|Location Map ( geo)|
|Distance:||32.2 miles (51.8 km)|
|Meets:||A832, A896, A87|
|Former Number(s):||B855, B856|
|Old route now:||A896|
|Route outline (key)|
The A890 is a cross-country route in sparsely populated, mountainous terrain. For most of its length the A890 runs close to the famous Dingwall – Kyle of Lochalsh railway. Like many Highland roads, the A890 was entirely single track until the 1960s, but road improvements in recent years (along with improvements on the A832) have made it increasingly popular among locals as an alternative route between Inverness and the Isle of Skye, avoiding the tortuous A82 along Loch Ness.
Achnasheen - Strathcarron
Starting at the north-east end at Achnasheen, we leave the A832 rather surprisingly at a roundabout. We head south-west along a broad valley and past Loch Gowan to climb gently to reach the summit between the east and west coasts at a height of 197m. We then drop into Glen Carron and past Loch Sgamhain (“Loch of the Lungs”: according to folklore a kelpie or fairy water-horse lived here, luring travellers into the loch and devouring them except for their lungs). Up to here the road was single-track until about 2000 but it is now a fast, straight, modern road.
After Loch Sgamhain the mountains close in and the glen narrows and steepens (below the road level it is almost a gorge in places) and the road becomes more twisty. This section has been double-track since about 1970. We pass a tiny settlement at Craig, where the gradient eases again, and the double-track road ends abruptly at a sharp double bend under a railway bridge. So far the road has been on open hillside, or latterly forested on the uphill side, with views out across the Glen. However, just before the railway bridge, the trees close in and the views disappear. Beyond the bridge, the road is also narrower, as it winds down through Lair and Achnashellach, past its lonely station. From Achnashellach Station a spectacular footpath leads through the mountains to Torridon. Next up is Achnashellach Lodge, where in summer rhododendrons along the roadsides provide more than a splash of brilliant red and purple.
Among birch trees we pass Loch Dughaill and at Balnacra the road re-crosses the railway on a level crossing. The glen has now opened out into a wide strath (in Gaelic, a strath is a wide, flat floored valley) and we are approaching sea level. We pass a few crofts at Coulags, where a narrow old stone arch carries the road over a small river. This is also the start of another fine mountain path. A little further on, and another small hump-backed bridge is quickly followed by the start of a mile or so of S2 road, down to the junction at Strathcarron. This last section was widened in around 2014, entirely on line, and with minimal effort, so there are still some bumps making a bit of a roller coaster ride!
Strathcarron - Auchtertyre
At the junction, the A890 TOTSOs left, pass Strathcarron station, with the A896 continuning ahead into Lochcarron village. From the junction, the road runs level, still on double-track, before a short section of single track from the bridge across the River Carron as far as another level crossing at the station. This is the head of Loch Carron, a spectacular sea lock stretching out with Skye and its neighbours in the distance.
The next section was a difficult stretch of road to build as the mountains rise steeply from the loch and in places the railway fills the narrow shelf of land along the shore. So 1.5 miles after Strathcarron we suddenly climb at 1 in 7 before dropping equally steeply to Attadale. Soon afterwards the road narrows to single-track again as it runs alongside the railway below a near-vertical cliff. The rock face is covered with netting and has to be constantly monitored. At one point a concrete shelter covers both road and railway to protect them from rockfalls. An entirely new road has been proposed to avoid this problem area: possibly round the back of the hill for several miles, or a bridge at Stromeferry has also been considered. The present road would then be converted to a rock trap to protect the railway.
In 2010/11, recent improvement, widening and resurfacing of much of the single-track section along this coast suggested that the above proposals had been dismissed. There are now only brief sections of single-track, mainly along the base of the cliffs, and they are all well served with passing places. However, the landslide in late 2011 (see below), has reopened the debate, see below.
Three or four miles after Attadale we turn away from the railway for the last time to climb almost 150m above the loch. This section is forested but there are good views to the outer part of the loch and on to Skye. Above Stromeferry the double-track road begins once again and the road from the former ferry joins. We drop by a smooth curve to Strath Ascaig and then climb through more forest to 208m – the highest point on the route. From here it is more smooth curves, now through open moorland and past a small hydro-electric dam. The remains of the twisty old single-track road are clearly visible alongside in places. Finally we drop fairly steeply to meet the A87 beside Auchtertyre.
Strome Ferry Bypass Bypass
Since 2012, the Highland Council have been consulting with local stakeholders and drawing up a number of plans to alleviate this problem in the future. Stabilising and widening the existing route is now seen as a complete non-starter, although a short term fix has been acheived with netting on the cliff faces. The two main proposals remaining are, as above, to redirect the road around the back of the hills from Attadale to Glen Udalain, or to build a bridge at Strome. This second option would also see the pretty lochside village of Lochcarron bypassed, with a new road around the back on the hillside, although doubtless this could be put back as a long term aspriation, and the bridge still built.
Although the Highland Council have not yet expressed a definite preference for either route, with consultation and design work ongoing, it seems apparent that the bridge option will be the preferred choice, with less new-build required and widening of the existing road to Strome Castle (the ex-A890) being a cheaper option. Winter maintenance would also be cheaper than the hill route, even if the costs of the bridge itself may make the scheme more expensive in the first instance.
In May 2015, the BBC publish an article regarding a freedom of information request surrounding the bypass options. This suggests that the councils favoured route is the Glen Udalain route, quoting £85 million versus £100 million for a bridge and even more for a tunnel. This is contrary to previous media reports, and, indeed, information previously coming from some parts of the council. The landowner of the Attadale Estate is, naturally against having a new road pushed through past his front door, but the report suggests that whilst his favoured option is the tunnel, he is amenable to finding the best solution for the community.
Balnacra - Lair
Apart from the Loch Carron section of the A890, the route is all S2 except for the section from Balnacra to Lair. Again, the Highland Council have long term plans to improve this section to a full S2 carriageway, with two options put forward. Either a new bridge at Balnacra would avoid the level crossing, with some of the proposed route offline, but the majority done as the comparatively cheap option of online widening, as recently completed just north of the Strathcarron Junction.
The alternative is to take the road further up the hill, staying above the railway throughout and completely bypassing the villages along the road. This would obviously be a much more expensive option, and seems to have recently become the less preferred option.