19 September 2009

The 22-mile cul-de-sac: Britain's oddest road?

This is one of the strangest tarmac roads in Britain: a 22-mile long single-lane cul-de-sac that simply stops dead at the end of Britain's most fjord-like loch, many miles from anywhere.

It's the road from near Invergarry, on the Great Glen Fault in northern Scotland, to Kinloch Hourn, at the top of Loch Hourn on the epic west coast. (See map - Kinloch Hourn is on the extreme right, the road going east from there.)

It's an astonishing cycle experience: three hours of quite awesome, remote scenery (right), with the road entirely to yourself. On a sunny day, like we had last weekend on our trip there, the panoramas are awesome: cobalt-blue lakes, royal-green hills, polished-mahogany sheep turds.

Apart from a handful of walkers heading for the virtually roadless hiking wilderness of Knoydart, and the odd service vehicle for the hydroelectric dam on vast Loch Quoich (right), you'll see no traffic at all. Kinloch Hourn itself has a campsite, one B&B, a cafe which may or may not be open when you're there. Your chances of mobile phone access are as narrow as the road in its long, steep ascent away from the shore.

The prospect of cycling over 22 miles solely in order to turn back may not be attractive to everyone, but there are two ways to include the remarkable road in a linear trip. (We did it west to east to follow the tailwinds.)

The first is to cycle the rough but rewarding old pony track between the village of Corran and Kinloch Hourn. (The journey to Corran is a major undertaking in itself, probably involving a train to Mallaig, ferries to and from Skye, and a ride round the spectacular coastline of the Glenelg peninsula; or train it to Kyle of Lochalsh and cycle up and over the 350m Ratagan pass to Glenelg.) On a sturdy mountain bike that's no problem, but probably too uncomfortable on a road-touring bike with panniers. You'll bruise your bananas.

So your second option is to get Billy Mackenzie's by-appointment Arnsidale Ferry (above and right) between Arnisdale (next to Corran) and Kinloch Hourn (or wherever else you want him to take you). It's a half-hour trip on a thrillingly fast iron tub of a boat along a jaw-dropping sealoch, between the Glenelg and Knoydart peninsulas. It's reasonably priced too, especially given the remoteness and convenience (think of it as a water-taxi).

Once dropped off at the jetty near Kinloch Hourn, you can admire the very end of Britain's longest no-through-road (right), where it turns into a walking track.

Then you can cycle the extraordinary 22 ½ miles back to civilisation (ie pub) at Invergarry. The first mile or two is a steep uphill (right), too steep to cycle for most; from there you have no major climbs, and the trend is downhill after Loch Quoich.

The oddest thing about the road though is its lack of warnings where it starts, from the A87 in Glen Garry. Not even a 'T' sign, never mind Caution This Road Is 22 Miles Long And Goes Nowhere. Ah, another metaphor for life.


  1. Is the cycle helmet for protection from gull attacks?

  2. Would you believe no gulls, no midges... the only danger to your head is from the Black Bottle whisky at £1.70 a shot.

    In the picture is my old mate Gary, bless him: it was his first bike tour, so he bought all his stuff from Evans or somewhere, and of course they said 'you'll need a helmet etc' so he bought one. Tried my best to contrive it being lost in our various wanderings round Glasgow, Mallaig, Skye, Great Glen, Strathpeffer, Carbisdale etc, but he always found it in the end.

  3. I didn't expect to see a much enjoyed route from my past featuring on a London bike blog! Great to read about your trip, I don't think the Arnisdale ferry was running when I rode up there in 1991-ish.

    If you're lucky, it need not be a 22 mile dead end: when I rode there, Loch Loyne just to the north (technically a hydro-power reservoir) was low enough to allow one to complete the journey from Tomdoun to Cluanie on the A87 to Skye. If you look at Google Maps, there's a road heads north from Tomdoun up to Loch Loyne, and a more minor one that emerges from the other side. When the waters were low as they were that year they revealled a very battered stretch of tarmac and a single arched hump-back bridge. It probably wasn't safe to cross but I did so anyway. The ride up the other side was surreal to say the least - before the hydro dam for Loch Loyne had been built, this was the main road to Skye. Now it's deserted and forgotten.

    I've got photos somewhere if anyone's interested...

    Thanks for a dose of nostalgia!

  4. @Anonymous... thanks for that!

    By the sound of the summer before we arrived, from what people told us, that bridge you mention was very unlikely to be anything but submerged. But next time in Tomdoun I'll investigate - especially as there's an inn there which, I recall from our trip this time, looked very tempting with its outside tables in the sun...

    And, yes, Billy's Arnisdale ferry is quite new - just a couple of years or so.

  5. If 22nd Sept's Anon ever reads this, photos would be awesome...

  6. Have a look at Geograph (http://www.geograph.org.uk/gridref/NH1504) for a range of photos with the water at various levels.
    Loch Loyne is a hydroelectric reservoir and at times Scottish Hydro decide to lower the level (either for maintenance or other unknown reasons). The best thing to do is to call the Tomdoun hotel and ask them what level it is at.

  7. I cycled around this route in July 2013 doing three day rides: Invergarry to Kinlochourn, Cluanie Inn to Loch Loyne, and Shiel Bridge to Corran.

    The Tomdoun hotel is currently on the market and appears to have been abandoned in a hurry. Slates are missing from the roof and all the optics are still full in the bar. I walked up the hill to look at the start of the route to Corran. It is like an Australian rain forest with towering 100 year old Eucalyptus trees all around.

    The road to the Isles bridge is still intact at Loch Loyne picture) and still just above the water. I walked across onto the Island but the water is too high to reach Tomdoun.

    I met Paul in Glenelg and cycled with him to Arnisdale. He was cycling (front & rear panniers) to Kinlochourn and said he had been studying the route ever since he retired. I left him at 2pm as I cycled on to Sheena's tea hut. He had to be in Fort William by 5pm the next day. I wish I had exchanged contact details to find out how he got on.

    It seems a stag had become accustomed to visiting the tea hut and one day during the rut tossed Sheena with his antlers. She finds it very difficult to walk. A German kayak-er Elija whom I met at the hut says Sheena has lost a lot of her vitality since the incident.