In The Footsteps.....

Scotland, this year has had fantastic weather. We’d a great spring which extended into a fantastic summer which has had lots of sunshine. However, that’s meant that there hasn’t been that much rain, which has adversely affected farmers and gardeners. In addition, some of the local lochs have seen a drop in their water levels, allowing us a glimpse back to the past.

One of these lochs is Loch Glascarnoch, which has seen its water level fall this year and part of the bottom of the loch has now dried out, revealing a landscape that is rarely seen, and a road that is normally submerged. So, why is there a road at the bottom of a loch?

route of walk as tracked by smartwatch
Route of the walk

A bit about Loch Glascarnoch

Lets have a look at Loch Glascarnoch and why it’s even here. 1943 saw the formation of the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board (NoSHEB). This was a nationalised body set up to oversea the development of Scotlands’ resources for water power – yes, they were well ahead of the ‘green energy’ revolution. One of the schemes NoSHEB undertook was the Conon Valley Hydro Scheme, and the area round Glascarnoch was part of the second phase of this scheme. Loch Glascarnoch is a man-made loch with its water coming from Loch Droma in the west and Loch Vaich in the North. At the Dingwall end of Loch Glascarnoch is the Glascarnoch Dam which provides storage and flow regulation for Mossford. On the southern bank of Loch Glascarnoch, upstream from the dam is the entrance to an 8km tunnel which takes this water southwards to Grudie Bridge to the nearby power station at Mossford. These works started in 1953 and were completed in 1957.

Once the Glascarnoch dam was completed this led to the creation of Loch Glascarnoch. Anything that was in this area was now underwater. Including the road that has now been revealed.

A road well travelled

It’s strange walking down a road that you’ve passed more times than you care to remember, but have never seen. And perhaps even stranger to think that once there’s heavy rain it will disappear again – and who knows the next time it will re-appear.

What a change it must have been for people in the area in the late 1950’s when this loch was created and all the routes they used for generations had now disappeared. This led me to wonder how long there’s been a road here?

Well there’s quite a few documented references to a road in this area. In 1755 Captain John Forbes identified the roads in the Highlands as being poor and this one as being one of the poorest. So who would have used this road? Well, probably prior to this period the Drovers would have used it. Even then there were other people calling for the improvements of the road, including Pennant in 1772 and John Knox in 1786. So, I guess calling for road improvements today is nothing new. However, following the creation of Ullapool as a fishing station in 1788 led to road improvement being more important.

In 1790 the area was surveyed by George Brown of Elgin who produced an estimated cost of £8,000 for the road. The government of the day thought this was excessive. But 2 years later in the spring of 1792 Kenneth Mackenzie of Torridon was contracted to build the 40 miles of road. He completed this in 1797 at a cost of £4,582. Unfortunately, it has been documented that his road quickly fell into disrepair.

The road was then upgraded by Thomas Telford in 1840. I suspect this was the route of the road we were walking on.

It felt really strange walking along the bottom of a loch.  You see things from a totally different perspective.  A wide open basin, that has now been dry for so long that vegetation has started growing, and deep cracks have appeared in the dried peaty bottom.

A word of warning!

There are 2 submerged bridges on the route. We were lucky to cross both bridges as they are both now completely exposed.

A short distance further on there was a very muddy patch. This can be easily recognised, if you are lucky enough to walk this route, by the mound of stones in the loch. A wee word of warning, please be very careful here, the ground is very soft, and you can end up sinking into it. A better route, and the one we took on our return journey, was on much firmer ground closer to the current A835.

Very Muddy!

So, this section is comprised of soft mud. Take care as this could happen to you too! The left leg went in, the right leg got wet trying to get out. The easier path can be clearly seen on the route trace at the start of this blog – it’s the U-shaped deviation from the otherwise straight route.

Shortly after this, you will come to the second bridge. Well, after my unexpected adventure I was more cautious about this as there was water running over the road. But nothing to worry about, I barely got the soles of my shoes wet, and not enough to clean my shoes.

legs and feet, very wet and clarted in mud after falling into a boggy area
Very muddy after falling in

After the 2nd bridge

After we passed the second bridge, the loch bottom started to intrude on the road a bit more. So, although the road was there, and easy to walk on, there were continual reminders that this was no ordinary road.

Eventually we came to the end of the walkable part of the road, and could see where the loch still had more to reveal. Oh well, perhaps that will be revealed either later this summer or in the future, all of course weather dependent.

Excellent geology

I’ve mentioned before that this is a very strange environment, and there were some amazing rocks revealed, with very unusual markings. I think I’ll be doing more research into these.

And the other end

I hope the picture of my husband walking along the road gives some idea of scale – the wide, fractured loch bottom over a huge area.

We made the decision that we would pass the parking place where our car was parked and continue to see the western end of the road. This part, tends to be the only part that can be seen from the current A835 roadside. Therefore, it was no surprise to see that it was overgrown, and barely visible.

So, a lovely way to spend a morning, and a trip well worth doing if you ever get the chance. And, if you do, spend a little time thinking of the people through the centuries who have walked this way.

This blog was originally published on: 29 July 2018