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Location (mileage so far)

Glasgow (0) - Loch Lomond - Crianlarich (56) - Black Mount - Rannoch Moor - Glencoe - Loch Linnhe - Fort William (108) - Ben Nevis - Leanachan Forest - Spean Bridge - Loch Lochy - Laggan - Loch Oich - Caledonian Canal - Fort Augustus (141) - Loch Ness - Inverness (174)


While I certainly haven't covered enough of Great Britain's roadways to be any great authority on the subject, I have crossed nearly the width and height of the Isle, leaving only portions of The South yet unexplored. A82 (or A82 Great Western Road) was one road that constantly startled, with stretches of startling, shocking barrenness alternating with dense misty forests and lakes - part and parcel of the Scottish Highlands.

The portion of Highway A82 that I'm talking about stretches from Glasgow to Inverness - well, really from Loch Lomond to Inverness, as it takes a while to get out Glasgow's environs. It is also at Loch Lomond that the Highland Boundary Fault line is crossed, and perhaps the reason the journey really begins there.

It begins innocuously enough; a loch, some mountains in the distance, ragged and sharp at times, smoothly sloping at others. A town, a petrol station, a roadside seafood (or rather, loch-food) restaurant. Tapping the steering wheel to the rhythm in your head, peering around disinterestedly on the Nth hour of your drive.

And then something happens and it all stops. Suddenly you're in the middle of nowhere, with no signs of civilisation anywhere from here to the horizon. The road winds like a cautious protoserpent between the brownblack (in late summer, dark green earlier on) gorse dotting the gradually steepening hillsides, and the sparse growth on dark black Rannoch Moor casts disquieting shadows on the murky water. You can almost smell the granite underneath.

Feel free to gape at the stark beauty of this landscape. The indecently barren peaks, covered with growth shorter than a Blackpool girl's skirts, rise up and the Scottish mist pours in, erasing boundaries between you and the Highlands, making distances irrelevant. You can reach out and touch the peak of the mountain on the horizon - then you turn the other direction and a blank wall of mist is an arm's span away. Dense, black clouds growl scant meters above the mountaintops, while behind you a cheerful blue sky waves goodbye.

As you approach the nearby hills, the mist cuts out and suddenly you're weaving between outcroppings of rock like a Formula 1 driver - except that you're barely pushing 25mph in your econobox. Other drivers (all two of them) interject themselves into your life for scant seconds in an obscenely loud blare of horns before vanishing around the curve. Weary, you stop at a layby and discover a hidden oasis just below the road - a stream zips playfully around the curves you just plodded through, breaking into waterfalls here and there; the fresh water livens up this area with bright green, contrasting sharply to the dirt greenish brown peaks looming above you.

Eventually you will leave this region of abrupt borderlands behind and arrive at Fort William and Loch Linnhe, where you can grab a bite to eat before moving on. While I haven't climbed Ben Nevis myself, the wonderful writeup there sounds very tempting, if arduous.

If you thought the driving was fun through the mountains, you are in for a treat after Fort William. A82 starts to move alongside loch after loch after loch, and since all of these are surrounded by steep mountains, the space allotted for the road is very, very small.

The presence of so much water means that the space around the loch shores is also quite lush - so driving through this part of A82 is a completely different experience. As you slowly move along, pausing at islands to let oncoming traffic pass you by - that's right, single-lane two-way traffic here - you'll get glimpses of the lochs to one side, and a steep green mountainside to the other. Unpruned trees lean haphazardly over the asphalt, and numerous streams trickle down from above, increasing the humidity in sharp contrast to the barreness you left behind only miles before. It'd be the Amazon, if it wasn't only 8°C.

The rest of the ride continues in this vein to Fort Augustus. Stop here for a pint before the home stretch. You can continue along A82 to the left of Loch Ness, or take the more scenic - if indirect - route to the right, which will take longer but take you high above the loch into those twilight lands of gorse and broom. 80% chance of sheep herd encounters, light on humans.

The only thing this drive lacks is a climactic descent, so while you go on to Inverness, I'll just stay up here in the hills above Loch Ness. Its quiet drama captivates. Be seeing you.
Thanks to www.multimap.co.uk for distances and place names.
Please note that this route will be far slower than going around the East side of Scotland - but it is well worth it if you're not in a hurry. Finally note that the A82 is a journey, not a destination. Pick any of the links on top for some of those.

This is mostly from memory, my own photos and other people's journals (it's amazing what Google finds for "A82 Scotland", so there may be gaps or errors. A /msg solves all.

This w/u 95% prompted by the appearance of Everything Quests: Places to visit in Ireland and the UK, although I've been toying with it for quite some time.

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