For those well-acquainted with Scotland the celebrated Road to the Isles is a name that instills a sense of travel or adventure.
For anyone who has not taken this exceptional 43 mile (69km) excursion, along the A830 between Fort William and Mallaig, what are you waiting for? It is one that will live long in the memory, with breathtaking views around almost every corner and several incredible feats of engineering along the way.
As you leave Fort William towards Corpach you are treated to a stunning view of Ben Nevis; from this angle you really get a sense of its height and scale. Corpach’s somewhat mournful Gaelic translation is Corpse Place as it was where funeral processions between Fort William and Annat used to rest.
The Caledonian Canal begins (or ends) its journey at Corpach and nearby is Banavie, home to the magnificent Neptune’s Staircase. The staircase was named after the Roman god of the sea by the men who built the eight locks between 1803-22. It raises the Caledonian Canal by 19 metres over its 457-metre length. At first 12 men were employed to open and close the locks but since the 1960s, after mechanisation, this has reduced to only two.
Beyond Corpach, Loch Linnhe opens out into gorgeous Loch Eil, which is framed by a plethora of the West Highland’s craggiest peaks. It is then on to Glenfinnan, where stands two incredible structures. The first is the the magnificent 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct. It was completed in 1901 as part of the extension of the West Highland Railway from Fort William to Mallaig, known as the Iron Road to the Isles before being popularised in the 2001 movie, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
As you leave Fort William towards Corpach you are treated to a stunning view of Ben Nevis.
Nearby, on the shores of Loch Shiel, rises the Glenfinnan Monument, which was erected in 1815. It was here that Charles Edward Stuart – better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie – raised the Royal Standard to begin the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. Another spot heavily linked with Charles Edward Stuart, but not so well-known, sits just off the Road to the Isles at Fassfern. Translating from Gaelic as Stance of the Alder Trees, Fassfern is reputedly where Stuart picked a white rose for his bonnet after raising the standard at Glenfinnan. The rose consequently became known as the White Cockade and an emblem for the Jacobite cause.
The exceptional scenery continues as the journey heads to Arisaig, where a shimmering necklace of beaches and incredible views of the Small Isles awaits. In the early 19th century Arisaig was home to a thriving community with both fishing and crofting key to the village’s economy. However, like much of the Scottish Highlands, Arisaig was shattered by the Highland Clearances and is thought that over 1000 Arisaig crofters were compelled to leave their homes and lands – landowners felt that sheep were more economically viable than people. Many of the crofters left for Nova Scotia.
The final few miles pass Loch Morar – Britain’s deepest freshwater loch – and the breathtaking Silver Sands of Morar to reach Mallaig. Not surprisingly fishing has been the cornerstone of Mallaig’s development since 1841 when Lord Lovat parcelled up the farmstead of Mallaigvaig into a series of plots to attract people to settle here with fishing being the main profession. With the arrival of the railway in 1901, and the steamers sailing for Skye and the Hebrides, Mallaig subsequently became a popular visitor destination. This is still the case and it is the perfect spot to finish our trip, with a delicious fish supper and views to Knoydart, Skye, Canna, Muck, Eigg and Rum.
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