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Location Map ( geo)
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From:  Oban (NM858298)
To:  Dundee (NO403299)
Distance:  115 miles (185.1 km)
Meets:  A816, A828, A819, A82, A827, A84, A822, A9, A912, A989, A93, M90, A90, A991
Old route now:  A90
Primary Destinations
Dundee • Crianlarich • Oban • Perth
Highway Authorities

Dundee • Perth and Kinross • Transport Scotland

Traditional Counties

Angus • Argyll • Perthshire

Route outline (key)
A85 Oban - Tyndrum
(A82) Tyndrum - Crianlarich
A85 Crianlarich - Tulloch (Perth)
A85 Tulloch (Perth) - Perth city centre
(A989) Perth Inner Ring Road
A85 Perth city centre - Walnut Grove
(A90) Walnut Grove - Invergowrie
A85 Invergowrie - Dundee


The A85 provides a nearly continuous route linking the east and west coasts of Scotland, passing some of Scotland's highest mountains, and also used to bisect some of the flattest land in in the country - but lost almost 20 miles of dual carriageway through the Carse of Gowrie to the A90 in the early 1990s. Except for the urban sections in Perth and Dundee, it is a trunk road throughout.

Oban - Lochawe

Approaching Oban

The A85 starts at Argyll Square in the middle of the ferry port of Oban. On the other side of the square (actually a roundabout), the A816 continues along the coast to Lochgilphead, with neither road continuing beyond the junction. Surprisingly, perhaps, neither route actually reaches the ferry pier. After a one-way loop with outbound traffic along the seafront, the A85 heads northeastwards out of town. After 5 miles, the road reaches Connel where a RIGHT (i.e. south!) turn takes traffic across the Connel Bridge on the A828 heading north to Fort William. The A85 passes underneath the Bridge, and passes the Falls of Lora (a tidal waterfall where water descends from the sea into Loch Etive, a sea loch, at flood tide, and falls the other way at ebb tide - it's impressive at full flow and scary in a canoe!).

The road then heads east through Taynuilt where there is a multiplex with the B845, before crossing the River Awe at the Bridge of Awe. This marks a change in the landscape, from the coastal settlements of Loch Etive to the bare mountains of Loch Awe, as we enter the Pass of Brander, which isn't a real mountain pass, just a narrow gap between the steep slopes of the surrounding hills. As the road squeezes between the north shore of Loch Awe and Ben Cruachan - the 'Hollow Mountain' with a Hydro Electric Scheme deep inside - part of it is built on stilts over the water of Loch Awe. 10,000 years ago, as glacial debris blocked the valley at the south end of Loch Awe, the water found a route through this pass, forming the River Awe as it is now.

Lochawe - Tyndrum

The road continues east through the pretty village of Lochawe, before turning the corner at a junction with the B8077 and heading across Kilchurn Bridge. This crosses the River Orchy next to the ruinous Kilchurn Castle at the head of the loch. A little further on, the A819 turns off and heads south to Inveraray as an alternative, although slightly longer, route to Glasgow avoiding the worst bit of the A82.

We then enter the small village of Dalmally, although most of it is bypassed, and also meet the B8077 and B8074 here, the former being the old route of the A85 before the new bridge across the River Orchy was built in the 1930s. At this point the A85 begins to ascend to reach Scotland's east/west watershed, below the slopes of Ben Lui, before arriving at the tourist trap (coach parks, cafes, shops selling tartan rubbish... and two railway stations) of Tyndrum where the A85 joins the A82.

heading east through Glen Lochy on a beautiful summers evening

Maps tend to show the road from Dalmally to Tyndrum as a slightly wobbly road climbing steadily up Glen Lochy, through trees. That's one way of putting it. Another is that this is one of Scotland's best roads. On a late summer evening, with the sun behind you and an empty road in front, this is a road that just seems to get eaten up by the tyres. Mile after mile, each one passing by every minute (give or take), as you swoop and sweep round the elegant bends, the orange glow of the mountains ahead as the sun sinks in the rear view mirror. If you're unlucky, you might find another vehicle on the road ahead, but fear not as the sight lines are good round most of the bends. Suddenly, you see a sign saying 'Real Food Cafe One amazing Cafe One mile to go' and you know it's all over. The sense of disappointment as you take the last couple of bends and drop down to the A82 just outside Tyndrum is immense. There is something deep inside you wanting to turn around and do it all again. Indeed, the café could very well have a sign outside proclaiming 'One amazing road, one mile to go'.

