|Location Map ( geo)
|Stornoway (Steòrnabhagh) (NB426340)
|Rodel (Roghadal) (NG049830)
|57.9 miles (93.2 km)
|A857, B897, A858, B8060, B887, A868, Unclassified
|Route outline (key)
The A859 is the main road from Stornoway on Lewis to Leverburgh (An t-Ob) on Harris and then on to the end of the island at Rodel. Contrary to what you may think, Lewis and Harris are one landmass (indeed the third largest of the British Isles), the boundary between them being the range of hills that crosses from Loch Seaforth in the East to Loch Resort in the west. In the past, these created a barrier to the local inhabitants in much the same way as the Solent or Menai Straits do further south! Today, the boat has given way to the car, and the A859 makes the daring crossing.
Stornoway - Tarbert
Stornoway is the only ferry port on Lewis, and by far the largest town in the Western Isles. The A859 starts at a roundabout with the A857 to the north of Stornoway, and slowly turns round to take its southwesterly course across Lewis. It soon meets the former junction with the A858, although since that route was re-routed in 2005 it is now another 6 or 7 miles before the two routes actually meet. Even after escaping the speed limits, Stornoway is one of those towns that seem to struggle to come to an end. The grassy tree lined slopes to the left mask a vast quarry, after which a scattering of houses fills the gaps between junctions for Industrial Estates.
Eventually, however, the B897 turns off to the left on its way to Crosbost, and any sense of urbanity is left behind. The landscape has changed from green slopes dotted with trees to open moorland, not as bleak as it can get on Lewis, but flat enough that the telegraph poles and wind turbines dominate. Being so flat, the road strides across the landscape in a series of long straights, kinking only to avoid the lochans that stud the moor. Suddenly, buildings appear ahead, the large sheds of Liurbost School and Garage sitting either side of the road. Most of the village lies on the unclassified road from from Carbost which winds off to the east. Before that, however, the A858 turns off to the west on its long scenic journey across Lewis and round the west coast. Liurbost is soon behind, and the road continues south to Laxay, where it turns west to avoid Loch Erisort.
Road and loch rarely get close, and the flat moorlands have been replaced by the lumpy bumpy landscape of much of Lewis's coast. This means that as the road winds through Laxay and on to the long strung out village of Baile Ailein, the loch is hardly to be seen. Towards the end of the village, at the head of the loch, the B8060 turns off to double back along the south shore. The A859, meanwhile, starts to head towards the mountains, which have been steadily growing in stature from small lumps when first seen on the horizon, to a substantial range of hills dominating the horizon. Although rarely straying far from Lewis's heavily indented coast, latterly Loch Seaforth, this is no coast road as it winds through the hills and across open moorland, passing from Lewis to Harris as it goes, and hardly seeing a cottage or turning for miles at a time.
The tiny villages of Airidh a'Bhruaich and Aird a'Mhulaidh lie at either end of the longest empty stretch, although even this is enlivened by a run through forestry and then dropping down towards Loch Seaforth. So far the road has been a route of long straights and fast sweeping bends, even when passing through the villages it is well aligned. However, as it navigates around the bays of Loch Seaforth, it tightens up with some sharper corners followed by a long climb over the mountains. Forward visibility is excellent most of the time in this empty landscape, but long stretches of double white lines hint at the dangers of the road. There are two summits as the road winds round below Clisham, the highest mountain on the island, both approaching 200m, but they feel higher. Numerous parking areas line this section of road, popular with walkers and climbers. The long, lonely road to Reinigeadal also turns off, dropping steeply down to the shore before climbing over further hills.
From the second summit, the A859 also plunges down hill, back to the coast, meeting the B887 at Aird Asaig. It then turns around the end of another ridge of hills to find the shore of West Loch Tarbert. The roadside is dotted with houses on both sides, as it runs east and enter Harris's capital of Tarbert.
Tarbert - Rodel
Ferries from Uig on Skye arrive at Tarbert, where the tiny little A868 serves the pier, and the new access road and bridge for Scalpay. The name Tarbert comes from the Viking era, when it applied to a short land crossing where Viking ships could be ported by their crews. Even modern Tarbert, with some modern reclamation, is a fine example of this possibility with the narrow gash between steep slopes providing an excellent short cut for boats... if only they'd built a canal! In the village, the A859 crosses from the northern shore of West Loch Tarbert to the southern shore of East Loch Tarbert, and so enters South Harris, the square bit at the bottom! On a map, it looks as though most of the journey is over, but there are still 24 miles to go, and with long stretches of single track ahead, timewise Tarbert is barely half way.
