Kinloch Hourn Road
|Location Map ( geo)|
|To:||Kinloch Hourn (NG943068)|
|Distance:||21.6 miles (34.8 km)|
|Former Number(s):||A87 (Loch Loyne)|
The Kinloch Hourn Road is numbered as the Class III C1144.
Invergarry - Tomdoun
The first 6 miles of this road were, until 1957, part of the A87 road to Skye. However, with the construction of the Glen Garry Hydro schemes, the centre of the road was flooded as Loch Loyne expanded. This meant that a new road was needed, and rather than just build a bridge across the loch, a new road was constructed across the hills to the east.
Driving along these first few miles today, it is hard to imagine the traffic of the A87 ever fitting along here. The road runs fairly close to the loch shore as it passes through a tunnel of trees twisting and turning, rising and falling with just a few scattered houses along the route. Just over halfway along, a left turn crosses a bridge to the settlement of Greenfield on the further shore. It is a private road, but offers walkers access to the remote land beyond. After six miles, we reach Tomdoun where the old A87 turns sharp right to follow Telford's road up to Loch Loyne and a flooded interruption.
Tomdoun - Quoich Dam
The whole of this route was originally built by Thomas Telford in the early 19th Century as one of his Highland Roads. In linking the remote settlement of Kinloch Hourn back to Invergarry, the commisioners who employed Telford hoped that they would reduce the depopulation that had already started and make life in the Highlands easier. The tiny number of properties that survive along this 20-odd mile long road suggest that they were perhaps unsuccesful in that aim.
However, it is along this next section of road that we pass find the two main settlements. Tomdoun consists of the Hotel just before the junction, the church at the junction and a handful of houses. About a mile further on, the even smaller settlement of Poulary is passed, and then the road crosses open hillside before reaching Kingie, often marked on maps as Coille Mhorgil. Below the village lies Kingie Pool, with a small power station and fisheries, while ahead the valley forks. To the left, the forested Glen Kingie passes through mountainous country to eventually reach Knoydart, while the road turns to the right and soon we find the magnificent sweep of Quoich Dam ahead.
The dam is only small, but somehow sits comfortably in the landscape. A graceful curve of concrete with the road climbing up the hillside to the right until finally reaching the top. Of course, this is not the original road built by Telford, that now provides access to the base of the dam, it's onward journey blocked by the concrete wall holding back millions of gallons of water.
Quoich Dam - Kinloch Hourn
From just before the Quoich Dam until the end of the loch is reached, or the finger of the loch which the road follows at least, the road is all new. It was built in the 1950s to maintain access to the remote settlement of Kinloch Hourn, and winds its way along between 5 and 30m above the maximum fill level of the reservoir below.
There are a number of bridges constructed over side streams as we continue to head west, all much larger concrete structures than Telford would have constructed, and the simple reason for this is that they were built to take the weight of construction and maintenance vehicles. It is perhaps surprising that few of the bridges on the old road to the east were rebuilt at the same time.
Just over four miles past the dam, a three-span concrete bridge crosses a narrow finger of the loch, which has flooded the actual Glen Quoich. After following the loch shore for another couple of miles, the road turns off up its own narrow rocky chasm, climbing slightly to the watershed from where it plunges down a series of tight, blind hairpins with limited passing places to reach the small village at the head of Loch Hourn far below.
Loch Hourn is one of Scotlands most Fjord like lochs, so perhaps it is fitting that it is such an adventure to reach. An adventure that is well worth undertaking as it passes through some magnificent scenery. Near the watershed there is the additional bonus of seeing some of the serious engineering that was implemented to divert some of the small streams east away from Loch Hourn and piping them through the hill to Loch Quoich.
Telford's Road Survives!
In the dry spring and summer of 2010, the water level in Loch Quoich fell dramatically until it was closer to the level before the dam was built than since. For most of the length, however, Telford's old road remained underwater as it had hugged the shore of the old loch very closely. However, as the road started the climb across the watershed to Kinloch Hourn, its old course became visible, running alongside the river that once drained this narrow glen.
Extending for roughly a mile before it climbed up to meet the new road, the old surface is long gone (unlike the A87 (Loch Loyne) route this road would never have been tarred), but the construction of several layers of diminishing size rocks were clear to see, as were a number of culverts and one fine arched bridge, which has sadly been shorn of its parapets.
In places, the road seems to pass through the marshy shoreline which the loch normally has, with significant vegetation on the surface, but for the most part it is clear that this road has been submerged for most of the last 50 years.