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Rannoch Road (Thomas Telford)

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Rannoch Road
Location Map ( geo)
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From:  Tulloch, near Fersit (NN340808)
To:  Killin (NN568342)
Via:  Corrour, Rannoch (Station), Glen Lyon
Distance:  46 miles (74 km)
Meets:  A86, B846, A827
Old route now:  West Highland Railway Line!
Traditional Counties

Inverness-shire • Perthshire

Two hundred years ago, in May 1810, Thomas Telford wrote his fifth report to the Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges. Within its lengthy pages, it included proposals for a new road to connect the cattle-ferrying point from Skye at Kylerhea with the drovers favoured resting point at Killin. It was an audacious plan which would have seen many new roads built.

  • Firstly, from Glenelg over the Mam Rattagain pass to Shiel Bridge (on the A87) - Subsequently Built.
  • Secondly from Cluanie (A87) to Loch Arkaig (B8005) - Subsequently Built as far as Tomdoun (A87 (Loch Loyne))
  • Thirdly from near Fersit on the Laggan Road (A86) to Killin (A827)

It is the third of these three routes that this page takes a look at.


Telford had identified this route as being the most beneficial route for all those likely to use it. His main missions appear to have been:

  • To open communications between the hitherto remote and almost inaccessible Districts on the main land and Western Islands, and the more cultivated part of the country, the principal Towns, Markets and Fairs
  • To explore and establish general Lines of practicable communication which as Drove Roads might best accommodate those extensive tracts from whence Black Cattle and Sheep are sent to the markets in the southern parts of Scotland.

After considering other routes, including via Loch Linnhe and Loch Leven, which was improved as part of his commission, as was at least part of the Old Military Road from Fort William via Kinlochleven to Altnafeadh on the norther fringe of Rannoch Moor, Telford finally settled on the Loch Treig route. Judging by his own comments in 1810, 'this tedious and almost impassable piece of road', he didn't have much room in his heart for the Military Road. He also describes Glencoe as 'this dreadful pass'.

His objections to the existing roads were: '...circuitous course, the danger and delay of the ferry at Ballachulish, the difficult pass of Glencoe and of the Blackmount and subsequently the delay caused by passing Eastward from Tyndrum down Glen Dochart to near Killin.'

Proposed Route

Telford's description of his proposed route is surprisingly vague, considering that he had apparently surveyed the route and drawn up substantial plans for its construction. After climbing from his new Laggan Road (now the A86) at Tulloch, through Fersit to Loch Treig, the road was to 'pass along the Eastern side of the Loch... [to] the head of the lake...; from hence the descent to the plain of Rannoch is no more than a hundred feet. Entering the Moor of Rannoch, the line must pass near the East end of Loch Laidoch (Rannoch Station on the B846) and over a flat morassy tract, in nearly a straight direction, to the pas of Gual Vearan... From thence to the head of Glen Lyon... [And then] the pass called Lairig na Loone, at the head of Glen Lochy, down the north side of which the road may be carried... to Killin.'

This, therefore is the very route taken by the West Highland Railway 80 years later from Tulloch Station, through Corrour and Rannoch Stations and south to a point somewhere between the Railway's bridge over the Water of Tulla and Gorton Crossing. From here Telford chose the pass now known as Gleann Meurain into Glen Lyon (the loch is a Hydro reservoir) and east to the pass now called Lairig nan Lunn where a modern road crosses to Glen Lochay and so to Killin.

Abandoned Plans

Whilst Telford gained the support he needed in Westminster and Edinburgh, his plans were thwarted by the lanowners on the ground. At the time, the Moor of Rannoch and the surrounding landscape were owned by a great number of small landlords, especially along the route proposed by Telford. Fifty or Sixty years earlier, before the Forfeiture of the Estates following the Jacobite Rebellions, his job may have been much easier, with Breadalbane and his neighbours owning vast tracts. However, as it was too many of the landowners rejected the proposals as they saw no benefit for themselves, and so reluctantly Telford had to abandon his plans, and instead upgrade a Tedious and almost impassable piece of road, not to mention that dreadful pass!

The northern section of the route, between the B846 at Rannoch Station and A86 at Loch Laggan was again brought to prominence thanks to a petition in the mid 1930s. Sadly, yet again nothing came of the proposal.

Rannoch Road (Thomas Telford)

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