The Road to the Isles is a wild, remote and rugged landscape and includes Arisaig, North Morar and parts of Moidart. Together with Knoydart, it forms part of the Rough Bounds. The region is dissected by Loch Morar, one of the deepest, glacial freshwater lochs in the British Isles. It is bounded to the north by Loch Nevis and to the south by Loch Ailort, Loch Eilt, Loch nan Uamh and the Sound of Arisaig (mSAC). The region is accessed via road (A830) or train (West Highland Railway) from Fort William.
The Road to the Isles offers stunning scenery, silvery beaches and some good walking opportunities. The fishing port of Mallaig is also the gateway to Skye and the Small Isles.
Some of the best beaches in the West Highlands are found along the coast between Arisaig and Malliag, including the Silver Sands of Morar and Camusdarah Beach. The latter was made famous as Ben's Beach in Local Hero.
The Road to the Isles is a great place for coastal and marine wildlife. The surrounding waters support a diversity of seabirds (including red-throated divers, great northern divers and Manx shearwaters) as well as a rich cetacean fauna. The Sound of Arisaig has been designated as a marine Special Area of Conservation for its extensive, rich, and diverse beds of maerl seen in Loch Ailort, Loch Moidart and Loch Ceann Traigh. There is a variety of terrestrial habitats including open hillside, upland heath and deciduous woodland. Look out for golden eagle, sea eagle, otter, pine marten and wild cat. Glen Beasdale, a Special Area of Conservation and supports one of the largest coastal ancient oak woods in Lochaber.
There are some lovely walks in Morar, Mallaig and Arisaig along the shores of Loch Morar, along the coast and in the hills.
The Sound of Arisaig offers some excellent sea kayaking with stunning views to the Small Isles and Skye; the numerous skerries also afford good opportunities to a range of coastal wildlife including otters, seals and seabirds. Other activities in the area include fishing (loch and sea) and deer stalking.
Sailing in the Western Highlands probably ranks amongst the best for spectacular scenery and beautiful coastline ranging from sheltered sea lochs to open tidal challenging waters. Malliag Harbour and Arisaig Marine provide pontoon facilities for those wishing to explore the stunning coastline of the Highlands and the Hebridean Islands.
There are some great places to visit in the region, including some historical sites associated with Bonnie Prince Charles, heritage centres, an iconic viaduct and a lovely woodland garden.
The Road to Isles has important connection to the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. The NTS Glenfinnan Monument and Visitor Centre, at the head of Loch Shiel, stands on the site where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his Standard at Glenfinnan, on 19th August 1745. The Prince's Cairn, near Beasdale Station on the shores of Loch nan Uamh, commemorates the historic departure of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746, following the unsuccessful 1745 uprising.
The Mallaig Heritage Centre offers an interesting insight into the cultural heritage of the fishing port of Mallaig and the Rough Bounds through a series of exhibits, models and film. The Land, Sea and Island Centre at Arisaig houses a collection of books, photographs, artefacts and exhibits illustrating the social, cultural and natural history of the Arisaig and South Morar. The Glenfinnan Station Museum and the Moidart History House at Glenuig offer unique insights into local history and culture of Moidart and the Road to the Isles.
One of the most iconic features of the Road to the Isles is Glenfinnan Viaduct. The viaduct is constructed of mass concrete being 380 metres long and 30 metres high, with 21 arches and spans the River Finnan at the head of Loch Shiel. It was the completed in 1898 and is the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland. The Glenfinnan Viaduct has featured in a number of films and TV series including Ring of Bright Water, Charlotte Gray and The Monarch of the Glen and the Harry Potters movies (Chamber of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and The Goblet of Fire). Loch Shiel has also featured as Hogwart's Lake.
For the geologist, just a few kilometres west of Glenfinnan. there is also an impressive exposure of highly folded Moine bedrock (The Muidhe). The metamorphic rock consists of bands of psammites and pelites belonging to the Glenfinnan Group. The slabs are glaciated, in the profile of a roche moutonnée, and included in The Geological Society's 100 Great Geosites.
Take time to visit Larachmhor Garden, a 28 acre woodland garden. showcasing a fine collection of rhododendrons, as well as exotic trees and shrubs. The garden is a celebration of shapes, textures and scents, and are a real treat for the botanist, gardener and artist alike.
The Jacobite steam train runs between Fort William and Mallaig between May and October. The route has been described as one of the 'great railway journeys of the world and crosses the magnificent Glenfinnan Viaduct '. The train combines stunning scenery with a sense of adventure. A real must for train enthusiasts and Harry Potter fans.
The surrounding waters support a rich cetacean fauna, including dolphins, harbour porpoise, Minke whales and basking sharks. Why not take a wildlife cruise from Mallaig or Arisaig for some memorable maritime encounters.
There are also regular Calmac ferry services to the Small Isles (Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna) and the Isle of Skye. You can also take a ferry to the Knoydart Peninsula, a rugged, remote wilderness region, situated between Loch Nevis and Loch Hourn.
The Road to the Isles has much to offer; a rich cultural heritage, beautiful beaches, stunning scenery and a 'highway' to the Isles.