B8007 – the road to everywhere

The B8007 is the sinuous single track road linking the villages of Salen and Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. This 19 mile, often tortuous, tarmac strip does a lot to protect the remoteness and largely unspoiled environment of the peninsula. Particularly at the eastern end, the combination of the encroaching oakwoods and numerous switchback corners discourages undue haste.

B8007 from Salen to Kilchoan

B8007 from Salen to Kilchoan

By day the scenery along the B8007 changes from the slightly claustrophobic mossy, verdant oakwoods clinging to the shore of Loch Sunart via windswept open moorland around Ben Hiant to panoramic, yacht-studded seascapes towards Mull or Eigg and Rum.

Or vice versa if you’re driving from west to east.

The straightest piece of road between Salen and Ardslingnish

The straightest piece of road between Salen and Ardslingnish

At night you drive down a narrow monochrome cone of light with the reflections from road-edge marker posts and passing places stretching off into the gloom. If you’re lucky you’ll see large stags down off the hill serenely melting away into the shadows as you pass.

If you’re unlucky you might hit one.

The A861 aperitif

Even before reaching Salen, visitors approaching from the Corran ferry will have already completed about 8 miles of single track A861 from Strontian. This starts almost immediately you get to the cattle grid at the eastern boundary of Strontian, and is a marked contrast to the long, fast straights of the two-lane A861 stretching across Ardgour.

These 8 miles generally have pretty good sightlines, ample passing places – more on these later – and are a reasonably gentle introduction to the main course. This is the loch-hugging stretch between Salen and Ardslingnish.

Salen to Ardslingnish

This part of the B8007 has some poor surfaces (though there’s worse to look forward to above Loch Mudle), the tightest bends, the narrowest corners and often non-existent sightlines.

Going east to west there’s trees, rocks and hills on your right and – in places – a low wall and water on you left. Here and there are gaps in the wall. Some of these are disconcertingly car-sized. The road stays close to the loch, sometimes at sea level and other times rising above it as it negotiates the contours.

After passing the Natural History centre at Glenmore the road rises to Ardslingnish and the views open out. There is a good place to park above Camas nan Gaell with great views across to Ben Hiant and Mull. This is a dependable place to spot eagles from, both golden and sea, either on the hill in front or the western ridges of Beinn Bhuidhe (“Behind you” as they say in panto).

B8007 and Beinn an Leathaid

B8007 and Beinn an Leathaid

After Ardslingnish the road remains single track, but it’s less tortuous and – with very few trees – you can see what’s coming and prepare accordingly.

Single track with passing places

As the title of this post states, the B8007 is the road to everywhere. It’s the only road.

Therefore the ~300 residents of Ardnamurchan, the estate workers, farmers, foresters and others lucky enough to live on the peninsula are, year round, the primary users. Then there are the delivery drivers, the builders, the telecoms engineers and dozens of others who are regular visitors. Finally, there is the influx of holidaymakers, the slow adventurers, the solitude-seekers and the sightseers.

Permit overtaking

Permit overtaking

At times the road can get quite busy. Fortunately the road has hundreds of passing places and it’s relatively rare for vehicles to have to reverse.

As long as you are travelling at an appropriate speed for the road – which might mean 15mph on a couple of corners – there’s usually time to see an approaching vehicle and for one or the other to pull in.

Etiquette and priorities

Which brings me to the thorny question of who has priority? Who should pull over?

Is it the vehicle closest to the passing place? Is it the car travelling less fast? Perhaps the visitor should let the local through unimpeded? Is it the gleaming Bentley or the mud-spattered Toyota Hilux?

Tricky.

Having driven the road many times it’s clear there is a hierarchy amongst the majority of the users.

For two vehicles travelling in opposite directions size appears to be the primary consideration. A car gives way to a lorry which gives way to a tractor and trailer.

However, there are some nuances to these interactions and it involves all sorts of near-instantaneous judgements being made. Locals tend to be driving faster and so often get priority even if they’re driving a Smart car (like the Sanna Spice deliveries).

