The crap cycle facility to the isles


In January I said some nice things about the Caledonia Way, what is shaping up to be a very nice leisure (and perhaps, for some locals, plain utility) ride between Oban and Fort William, via Glencoe. I never got around to writing the other half of the story: the road to the isles. I don’t really have any interesting point to make about it, it’s just an excuse to post pictures of pretty places and crap cycle tracks.


boat!The 68km (42mile) route from Fort William to Mallaig should be a brilliant place for a leisurely bicycle ride with some sightseeing: this “award winning” road passes some of the most stunning scenery in the country (though my pictures from a grey January afternoon don’t show it), past Neptune’s staircase on the Caledonian Canal; Loch Eil and its views back to Ben Nevis; Glenfinnan with its monument and viaduct on Loch Shiel; the lonely church of Our Lady of the Braes on the hill at Lochialort; the rocky coastline and the views to Rum and Eigg at Arisaig; the vast beaches around Morar; and the fishing village at the end of the road at Mallaig.

Our Lady of the Braes Glenfinnan

And it’s paralleled all the way by the West Highland Line, so there’s an equally amazing return journey and emergency bail-out sorted.

Loch Eil

The road to the isles is the A830 trunk road. It finally became a two-lane road for its entire length three years ago, before which much of it looked like this recently bypassed section:


One must note that, while England has over the years raised the threshold for what is classified as a “trunk road”, Scotland continues to use the set of trunk roads defined in the early 20th century, and this one is as quiet as the quietest ‘B’ road in the South.

road to Mallaig

It was widened to two lanes in sections, like layers documenting the history of trunk road cycling policy. First to Glenfinnan as a plain two-lane road, to take the tourist traffic and the forestry trucks.


Then to Lochailort, with 1m wide strips “to help cyclists“.


And finally to Mallaig with a shared path alongside. Nothing wrong with a shared path out here where the population density is low, of course. It could make for a great tourist attraction — a way to explore this coast properly, not shut up in a box, a feature to be added to all the tour guides, a famous route that attracts serious cycle tourists and holidaying families alike…


Except that obviously the designers and contractors saw it as a bit of joke requirement, somewhere to make a few savings. So there’s a narrow lumpy strip, made with the cheapest left-overs, unlikely to last many seasons…


Not even wide enough for a parent to ride alongside their child…


Giving up wherever it would have required actual money and work to accommodate it…


At this hilariously sprawling new t-junction onto a single-track lane, the geometry is so generous that it takes the cycle track around the corner where visibility to and from the main road is entirely obscured by the embankments.


Edinburgh’s pedestrian guardrail finds a retirement home in the Highlands.


The most westerly “cyclists dismount” sign in mainland Britain.


No, I don’t know what this is supposed to be, either. Some sort of cycle lane in the newly bypassed Morar.


It’s not really important. It’s just a wasted opportunity for a great leisure path, a tourist attraction, not a serious transport issue, and the road is a quiet one anyway. It just amused me.

3 thoughts on “The crap cycle facility to the isles”

  1. I note the quote from Sarah Boyack about the “no plans to consult with the communities of Mallaig and Morar” and the 1m wide strip to “help cyclists”, I will remind her of that when I next meet her.

  2. I hadn’t realised the road had been improved. The last time I drove to Mallaig I was nearly run into the adjacent ditch by a timber lorry and a further mile or two I came upon a car that HAD been run off the road, and helped to tow it back onto the surface. I was then tail-gated by a local in a white pick-up truck. Needless to say i never came to Mallaig again!. Not only wouldn’t I have cycled it(the bikes were on the bike rack at the back of the camper van) but driving it was too dangerous. Perhaps I’ll try again . Where I live roads are not safe for cycling.

  3. It is such a shame that a separate cycle route does not exist which is out of reach of the noise and pollution produced by cars and especially large trucks. A missed opportunity.

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