THE ROAD TO THE ISLES
‘The Road to the Isles’ is a favourite Scottish folk song, albeit modern in origin;
Sure by Tummel and Loch Rannoch and Lochaber I will go
By heather tracks wi’ heaven in their wiles.
If it’s thinkin’ in your inner heart, the braggart’s in my step,
You’ve never smelled the tangle o’ the Isles.
Oh the far Cuillins are puttin’ love on me,
As step I wi’ my crummack to the Isles.
Today’s road is actually the A830, but it still connects Fort William in Lochaber, with Mallaig on the coast, the last port to the Isle of Skye (and the Cullins – a range of mountains). The name checks in the folk song all exist, but today’s visitors have the option to travel the road by steam train, ‘The Jacobite’, better known today however as the Hogwarts Express given that this is where the railway sequences from the Harry Potter films were shot
The Faraway Fairways ‘gastro golf’ tour travels the Road to the Isles, but does so in reverse. This means we start our journey from the west highland fishing port of Mallaig (pronounced Mall-ig). Unlike some of the picture postcard harbours of Fife’s East Neuk, Mallaig is a more harsh reminder of the plight of the local fishing fleet. This is a tough existence
Mallaig is a working port
Both road and rail head south for ten miles before turning east into the glens. Before doing so however you’re confronted with one of the more striking stretches of coastline in the UK. The beaches of the western highlands and islands are well washed by the Atlantic. The seas are clear and pure being almost devoid of any industrial influences. The result is picture postcard white sands and aqua marine water. The ‘white sands of Morar’ are particularly famous. It’s only if you dared to test the temperature of the water that you might suddenly be subjected to a reality regarding the latitude.
The silver sands of Morar and Arisaig belong to a much more exotic location. Beware though, the water is frigid
Golfer’s make a short stop at Traigh to play what must rank as being amongst the most magnificent 9-hole layout in Europe. Traigh golf club isn’t built on pure links land. It’s located on a ridge which affords players inspiring views of the crystal clear waters and white sands below, as well as the islands of Eigg, Rum, and Skye on the horizon. If this fails to touch your golfing soul, then give up playing!
Although it’s not visible from road or rail, Loch Morar, Scotland’s deepest inland loch, is only a few minutes detour off the road. Loch Morar has it’s monster legend too, affectionately known ‘Morag’. A round of golf at Traigh won’t take more than two and half hours. Any non-golfers will have ample time to spend around Loch Morar, or even walking along the beach
As the road and railway line wend their way inland the landscape undertakes a transformation. All of a sudden we’re travelling through countryside of mountains, with greens, browns and heather purples framing nature’s palette. The highlight of the journey is approaching, the crossing of viaduct at Glenfinnan, at the head of Loch Shiel. If using the train, sit on the right hand side for the best views (and left hand side if doing the journey from Fort William)
In 1745, the ‘Young Pretender’, ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie, was rowed along Loch Shiel to Glenfinnan to begin the Jacobite uprising. Today a column marks the spot by way of monument where he came ashore on the mainland. As news spread the clans fell into Glenfinnan to pledge their support. After spending a few weeks in camp, the Prince judged that he had enough men to begin to fight his way out of Scotland and onto England. The uprising would perish in April 1746 on the field of Culloden, and Charles Edward Stuart himself began a deadly game of cat and mouse with the pursuing English before escaping to Skye, and onto France
The view from the railway of the Loch Shiel, with the Jacobite monument in the foreground
Despite the deep historical significance of Glenfinnan, it’s perhaps ironic that the site is better known today for the arching stone viaduct that allows the train to cross the head of the glen, as featured in the Harry Potter films.
The final leg of the journey runs along the shores of Loch Eil which in turn runs into Loch Linnie. As you pull into Corpach you will be presented with views across Loch Linnie of Ben Nevis, which at 1344 metres is Britain’s highest peak. The mountain itself is something of a ‘whales back’ with the Lochaber town of Fort William sitting in its shadow on the shores of the loch below.
Ben Nevis from Corpach
One final thing to look for before arriving at Fort William is Neptune’s Staircase. This is a series of eight ‘locks’ built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822 to link the North Sea and Atlantic coast using Loch Ness, Loch Oich, and Loch Lochy, plus their outflow rivers. The staircase completed the Caledonian canal which in its day was a major engineering feat. Neptune’s Staircase is about half mile out of Corpach and will appear on your left