A87/Invergarry - Bunloyne
|Length:||14 miles (22.5 km)|
|Route outline (key)|
This first section of the A87 is 14 miles long, but only 4 of those are anywhere near the alignment of the road first classified as the A87 back in 1922. Even the start has moved, such are the changes that have happened in the last 90 years. However, the history of this route goes back before 1922, over a century earlier to the early 1800s when Thomas Telford surveyed a new road west from Invergarry as part of his commission on Highland Roads and Bridges. It was this route, generally speaking, that was classified in 1922, but the damming of Loch Loyne and Loch Cluanie by the Hydro Electric Board in the mid 1950s saw a complete re-routing of the road in 1957.
The road laid out by Telford 2 centuries ago started further east than the modern junction, at the old Invergarry Bridge. From there is roughly followed the line of the modern A82 to the current junction at the Invergarry Hotel, and so onto the current line of the A87. Not much has changed as we pass through the village, the layby at the Post Office is an obvious realignment, and doubtless other kinks and bumps have been ironed out, but generally speaking this is Telford's road.
We pass out of the village and leave the 40 limit behind before we find a significant deviation. Opposite the Village Hall, a right turn is signed to Faichem. This is the original road, climbing up over a hill, while the modern road sweeps round the hill, hugging the River Garry below. The old road is shorter, but slower as it is narrow and tree lined with infrequent passing places. At either end, it runs roughly parallel to but above the new road, slowly dropping down to the junctions.
A little further on, an unsigned left turn is again the old road. It now provides access to the dam across Loch Garry, but is evidently the old alignment of the A87, with a sharp corner ironed out by the new road. The new road also tackles the climb better, with the old road cut off at the northern end by the banking carrying the new road. There appears to have also been a slight realignment at the Munerigie junction.
The road is now running along the side of Loch Garry, and a series of laybys on the lochside show the route of the old road. The new road is not exactly straight, but Telford's road must have been very wobbly - a fact that can be proven today by driving in and out of all the laybys (watch out for the traffic though!). As we approach the Tomdoun Junction, a long stretch of tarmac cuts across the inside of the bend. Directly opposite the western end, the old road continues straight to cross the Allt Daingean. The old bridge still stands, and leads straight onto the Tomdoun Road itself.
This is where the A87 diverges completely from the road laid out by Telford. His original road is now the C1144, more commonly referred to as the Kinloch Hourn Road. It runs for 22 miles to Kinlochhourn on the far west coast, and is reputedly the longest dead end in the country. However, the original line of the A87 did not use this road in its entirety. Instead it followed for 6 miles to Tomdoun, and then turned sharply north on another road built by Telford's team, crossing to the Cluanie Inn. This road, crossed Loch Loyne and when the loch was dammed a short section in the middle was flooded. Hence the new road.
The 1957 road
With the flooding of Loch Loyne, and Loch Cluanie to the north, the engineers decided that a completely new road was needed, rather than simply constructing new bridges / causeways across the lochs to connect up the old road. The new road was finished by 1957, and for most of its length it crossed open moorland and hillsides where no road had gone before.
Starting at the Tomdoun Junction, the new road climbs steadily up the hillside, lifting 160m in about 2 miles. Then, as now, the start of the climb was up through forestry plantations, although the trees now stretch higher up the hills. To many people, the layby and viewpoint here are the highpoint of this stretch of road, with Loch Garry stretched out below loosely forming the shape of Scotland! It is difficult to imagine this from a map though.
The road continues to climb, though more gently as it curves round the contours in a series of sweeping bends that will bring a smile to many drivers. The summit is finally reached at about 350m above sea level, and the road crosses from Glen Garry to Glen Loyne. Here, again, laybys provide spectacular viewpoints up the loch, and when the water level is low it is possible to pick out the line of the old road crossing the loch 2 or 3 miles to the west.
The descent is as thrilling as the ascent, steadily losing height through a series of bends that are more pronounced than the map suggests. The road passes close to the top of the dam, with service roads dropping down, and then quickly sweeps down to cross the River Loyne Bridge. This last couple of miles to Bunloyne appears to follow the line of a pre-existing track. Certainly, old maps show bridges across the Loyne and again a Moriston Bridge at Bunloyne itself. The former is clearly a new (well 1957) structure, but the bridge across the River Moriston could be older.