The only other major road on South Harris is the 'Golden Road', so called because of the amount of money it cost to build. It serves the eastern coast, while the A859 crosses back to the rich Machair-lined western coast. There are three left turns that connect to the Golden Road as the A859 climbs southwards away from Tarbert. It is the first that is signed as such, the last which provides the shortest route to Rodel. The A859, meanwhile, curves round to the north west and drops down a wide shallow valley past a string of small lochs to reach the west coast. As the beach comes in to view ahead, a right turn leads to Losgantir (Luskentyre), perhaps the finest beach in the Hebrides, possibly even the whole country if you don't mind it being a bit chilly! The view from the beach north across to the mountains of Harris is a regular feature of the BBC 'Your Pictures of Scotland' feature, with sunsets, sea, surf and sand dunes all combining to form some breathtaking views.
Back to the road, as it swings southwards along the Machair rich west coast of Harris. It drops to single track at the Luskentyre junction, and while there have been many improvements, there are still several sections ahead. The first bay has been cut off by a causeway, but the road has to wind through the tiny village of Seilebost, before climbing over the shoulder of a hill to the even smaller Horgabost. Each village sits round a sandy bay, with rocky hills projecting between, and so Borve and Scarista follow. From Scarista, another vast sandy beach stretches over to the near-island of Ceapabhal. A longer stretch of single track road runs along the shore, almost on the sands in places as the hill rises steeply on the landward side. The head of the beach is unexpectedly filled by a tidal lagoon, with the narrow neck of land out to Ceapabhal on the far side.
The A859 is now running south east through Glen Cholslleitir, a narrow valley separated from the Sound of Harris by a low ridge of hills. At the bottom, it curves round the back of the inlet of An t-Ob, and so enters Leverburgh, or to give it its proper name, An t-Ob (and called Obbe in English till the 1920s). The name Leverburgh comes from Lord Leverhulme (Sunlight Soap and all that) who tried to establish a fishing port here, but died before much work had been done. It is into Leverburgh that the Sound of Harris Ferry sails, crossing from North Uist, and so forming a critical piece of the Western Isles transport network. However, the A859 bypasses the pier (which is served by an unclassified road) and continues south west.
The last three or so miles to Rodel at the south east corner of the Lewis/Harris Island are all single track. It cuts through another pair of glens, which form a shallow pass behind low hills, to drop into the scattered village. The road then finishes with a flourish, however, in a great big loop around the church of Rodel, the only mediaeval church in the Western Isles, and one of the very few in the Highlands and Islands to look anything like your typical English parish church. It's not English though, and yet with the tower built on a rocky outcrop at the end of the nave, and some rather nice furnishings in its sparse interior it is a fascinating place to end a journey along the A859.
On classification in 1922 the A859 existed elsewhere on Lewis. The road immediately west of the A857 in Stornoway was the original eastern end of the A858, whilst the rest of the road to Rodel was numbered B897. The complete lack of Class I roads in the Western Isles outside of Lewis was remedied later in the 1920s when the B897 was given the recently vacated A859 number. Although mapping is a bit inconclusive, it seems that this incarnation of the A859 originally started on the original route of the A858 just outside Stornoway. It was only in 2005 when the A858 was re-routed that the A859 actually entered the town to meet the A857. However, some older maps suggest that the A859 reached Stornoway earlier, and it seems possible that while the A858 stayed on its original line along Willowglen Road, the short section of Perceval Road South up to the roundabout was the A859 after a short multiplex.
Almost all of the A859 has been upgraded since 1922 - when much of it was still single track. A lot of this was done fairly early and simply carried out by online widening, certainly in the vast flat moorland areas of Lewis. However, as the road progresses across Harris, there are some lengthy stretches of old road visible alongside, and particularly the descent to Luskentyre Beach. Be warned, however, that if using Sabre Maps overlay functions, the OS One Inch mapping appears to diverge substantially in places, with no evidence on the ground to support such an old route.
One section of actual new build road runs south-east from Luskentyre on the north side of the Laxdale River to the northern junction of the C79 Golden road which is shown on the 1970 OS One inch map. It is expected that this was the 2.95 mile Bays Road to Luskentyre reconstruction scheme which was completed in 1965 per the 1965 Scottish Development Department Report.