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Knoydart's Roads

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Knoydart's Roads
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From:Kilchoan (NM777992)
To:Airor (NG716055)
Via:Inverie
Length:9 miles (14.5 km)
Meets: None
Traditional Counties

Inverness-shire

Contents

Knoydart

Inverie's main street, with The Old Forge at the end.
The main road on Knoydart is pretty special. It is certainly not your normal, run of the mill stretch of Tarmac that can be used by any Tom, Dick or Sabristi! And yet, it is a public highway on the UK Mainland. Confused? Let me explain.

The Old Forge Pub at Inverie on Knoydart is the UK's most remote mainland public house. It is in the UK's most remote mainland village - Inverie - with a population somewhere around 70 (depending on how much of Knoydart you are counting!). The general public cannot access the Old Forge by road, despite it having a public highway running past its front door. This is mainly due to the mountainous terrain that surrounds Knoydart, and so the powers that be have never seen fit to build a (very long) road through absolutely nothing to get there.

The closest a road gets is the Loch Arkaig Road, or the Kinloch Hourn road (See A87). Or, more accurately, the A830 at Mallaig. The only problem with Mallaig is that it is the other side of Loch Nevis, and the Knoydart Ferry is passenger only. This doesn't mean that Knoydart is car free though, as several of the residents seem to have boats capable of carrying cars between the slipways, but they are not available for the general public.

Route

Kilchoan - Scottas

The track past the bunkhouse
We start about a mile to the East of Inverie, on a dirt track near the house of Kilchoan. This is where the coastal path (extremely rough) along Loch Nevis arrives from Sourlies Bothy and Loch Arkaig beyond. A bridge over the Inverie River is gated behind us, and ahead the road quality improves rapidly although it is some distance before the OS colour the road in yellow. We pass through some farm buildings, and pass the bunkhouse, before curving round the back of Inverie House to reach the shore of Loch Nevis. Just before we do so, another track joins from the right, dropping down through the trees. This is the more defined route through from Sourlies Bothy, although I doubt much more than a Mountain Bike or possibly a Quad Bike would make it all the way from the road at Loch Arkaig.

As we reach the shore, the track turns Yellow on the OS map, and with Tarmac under foot (or tyre) we are now definitely on Public Highway. Barely half a mile later, we reach Inverie, with its post office, pub and school. There used to be two churches too, but one is now a house, and the other looked closed. The main street has a couple of speed bumps on it, although I don't remember a speed limit! Just past the pub, we see the pier on the left where the ferry arrives, and also where most of Knoydart's visitors arrive. If you do visit, I recommend trying to get the return sailing that goes via Tarbet, an even more remote settlement, with a 6 mile walk to any road! (Google Earth shows 2005 imagery for Knoydart, with the new pier under construction).

The houses slowly dwindle as we continue westwards, with the loch shore on our left. It is a pleasant trudge along the road - unless you are lazy in which case there is a local taxi! As we approach Scottas, the road forks twice, each time climbing to the right behind the houses that sit on the shore. After a few sharp bends, we are suddenly 60-odd metres above sea-level, and turning inland, into the great wilderness that is Knoydart.

Scottas - Airor

Heading north into the wilderness
A small Lochan lies close to the road on the left, but then we head into barren moorland, which in the autumn sunshine of October looked very brown and inhospitable. We continue to climb, crossing a low shoulder before a slight dip down to the bridge over the Allt an Lagain, and then another climb to 140m. This is the summit of the road, and we now start to drop down to the Sandaig burn, where a track drops down to the farmhouse on the shore - the only sign of human habitation other than the tarmac under out feet.

When you get to this junction, I would recommend turning back (if you haven't already done so) as the ferry won't wait. However, if you are staying over, then continue, The road runs for about another 3 miles, passing the small settlement of Doune with a rough path rather than a track to the houses half a mile or so away. We are now heading downhill all the way, with the buildings of Airor in sight from time to time ahead. The map marks a gate, and then a few houses, with the road stopping at the pier. A track continues to the rest of the village, and then a path follows the shore north eastwards to Inverguseran, from where a more robust track goes back to Inverie.

Inverie - Inverguseran

Not Public Highway The track from Inverie to Inverguseran leaves the village road just a few metres northwest of The Old Forge. It climbs steeply through the trees to pick up the Allt a Mhuillin, and cross the Mam Uidhe into Gleann na Guiserein, where it follows the top of another forestry plantation down to the Abhainn Inbhir Ghuiserein. This stream is bridged, with the track then following the north bank to the small settlement at Inverguseran. From here, a path links back to the road end at Airor, and another continues north to the coastal house at Croulin.

Inverie - Barrisdale

Not Public Highway Starting from the end of the Public Highway at Inverie House, a track climbs sharply up through the end of the forestry plantation that frames Inverie from the sea. It then drops down once more, and follows the Inverie River through Gleann an Dubh Lochain. After this, a path continues (although occasionally used by wheeled traffic) up to the high pass of Mam Barrisdale (450m). From here it drops back to sea level at Barrisdale Bothy on Loch Hourn, with the path continuing to the road end at Kinloch Hourn.

A little over a mile from Inverie House, a turning crosses the Inverie River and climbs through Gleann Meadail, again as a path occasionally used by wheeled vehicles, crossing the Mam Meadail pass at about 550m, before dropping to Camusrory and Sourlies Bothy at the head of Loch Nevis. The path continues via Glen Dessary to Strathan at the Loch Arkaig Road end.

History

The 1962 OS 1-inch map shows the road from Scottas to Airor as an unfenced track. This suggests that the road was not public highway at the time. I don't have the neighbouring sheet, or any other maps at hand, but believe that the road was 'adopted' in the 1980s.

Maintenance

When Highland Council recently decided that some of the road needed to be resurfaced (More still needs doing!), they passed all of the fun onto a contractor. This meant hiring Ferries to transport all of the equipment over. In the past they had used deferred set asphalt, but this time hot rolled tar was to be used for the first time, which added to the complications. Nevertheless, long stretches of the main road through Inverie and on towards Sandaig are now sporting beautiful fresh black tarmac, free from holes or cracks. Don't know how long that will last! In total over 3 km were resurfaced, using about 1250 tonnes of material. The Contractors used two barge-ferries, each making four return sailings per day for the two weeks' duration of the works.

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Knoydart's Roads
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