the A884, which connects to Morvern and so the mainland via the Lochaline to Fishnish Ferry. This crossing is known as 'Mulls Back Door', as combined with the Corran Ferry it provides an alternative to the busier Craignure crossing. Dropping down out of the forest to the coast again, the road passes through a couple of small rock cuttings. Careful observation will let you spot the old road forking off in a couple of places to climb over the bumps that the road now cuts through. The mile or two around the coast of Scallastle Bay is particularly pretty, before crossing Scallastle Bridge and a short climb past Craignure Golf Course on the shoreside brings us into the village. Craignure may only be a line of houses and businesses facing out over the bay, but it is now the main ferry port for the Mull Ferries from Oban. It is also the end of the S2 road, meaning there is now 35 miles of single-track stretching out ahead to reach Fionnphort.
Craignure – Fionnphort
It may be almost all single track, but the road is neither dull nor tiresome, however, with a wide range of scenery and many pretty villages along the way. To start with, it climbs out of Craignure, heading south through trees with left turns to Torosay and Duart Castles. The road then drops back to the shore at Lochdon, which curiously has a single-track bypass, before passing through more low hills for a brief drive along the shore of Loch Spelve. At the end of the loch, a minor road crosses the Lussa River on its way to Lochbuie and Croggan, whilst the A849 climbs up Glen More (a name given to the glens on both sides of this pass) through forestry above the Lussa River. Breaks in the plantations and felling reveal the barren and desolate Glen More proper, where most of the few farms stand roofless and ruined. When out of the trees the sightlines are mainly good, while sheep and the relentless oncoming traffic are the only signs of life. They are certainly the most important thing for drivers to look out for, sharp bends and steep hills being slightly less frequent through the summer months.
The summit of Glen More lies at just over 200m, and is quickly followed by a long straight plunge down the hill. As the glen snakes round the steep hills, more forestry comes into view ahead, but eventually, the brilliant blue (or slate grey) waters of Loch Scridian appear ahead. At the last possible moment the B8035 (which was missed by yards in Salen) departs to the right to skirt the northern shore of this sea loch, while the A849 crosses Kinloch Bridge and cuts across the neck of the Aird of Kinloch to find the southern shore. For seven or eight miles the road hugs the rocky coast, passing the tiny but pretty village of Pennyghael, where a side turning crosses to Crosaig on the south coast. A scattering of farms and houses sit along the shore as the roads winds westwards, all with stunning views when the sun it out, but it must be pretty bleak on a stormy winters day.
The road is well supplied with passing places, and over the years many of the blind crests and trickier bends have been widened to minimise the risk of accidents, which helps the locals maintain a steady speed. Tourists, however, tend to be more cautious, and some seem to deliberately ignore the many signs requesting drivers to use passing places to allow overtaking. After the tiny settlement of Ormsaig, the road drifts away from the coast which has become more ragged. Side roads lead off to either side, serving a scattering of houses and farms as the landscape becomes more populated again. A longer section of S2 snakes through the picturesque village of Bunessan, curved around the head of a little bay at the head of Loch na Lathaich. The road hugs the coast round to the next bay, a wide strip of grass lying between the tarmac and sea wall just asking to be turned into a second carriageway! It then climbs inland once more, finding a shallow pass between two rocky knolls before meandering westwards through a patchwork of moorland fields.
And so, after thirty five miles and an hour, if you are lucky, from Craignure, the road reaches Fionnphort, just in time to see MV Loch Buie, the Iona Ferry, pulling away from the slip. Fortunately, it will be back within half an hour (in summer), and this little village has spent centuries catering for pilgrims on their way to Iona. The intervening time can be spent in the cafe or gift shop, or watching the sunshine sparkle on the calm waters between Mull and Scotland's most magical Isle (or just maybe sitting in the car listening to the rain drum on the roof, wishing you were back at home in the warm)!
When the number was originally allocated, the A849 took the current route of the B8035 around the west coast of Mull. The road round the east coast was unclassified but was given the number B8035 in the late 1920s. The two numbers were swapped in the 1960s, probably when the Oban-Craignure ferry service gained importance, and the route now followed by the A849 was heavily upgraded around the same time.
According to some maps which pre-date the mid 1930s, the route now taken by the A849 through Glen More was no more than a path in 1922 when road numbers were first issued. However, other maps show a track through the glen, and there is some ambiguity which makes the truth difficult to discover. What can be said with certainty is that the road now followed by the A849 is not the original road through the glen. That can be seen snaking across the landscape first to the south, then the north of the modern road, before swapping back and forth a few more times. A number of bridges survive on this old road, of varying ages, but several are clearly Victorian in date as the road drops out of the glen to the west. All this proves, however, is that there was a road up the glen from the west, the section across the summit and down towards Loch Spelve being less easy to date.
The current route of the A849 follows a road built in c1790 from Aros, to the north of Salen, along the east coast to Grass Point on Loch Don. This road would have been used by drovers who would then ferry their cattle across to Kerrera and so the mainland. The old Scallastle Bridge appears to date from the construction of this road, and doubtless many of the other small crossings which survive also date from this time.
Improvement Opening Dates
|Bunessan - Traigh nam Beach
|The 6.5 mile reconstruction with some diversions was completed in 1968 per the 1968 Scottish Development Department Report.
|Glenmore - Ishriff
|The 4 mile reconstruction with diversions was completed in 1970 per the 1970 Scottish Development Department Report.
|Ishriff - Ardura
|The 4.17 mile new road was in progress in 1970 per the 1970 Scottish Development Department Report but not shown in the 1972 report indicating a 1971 completion. It was shown on the January 1971 OS One inch map so part or all may have opened in 1970. A short section of the old road route at Torness was used.
|Salen - Corrie
|The 5 mile scheme with diversions was work in progress in 1977 per the 1977 Scottish Development Department Report, but was not on the 1978 report indicating completion in 1977. Corrie (Corrynachenchy) is beside Fishnish Bay.
|Corrie - Scallastle
|The 5 mile mostly offline scheme was work in progress in 1979 per the 1979 Scottish Development Department Report, but was not on the 1980 report indicating completion in 1979.