Crianlarich - Perth

For five miles these roads are multiplexed, over one of the longest original 1922 multiplexes, as the A82 (A85) to just before Crianlarich where the A82 turns right at a roundabout on to the village bypass (opened 2014) and towards Glasgow. The A85 continues into the village on the original A82 route, taking a double bend under a railway bridge and reaching a T-junction where the pre-bypass A82 used to TOTSO. A fairly fast bit of the A85 continues east along Glen Dochart and past Ben More. However, don't get too excited by the wide open road, as every now and then it narrows to a twisty section that hasn't been improved. There are a number of Hotels and guest houses along this road, as well as the odd caravan site, but soon the A85 reaches the unusually named Lix Toll (allegedly named after the 59th (LIX) troop? of some Roman legion, although that may be a load of rubbish!). Here the A827 heads off to Killin, Loch Tay and Aberfeldy, and the A85 dives south, climbing to a pass into Glen Ogle and down to Lochearnhead.

{ Jacob Harris writes: "LIX = 59" is a delightful, not to say beguiling, theory, but it is completely wrong. It has the great benefit of being much simpler than the true explanation, which relies on an idiosyncrasy of the English language.

{ When we look to describe an extended area, even if quite small, without using a specific name for that area alone, we like to use a simple geographical descriptive term, and it is idiomatic to put that term into the plural. So we allow the children to play on the sands, which are protected from strong winds by the dunes; the birdwatcher hidden at the edge of the woods uses his binoculars (not sure about this one!) to scan the marshes for interesting specimens. The idiom is not confined to locally restricted areas: we speak of the Fens, the Marches, even the Midlands. The idiom is so strong that it can extend outward into areas not connected with naming at all: my sister fondly recalls a sometime boyfriend who, surprised in her bed by her mother, exclaimed: “It’s all right, Mrs Harris: we’re only making babies!” Notice that the idiom is usually accompanied, but not always, by the definite article.

{ Armed with this idiom, we must now look at what happened a few hundred years ago, when Gaelic was a language in retreat and English was seeking to become the local Scottish vernacular. Names were invented in a variety of ways, some of them by this treatment. The most well-known is Na Trosaichean, a Gaelic plural form for a group of hills near Callander, for which the incoming English first invented a singular form Trossach and then ran it through the idiomatic mill, to form the modern name The Trossachs. There are hundreds of places on the modern Scottish map that show this idiom: a common one is Letters, formed from the Gaelic leitir, a place on the sea-shore. To add to the fun, Gaelic is an inflected language, which means that nouns take different forms depending on the job they are doing in the sentence; there are differences between masculine and feminine nouns as well, and even dialectal differences between districts. Where one needs to imply “at” a place, Gaelic will put the place-name into the dative case (sometimes, for this reason, called the dative-locative), and this is what has happened at Lix Toll. Lix is the English pluralised form of lic, which is a dative form (used only in Central Perthshire) of the feminine noun leac, a flagstone; and of course the spelling Lix conceals the ending –s.

{ You got all that? Easier to stick to cannons and trumpets! }

At Lochearnhead the A84 continues south to Stirling, but to continue on the A85 turn left, eastwards along the shore of Loch Earn. This bit of the A85 to Perth attained trunk road status in 1996 (but was primary before that), but the first few miles along the loch are below the normal standard. At the Perth & Kinross / Stirling boundary the road suddenly improves again, until St Fillans. Continuing east the A85 passes through Comrie (Scotland's earthquake capital, lying on the Highland Boundary Fault), and out of the Highland scenery to more gentle country at Crieff.

The A85 passing through Crieff

In Crieff, the A85 turns left (A822 to Stirling to the right) and heads east to Perth along initially a twisty route to Gilmerton, where the A822 turns off to the north, and then a fairly fast and flat road. Crossing the Perth bypass (A9) at a flyover intersection, the A85 continues past McDiarmid Park (St Johnstone FC), to reach a roundabout on the old A9. This road is now A912 to the left and A85 to the right into the city centre. After multiplexing with the northern side of the A989 Perth ring road the A85 crosses the River Tay via the Perth Bridges. How it does this is confusing.

