|Location Map ( geo)|
|To:||Dunvegan (Dùn Bheagain) (NG252480)|
|Distance:||22.8 miles (36.7 km)|
|Meets:||A87, B8009, B885, B884, A850|
|Route outline (key)|
The A863 runs from the centre of Skye out to the west coast at Dunvegan, serving the Minginish and Duirinsh Peninsulas. Originally numbered as the B883, it was given its current number in the mid-1920s.
The road commences at its southern end in a spectacular setting surrounded by bleak mountains at a junction with the A87 in the "village" of Sligachan, home to a hotel, campsite, and mountain rescue post. Heading west, it immediately passes the old Sligachan Bridge, now bypassed by a new structure on the main A87, and then turns north west, as it climbs to a low watershed. At the summit the road enters a forestry plantation, before descending westwards through the steep-sided Glen Drynoch, which forms the narrow waistband of Skye. As Loch Harport comes into view ahead, the B8009 forks off left to Carbost and Portnalong on the Minginish Peninsula, also serving Glen Brittle for access to the famous Black Cuillins and the Talisker Distillery.
The A863 never reaches the loch shore, however, instead climbing steeply round some narrow gulleys onto the moorland above the loch. The road cuts through a shallow valley, reaching a summit of over 150m. It continues inland, winding over the hills and dipping to cross the shallow valleys before reaching the coast again at Gesto Bay. The old road continued over the top of Boust Hill, but the A863 now curves round the hill and into the little inlet of Loch Beag, where a causeway carries it across the head of the loch. On the far side it meets the B885 (to Portree), before climbing through Bracadale and Struan.
Slightly inland once more, the road continues north west passing several unclassified roads to Ullinish and Eabost, whilst hardly seeing a house itself. It drops back close to the shore to cross the River Ose, before climbing a little again. Loch Caroy now lies below, and as it winds across the low hills to the east it steadily drops to the head of the loch. Another climb on to the moorland follows, with more unclassified roads turning off to Feorlig, Harlosh and Vatten, tiny villages strung along the rugged peninsula that juts into Loch Bracadale. After the tiny hamlets of Roskhill and Heribost the road makes its last turn inland, cutting across the neck of the Duirnish Peninsula. After passing the former A864 (now unclassified), it enters Dunvegan (Dùn Bheagain), and meets the B884 which heads out to Skye's western end. The village of Dunvegan is strung along the roadside for a mile as it drops down to the shore of Loch Dunvegan to end at a junction with the A850, which continues along the shoreline to the castle, a busy tourist destination.
The A863 has seen many changes over the last fifty years or so. The road was originally built by Thomas Telford as part of his commission on Highland Roads and Bridges in the 1810s to connect Dunvegan Castle to the outside world. At least half of the cost was paid for by McLeod of Dunvegan, albeit some of it in the form of 'free' labour by his tenants to repay rent arrears!
Even the start of the road has changed since built, however, with the new Sligachan Bridge moving the junction to the north east, and the old road line then running closer to the hotel and up the hill, now used as parking by hill walkers and climbers. A layby and shallow cutting show further improvements before crossing the watershed into Glen Drynoch. After the B8009 junction, a series of loops and old bridges on the shoreside of the road show the old road line as it climbed up onto the moorland. Most of it seems to be open to walkers, but one section is a driveway to a new house. A loop of old road again lies to the west of the current line near the summit, and there is a new bridge over the Meadale Burn. As the road climbs again, the old road forks off to the east of the new for a long meandering loop over the Sumardale Burn.
As noted above, the old road crossed near the summit of Boust Hill, and this section is still open to traffic, dropping steeply to Loch Beag, where a long detour was taken upstream to cross the Amar River, now bypassed by the causeway across the head of the loch. The road has then been realigned through Bracadale and Struan, with the old road variously overgrown, open as a parking area or in use as property accesses. Beyond the village, another old loop survives around the car park for Dun Beag Broch. Loops of the old road can then be traced on either side of the new and in varying conditions for the next mile, before a long straight section of old road runs down through Gearymore to Ose. The new road takes a strange loop here, perhaps due to problems with ground conditions.
Another loop of old road survives on the shoreward side as the road drops down to the head of Loch Caroy, and the old bridge over the Caroy River has been bypassed. Over the next hill, the old Roskhill Bridge has also been bypassed, but other improvements on the way to Dunvegan are very minor, with little of the old road surviving. The one exception is the realignment at the old A864 junction, where a former right angle bend has been bypassed.