Everyone – at least everyone with any sense – gives way to the mud-spattered Toyota Hilux travelling at 50mph as the driver simultaneously talks to his dog in the passenger seat, tunes the radio and phones ahead to say he’s late … 😉

Rear view mirror

Who has priority when two vehicles are travelling in the same direction?

Is it the visitor enjoying the scenery? The local returning from the Co-op in Mallaig? The Shiel bus on the way to the ferry?

By rights it’s the vehicle travelling fastest, irrespective of whether it’s a local or a visitor. This applies whatever the sizes of the vehicles.

This of course means that the mud-spattered Toyota Hilux, local driver plus dog takes priority over almost everything travelling in the same direction.

The only thing that trumps the Hilux is an ageing motorhome with three bikes obscuring the rear window, a canoe on the roof and a bumper sticker bearing the words Adventure before dementia.

Drivers of vehicles like these seem to spend their entire journey (understandably) gawping at the scenery, they never use their mirrors, have little spatial awareness and are seemingly totally deaf.

Don’t ask me how I know but my dog will back me up 😉


Notes

The road to nowhere

The road to nowhere

The title of this post is a bastardisation of “The Road to Nowhere”, a track on the 1985 Talking Heads album Little Creatures. David Byrne wrote the song and directed the video that accompanied its release.

The Road to Nowhere is also the name given to a number of incomplete highways in the US. These include Lakeview Drive on the north shore of Fontana Lake in North Carolina and the $25M Gravina Island Highway to the non-existent Gravina Island Bridge in Alaska.

4 thoughts on “B8007 – the road to everywhere

  1. David Reeks

    For the occasional visitor a good ploy is to allow any faster vehicle driving in the same direction as yourself to overtake; especially if it is a local driver. As soon as the vehicle is past, accelerate keeping about 100 metres behind and watch the brakelights of the other vehicle. This gives you a speedier passage and gives you fair warning of oncoming traffic. It reduces stress!

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Good tip … it also encourages the single car being driven in the opposite direction to move over and the let the convoy past. During the ‘rush hour’ you can sometimes get a conga-like chain of cars rushing westwards from the Corran ferry. As I’m often driving east at the same time it’s far preferable to pull over once to let half a dozen go past, than to meet six cars that are well separated.

      Reply
  2. Archie McLellan

    The road that goes on and on and on! I remember once leaving Morar to return to Glasgow and on a whim (it was a beautiful day), we decided to go via Ardnamurchan. It did not disappoint. North wind, clear, deep blue skies, a perfect time to be at the most westerly point of the British mainland. We took our time. We missed the ferry. We arrived in Fort William 7 hours after leaving Morar, and in Glasgow in the sma hours. A special day, still vivid. I’ve read Neil Ansell’s book now (thanks for the suggestion). It was astonishing to be with him in North Morar especially, where I know the land well, but sadly I’ve never really seen all that was in front of me. Too much chat, too much walking, head down, looking at the ground.

    Really enjoyed reading your account of this road. The problem with ‘Use passing place to permit overtaking’ is that it can be such an alien concept. I think the idea of letting the car behind overtake at a passing place sometimes just does not penetrate. It’s a problem that’s been around for generations in the highlands. It applies not just to car drivers. A peleton of four touring bikes on the A82 can be seen leading a procession at 15mph for a long time, even though it’s not a single track road.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Archie

      Pleased you enjoyed the book. There are lots of places in it that I’m looking forward to exploring. The road north from Salen through Acharacle and on to Lochailort is also wonderful. When we were moving things to the house I made that trip several times in hired Transit vans. I was travelling too late for the Corran ferry but, since it was summer, the evening light is seemingly never-ending and the views over the heavily-indented coastline were spectacular.

      I’m looking forward to spending some time canoeing in Morar, Shiel and around the coast at Arisaig once things warm up a bit.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply

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