In 1922 the A94 crossed Perth Bridge and turned left whilst the A85 crossed the now-demolished Victoria Bridge and turned right. However, since the construction of Queen's Bridge on the site of the Victoria Bridge things have changed. The A85 now crosses Perth Bridge whilst Victoria Bridge is the A93 (which leads to the A94). Not only does this lead to a multiplex on the left bank of the Tay (on what used to be the A922 as part of neither through route), the traffic lights at the eastern end of Perth Bridge do not actually allow access to the continuing A85; the only possibilities are left onto the A93 or ahead into the suburbs, so through traffic on the A85 has to cross Queen's Bridge (making the renumbering nonsensical).

Leaving Perth behind, the A85 heads south then east to reach Barnhill Junction, where the M90 ends at J11 and becomes the A90. This is a strange junction, the design of which may partially have been responsible for recent crashes on the two roads caused by people driving on the wrong carriageway).


The M90 from J10 to 11 used to be known as the M85, one of the shortest motorways in the UK, as it met the A85 at Barnhill which then continued eastwards. However, now the Edinburgh - Fraserburgh route is the M90 and A90 all the way, so the A85 has lost about 20 miles of dual carriageway (a scary section through intensive farmland where tractors and buses turn off and on regularly - thankfully flyover intersections are being introduced).

Finally, at Invergowrie on the outskirts of Dundee, the A85 appears again, turning off the A90 (formerly A972) Dundee bypass. It heads east past the airport to the city centre. After going under the Tay Bridge (for trains) it runs along the river bank towards the A92 Tay Road Bridge, turning inland just before to end at traffic lights on the A991 ring road, just missing out on meeting the A92.

Original Author(s): A835(T)


Military Road

A85 historic route from 1922/3 numbering

For much of the A85's route, it follows the course of an old military road. This was later upgraded by Thomas Telford, before being improved once more in the 1930s as the age of motoring began!

The military road's western end appears to be Bonawe on the shores of Loch Etive. At the time, Oban was not the important centre that it would become, and Bonawe was the main ferry point across Loch Etive. Even the Bridge of Awe probably wasn't constructed until 1780, while the military road dates back to the early 1750s. The route roughly follows the unclassified road through Inverawe, albeit reaching the A85 somewhat east of the modern junction. As it enters the Pass of Brander, with so little available land, the A85 sticks very close to the 250-year-old alignment, along the shores of Loch Awe and also through the village of Lochawe.

At the eastern end of the village, the old military road continues north east, along what is now the B8077, since the A85 was diverted in the 1930s. After crossing Dalmally Bridge the A85 once more picks up the alignment of the old military road, although as it climbs through Glen Lochy, there are a couple of realignments, where the old route disappears in the forestry alongside the road. Between Tyndrum and Crianlarich, the story of the routes is told at A82 Strathfillan.

The Culvert near Loch Iubhair

Beyond Crianlarich, the A85 is pretty true to the military route, although there are a few minor realignments most are identified as laybys or house accesses these days. At the Loch Iubhair car park, a little exploration in the trees between the car park and the road will discover the embankment of the old route, complete with a culvert across the little stream. Oddly, this piece of road (according to the map) seems to dive into the loch. There is no evidence of the loch having been dammed to increase the water level, and equally a wander along the shore yielded no clues as to the location of the road here.

It would be easy in Glen Dochart to mistake the old railway line as the old road in places, but just before the next 'twisty' section of the A85 is reached, a 'farm track' crosses the railway track on the left, and actually proves to be the course of the old road. This drops down the hill, past a ruined cottage and vanishes at a modern wooden bridge across the stream. According to the map, the route is picked up a little further east, following the river, before rejoining the A85 where it used to cross the railway line itself.

The Suie Lodge Hotel seems to sit between the old and new roads, with another loop to the north just beyond Luib now a long layby. Then, at Ardchyle, the A85 starts to drop a little down to Lix Toll, while the old road climbs through the forest to pick up the West Lix access drive. As it climbs towards the lairig into Glen Ogle, the old road has been brought back to life for a while as the cycle track between Loch Tay and the south, NCN7. However, at the Glenogle picnic site, the old road disappears into the trees, its course only identified by a forest ride.

The A85 in Glenogle, can you see the old military road?

After leaving the forest, it crosses the modern A85, and starts the long descent of Glen Ogle a little downhill of the modern road. However, despite some intensive searching of the boggy field, no sign of an old road could be discovered. The two routes rejoin a little to the north of Lochearnhead, but then the old road continues south, followed by the A84.

