|Location Map ( geo)|
|From:||Skiag Bridge (NC234243)|
|To:||Laxford Bridge (NC235467)|
|Distance:||23.2 miles (37.3 km)|
|Meets:||A837, B869, A838|
|Route outline (key)|
The A894 is one of the best driving roads in the Highlands, if not the whole country. The scenery is almost always stunning, the landscapes wild and rugged and the road a delightful ribbon of flowing tarmac. It is little wonder that the NC500 has become so popular when this road is part of it. This is a geologically confused area, where the Moine Thrust has thrown up all kinds of rock in a contorted jumble. It is one of very few regions of the Highlands to have caves (formed in the Durness Limestone strata).
Skiag Bridge - Kylesku Bridge
The route starts at a simple T-junction with the A837 next to Skiag Bridge on the shores of Loch Assynt, just north of Inchnadamph. From the junction, the road climbs steeply up alongside the Skiag Burn (Allt na Sgiathaig) to a height of over 260 metres. For most of the climb, the massive bulk of Quinag dominates the western aspect, with slightly more rounded hills to the east. Just over the summit, near the start of the descent, a path leads eastwards to Eas a'Chual Aluinn, the highest unbroken waterfall in Britain. Soon after, the road embarks on a dramatic steep descent around a near-hairpin bend with a parking area near the top offering a spectacular viewpoint across this vast empty landscape. The road can be seen winding off into the hills in the distance, with hardly any other evidence of mankind in view.
Beyond the hills, the A894 meets the B869, which heads off on its narrow, winding and hilly way westwards to Nedd and eventually Lochinver. Continuing north, the road descends towards the shore of Loch Glencoul just before it meets Loch Glendhu. The small village of Unapool is scattered along the side of the road before it climbs across a low hill to Kylesku. Here a road forks right taking the old alignment of the A894 through the village to the old ferry slipway. The main road now climbs to the Kylesku Bridge, which crosses west of the confluence of Lochs Gleann Dubh and Glencoul. Kylesku bridge is a reinforced concrete box-girder construction, and opened to traffic in August 1984, replacing the former ferry service. It now provides an all-weather crossing that avoids a 100-mile detour via Lairg - one of the most significant bridges in the UK. It is also one of the most photographed, and widely used in corporate documents.
Kylesku Bridge - Laxford Bridge
The bridge crosses to a rocky island, with a car park and viewpoint on its summit, from where the road drops steadily through cuttings and across a couple of causeways to the mainland once more. As the road climbs another hill, a right turn is again the old A894, climbing up from the northern ferry slipway at Kylestrome, almost a mile distant. Today this old road is a private estate road, but a car park at the start allows walkers to explore further. At the top of the hill above Kylestrome is a large layby and viewpoint - a great vantage point for the bridge and the hills of Assynt. Beyond here, the road takes an improved course through forestry to Duartmore, where the old road forks right to the old Duartmore Bridge. Meanwhile, the new road, opened in 1979, straightlines a formerly meandering course across a new bridge and up a hill to rejoin the old alignment near the head of Loch a'Mhinidh. However, less than a mile further on the old road forks left to Duartbeg, while the new road again short-cuts through a deep rock-cut cutting. These two new alignments took nearly a mile off the length of the A894.
The road passes around the back of Badcall Bay, before climbing inland again, and weaving its way between lochs and across the undulating landscape to Scourie. This is the largest settlement on the A894 and is a typically scattered Highland coastal village. The road loops right around through the village, even though a mile-long bypass could have taken another 2 miles off the route! It is worth a stop, however, with sandy beaches fronting a sheltered bay and a choice of places to eat. Beyond the village the A894 turns inland up Glen Scourie, passing dramatically alongside Loch a'Bhadaidh Daraich, which fills much of the valley floor, then crossing some bleak and barren moorland. After a short sharp climb, the road is fairly straight, albeit still undulating, except for a large loop around the small Loch a'Bagh Ghainmhich which sits annoyingly in the way of the road! At the loch, a side road turns off to Tarbet, the ferry point for the uninhabited wildlife reserve of Handa Island.
