The A87 forms the latter part of the long, but exciting drive through the Highlands to Uig, a mad dash that many people make each year, some from as far away as London in order to catch the ferry to the Outer Hebrides. It is most desperate if heading to Harris on a Saturday evening, if you miss the ferry the next one isn't until Monday morning, which would be very frustrating if you had paid for a cottage starting from Saturday!
Invergarry - Cluanie
The A87 begins in Invergarry, a small village in the Great Glen and the last place of any size before Shiel Bridge some 40-odd miles further down the road. We start next to the bridge over the River Garry, pass the Invergarry Hotel and on through the village, before passing NSL signs at the start of a long straight. The road then passes through conifer forest, and along the often hidden shores of Loch Garry.
About 5 miles out you pass a sign for a small unclassified road to the left, it seems insignificant enough, but in fact leads on to one of the remotest unclassified roads in the country, it is 23 miles long a dead end that leads to very little, other than spectacular scenery. This little roads winds up and down along the shores of Loch Garry and then further up Loch Quoich through a wild Landscape, eventually descending to sea level at Kinloch Hourn, the head of a deep sea loch and the start of a path leading to in to one of the largest and most beautiful wilderness in the country, Knoydart. Well worth a visit if you have the stamina: no roads, very few people and even fewer houses. Incidentally, the first couple of miles of that road is the original line of the A87.
But back to the current A87. This climbs steadily up above Loch Garry, round a series of bends and then a straight sadly interrupted by a blind summit. At the top is the famous viewpoint from where the loch below is said to resemble the outline of Scotland on a map! More bends then take us over the Col, leading to fine views in the next Glen of Loch Loyne, worth stopping to admire, unless you have a ferry to catch and don't want to let that lorry you spent the last half hour trying to get past catch up with you. As we descend, the road is straighter with good visibility round many of the bends as we follow the flat bottom of a valley.
After crossing the river, the road becomes tighter once more, winding through trees to the junction with the A887. This is a TOTSO and we have to turn left here to continue west on the A87, climbing past the dam to pass along the shore of Loch Cluanie. All the way along mountains rise up dramatically on both sides and if you are very lucky and the weather is clear, you might even be able to see them! On a crisp winters day (providing the road itself is clear of snow) this is a fantastic drive through white mountains, with a brilliant blue sky reflected in the flat waters of Loch Cluanie.
Cluanie - Kyle of Lochalsh
After passing the only settlement in this vast wilderness, the Cluanie Inn, the drama continues for another few miles before the road crosses the watershed and descends in to Glen Shiel. On the way down, watch out to the left as the headwaters of the River Shiel pass through a tunnel to let the road take over the old streambed. After more twists and turns, always heading down, one final bend reveals the sea ahead, with the small settlement of Shiel Bridge at the head of Loch Duich. We return to 'civilization' here, where we find a petrol station, junction and a few houses, with a Hotel round the corner. Turning left at the junction takes you over the high pass to the Glenelg region, and is the way to go if you still want to sail 'over the sea to Skye', as the Glenelg - Kylerhea Ferry operates from Easter to October.
The road then beats a path along the north side of this Loch. A modern causeway shortens the journey somewhat and then some 5 miles later we reach the famous Eilean Donan Castle. This is pictured in many a Scottish scene including the BBC's former link films with the giant world balloon. From now on the landscape is a little tamer, passing several villages as it winds along to the shores of Loch Alsh. Along the way, we also meet the end of the A890, only the second classified junction in nearly 50 miles.
A short, steep climb takes us round the steep coastal cliffs and into Kyle of Lochalsh. Kyle, as the locals call it, is a bustling little town with shops and banks clustered around the station and harbour. The A87 passes straight through the middle, heading for the controversial Skye Bridge. Despite the loss of the ferry, the place is still busy with its railway station, fishermen and tourists even in the winter. It is still undoubtedly the gateway to Skye.
Previously to continue this magical journey you would have had to reach in to your pocket and shell out £5.40 for the honour of crossing the bridge - and you would have had to pay again when you returned. The locals had a problem with paying this fee since many of them have to make the journey daily just to get to work, so the Scottish Government finally made the bridge toll free.
Skye Bridge - Uig
The bridge itself is not just one bridge. First, there is a low level bridge crossing to the small island in the channel, and then the road starts climbing. It seems impossibly steep as you climb high enough to let the tallest ships underneath, and then the road peaks and plummets back to earth, with a roundabout at Kyleakin.
The bridge bypasses Kyleakin, but it is well worth a detour, if only to see Kyle from the other side! The first 8 miles to Broadford are quite unremarkable after all the excitement encountered so far and you may wonder why you bothered; it is flat and forested, although on clear days there will be occasional views to mountains and sea all around. There is only one notable junction along the way, the road to Kylerhea where the Glenelg - Kylerhea Ferry arrives on Skye. Broadford is the second town of Skye and is home to what is probably the only 24-hour garage in the Islands. It isn't, in fact, a proper town, however; more a collection of scattered villages strung along the road. Near the start of the 'town', the A851 turns off to the left, connecting to Skye's other ferry, which crosses to Mallaig. Then, just past the garage, we find the beautifully scenic B8083 to Elgol, followed by the main shopping area - on the very edge of town!
Once through Broadford we head out in to the wilderness again, passing along the shore with the isle of Scalpay to the right and then rounding a corner to rise up along the shores of Loch Ainort, this is probably the finest stretch of the road and with so few obstacles you can see the road for miles ahead and get past all those slow coaches that have been annoying you for the last 40 miles! Straight ahead of you are the famous Black Cuillins of Skye, the most challenging peaks for climbers in this country and a stunning sight in themselves, weather permitting once again, for they seem to be very fond of clouds. The lesser Red Cuillins through which the road snakes are also a fine sight.
After a steep climb to pass through the mountains, he road descends back to sea level at Sconser and around Loch Sligachan, where you can catch a ferry to the Isle of Raasay. Just past the head of the loch there is a junction by the Sligachan Hotel, where, if you're not in a hurry, you could take the more scenic, but much longer A863 road to Uig. The A87 takes the more pedestrian, but still very winding route down to Portree, the capital of Skye and a pretty little town, although the A87 passes to the west of the town centre. The job of going through the centre is left to the A855, which heads north round the Trotternish coast to rejoin the A87 at Uig. Just before we reach Portree, the B883 is a long dead end along the coast, while the visitor centre at the entrance to the town is well worth a stop. In Portree you will find the last supermarket and the only chance to stock up with food before the ferry and the Isle of Harris, where nothing is open on a Sunday. Roughly opposite is the B885, which crosses the peat bog to reach the A863 at Bracadale.
After leaving the town behind us, we cross to the head of Loch Snizort where the A850 heads off to Dunvegan and then follow the coast for the last 12 miles to Uig, which are fairly tame compared to the joys of the earlier mountain landscape, but still very pretty, being next to the loch and offering commanding views across The Minch to the Outer Hebrides on a clear day.
On entering Uig the A87 meets the aforementioned A855 taking the long way back to Portree. This meets the third road out of the village, a spectacular minor road which crosses the peninsula to Staffin passing the Quiraing rock formations, before a series of hairpins drop to the shore. The A87, however, runs along the shore of Uig Bay to end on the ferry pier. From here, two ferries cross The Minch to the Western Isles. As mentioned above, one crosses to the A868/A859 in Tarbert on Harris, and the other to the A865 at Lochmaddy on North Uist.