Later renumberings and trunk status

The draft proposals for the 1935 renumberings suggested that the A85 be extended southwards along the entire length of the A816 to Lochgilphead. The suggestion was rejected with a curt 'No', but no further reasons. Presumably, however, it was seen as inappropriate for a major east-west trans-Scotland route to suddenly turn south for 30-odd miles to terminate on the A83 in a small town. Oban, at least, was and still is a major port for Island ferry traffic.

As stated above, the A85 originally had no gap between Perth to Dundee. However, the east coast trunk road was gradually upgraded to become a dual carriageway and in the early 1990s this through route was given a continuous number. As such the A90 took over the A85 between the outskirts of Perth and the outskirts of Dundee. It seems strange, therefore, that the A85 remained in existence for a few miles in Dundee after a long multiplex.

Although the A85 has always entered Dundee, it has never bypassed it: when originally built, the bypass was given the A972 number. Incidentally, the roundabout where the two roads met to the west of Invergowrie still exists just off the current A90 even though it serves no useful purpose (except as an unusually shaped lay-by and an alternative route out of Invergowrie).

The original route of the A85 into Dundee was along the obviously named Perth Road. Its current route is partly new build, partly upgraded B911. The road then ran into the High Street, where it ended on the A92 which had crossed the River Tay by ferry and then run up Union Street to TOTSO onto the High Street. Construction of the Tay Road Bridge in the 1969s altered all of this; most of the old A92 has since been destroyed and, following the inauguration of the A991 ring road, the A85 and A92 no longer meet each other.

In 1936 the Oban-Tyndrum and Perth-Invergowrie sections became trunk roads. Crianlarich-Lochearnhead (along with A84) became trunk in 1946. Lochearnhead-Perth remained non-trunk until 1996.

Opening Dates

Month Year Section Notes
1963 Benmore Diversion The 1.35 mile road east of Crianlarich was completed in 1963 per the 1963 Scottish Development Department Report.
1970 Dalmally Diversion Completed in 1970 per the 1970 Scottish Development Department Report. It is expected that this is the section north of the current Village Loop Road.
1977 Friarton Bridge North Approach Roads The approach roads at Barnhill Junction were completed in 1977 per the 1977 Scottish Development Department Report (in advance of the Friarton Bridge opening in 1978).

Comrie • Connel • Crianlarich • Crieff • Dundee • Oban • Perth • Taynuilt • Tyndrum
Related Pictures
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The First 99           A1  •  A2  •  A3  •  A4  •  A5  •  A6  •  A7  •  A8  •  A9  • A10 • A11 • A12 • A13 • A14 • A15 • A16 • A17 • A18 • A19
A20 • A21 • A22 • A23 • A24 • A25 • A26 • A27 • A28 • A29 • A30 • A31 • A32 • A33 • A34 • A35 • A36 • A37 • A38 • A39
A40 • A41 • A42 • A43 • A44 • A45 • A46 • A47 • A48 • A49 • A50 • A51 • A52 • A53 • A54 • A55 • A56 • A57 • A58 • A59
A60 • A61 • A62 • A63 • A64 • A65 • A66 • A67 • A68 • A69 • A70 • A71 • A72 • A73 • A74 • A75 • A76 • A77 • A78 • A79
A80 • A81 • A82 • A83 • A84 • A85 • A86 • A87 • A88 • A89 • A90 • A91 • A92 • A93 • A94 • A95 • A96 • A97 • A98 • A99
Motorway sectionsA1(M): (South Mimms - Baldock • Alconbury - Peterborough • Doncaster Bypass • Darrington - Birtley)
A3(M) • A8(M) Baillieston spur • A38(M) • A48(M) Cardiff spur • A57(M) • A58(M) • A64(M) • A66(M) • A74(M) • A92(M)
DefunctA1(M) Newcastle CME • A2(M) Medway Towns Bypass • A4(M) • A5(M) • A8(M) Renfrew bypass • A14 • A14(M) • A18(M) • A20(M) • A36(M)
A40(M): (Westway • Denham -Stokenchurch) • A41(M) • A42 • A46(M) • A48(M): (Port Talbot bypass • Morriston bypass) • A62(M) • A88 • A99
UnbuiltA2(M) Rochester Way Relief Road • A6(M): (Western route • Eastern route) • A14(M) (Expressway) • A34(M) • A48(M) Llantrisant Radial • A59(M) • A61(M)

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