The Journey
Southern Highlands
Great Glen
Road to the Isles
Invergarry to Lochalsh

Fort William to Mallaig

The Road to the Isles

Routes followed:
  • A830 Fort William to Mallaig via Glenfinnan, Arisaig and Morar
  • West Highland Line railway
Connections to:
  • Ferry to Skye at Mallaig

The A830 Road to the Isles (Gaelic Rathad nan Eilean) runs west from Fort William to Mallaig, passing through an area that is steeped in Jacobite history with many connections to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his followers. So strong are these connections that, during the summer months, West Coast Railways runs The Jacobite steam train service along the Iron Road to the Isles (Gaelic Rathad Iarainn nan Eilean).

Both road and rail routes start their journey heading northeast from the centre of Fort William before turning west. At their respective turning points, each crosses the River Lochy: the railway adjacent to Old Inverlochy Castle and the road at the junction of the A82 and A830, near the Ben Nevis Distillery.

Both routes cross the Caledonian Canal at Banavie and follow the northern side of Loch Eil on their way to Glenfinnan. This is the first real sign of the Jacobite history previusly mentioned with the Glenfinnan Monument marking the spot where the clans gathered at the start of the 1745 Rising. However it is probably the 380m long curving Glenfinnan Viaduct that carries the railway over the River Finnan that is better known due to its appearance in four of the Harry Potter films.

Continuing west from Glenfinnan, the road and the rail then pass Loch Eilt with the former sticking to the northern side of the loch with the latter taking the southern side. The routes then pass another site that features in the movie Local Hero: Our Lady of the Braes Roman Catholic Church at Polnish near the northern tip of Loch Ailort. However, it was only the interior scenes of the film that were shot here; the exterior scenes used a mock-up on the beach at Camusdarach near Arisaig. Before reaching Arisaig, however, there is one more point of interest for historians, particularly those interested in the Jacobites: near the eastern end of Loch nan Uamh is the Prince's Cairn, which is said to mark the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie finally left Scotland following his five months in hiding after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746.

At Arisaig, both road and rail turn north on their final legs of the journey to Mallaig. This is a relatively new stretch of road, having opened in 2003 and being the only stretch of the upgraded road that follows a different route to the original single track road. This latter road, now classified as the B8008, winds round the coast from Arisaig to Morar, merging briefly again with the new road just before each crosses the River Morar on their own bridges. The old road then passes under the railway viaduct and then crosses the railway once more at Morar itself. To the north of Morar the old road once more joins the new before diverging once to the south of Mallaig.

Scotland Books

Copyright Scotland from the Roadside 2016