The road continues north past another loch before Loch Laxford appears ahead. As it sweeps round the hill, it drops to the coast at a sandy inlet near Badnabay, a tiny settlement which has been bypassed (on the seaward side). Indeed, there are several laybys showing the old road alignment, and in a couple of places the old road runs alongside the new. Another mile or so leads to the end of the road at Laxford Bridge, with the A894 curving around to run into the A838 as it continues the route north across the single-track bridge. The other arm of the A838 has to TOTSO at a wide, lightly trafficked T-junction.
The A894 was not included in the original classification in 1922 at all. However, when the surrounding B roads were upgraded to become A roads, this obvious gap in the classified road network was given the A894 number. Since then, the whole road has been thoroughly re-engineered to produce a great drivers road through this spectacular landscapes. The original road line was probably set out by Joseph Mitchell in the 1820s or 1830s in his role as Surveyor for the county of Sutherland.
The first section from Skiag Bridge to Unapool is almost all an online upgrade of the old winding road. However, while it now forms a series of fast sweeping bends, little of the old road survives. The occasional layby, or earthworks to either side show the sharper bends of the old line, but for the most part the new road is only ever a couple of metres away from the old road. This even applies to the near-hairpin descent from the summit, although the rock cuttings clearly show the amount of work carried out to improve this piece of the road. The old bridge on the Unapool Burn survives on a short loop just to the west of the new bridge, and after the village an old S bend can be traced either side of the modern road.
Kylesku obviously offers a longer section of the old road to explore, with the short village road down to the slipway on the south side of the loch still in use. On the north side, as noted above the road is now all a private estate road. However, there is a small parking area just off the A894 and it is possible to walk all the way down to the slipway. This is a long, winding walk down the hill and out across Eilean na Rainich, but is all still in good condition. Continuing north, the A894 is again largely an online upgrade, although the substantial rock cuttings hint at a major vertical realignment in places. The viewpoint car park seems to sit on, if not above an old loop of road, with a gate a short distance further on perhaps leading to a short stretch of it, but the earthworks of the new road have obscured any further evidence either side.
The next substantial deviation comes at Duartmore, where the old road forks right and winds down through the trees to a fish farm site. The public road now ends here, at the old bridge, but the line can be walked for another miles as it winds across the moorland back to the modern road. The loop to Duart Beag is much longer, and signed at the southern end as no unauthorised access, although this probably only applies to vehicles. It initially heads west down a narrow valley, but just above a narrow inlet of Edrachillis Bay, it turns north and climbs between two low hills to Loch Duartbeag. Beyond the loch, it passes through a gate and becomes a public road once more, climbing a little as it passes between two small lochs back to the A894.
For the next few miles, numerous old kinks and bends have been improved, but as before while there is an occasional layby or earthwork to indicate the old road, very little survives. At Loch an Diamh Beag, however, two old bends lie to the west of the modern road, and a little further on an old loop to the east survives in part as an access to a yard. Numerous short loops can be identified beyond Scourie, but the first of interest is where a causeway has been built across a narrow arm of Loch na Claise Fearna. Another bend has been removed further north on the lochside, although this is less obvious. The final realignment which can be explored is the side road through Badnabay, which has been bypassed on the seaward side, although the junction at Laxford Bridge has been rebuilt several times.
|1969||Clashfearn to Laxford Bridge||The 3.5 mile scheme with diversions was completed in 1969 per the 1969 Scottish Development Department Report. The 1971 OS Quarter inch map shows this section to be S2.|
|1976||Scourie - Geisgeil Burn||The 5 mile scheme with diversions was work in progress in 1976 per the 1975 and 1976 Scottish Development Department Report, but was not on the 1977 report indicating completion in 1976.|
|1977||Geisgeil Burn - Duartmore||The 2.8 mile scheme with diversions was work in progress in 1977 per the 1977 Scottish Development Department Report, but was not on the 1978 report indicating completion in 1977.|
|1980||Geisgeil Burn - Duartmore||The 2.2 mile scheme was work in progress in 1980 per the Roads in Scotland Report for 1980 but was not on 1981 report indicating completion in 1980.|
|1983||Duartmore - Kylestrome||Improvement with diversions. Phase 1 - 0.9 mile. Phase 2 - 1.9 mile completed in 1980. Phase 3 - 1 mile completed in 1983. Dates per the Roads in Scotland Reports.|
|1984||Kylesku Bridge||Opened to traffic in August 1984.|