Ramble On: The Wee Mad Road of Sutherland

by Keith Savage · 1 comment

Beautiful views along the Wee Mad Road of Sutherland, Scotland

Look at any map of Scotland and you’ll quickly gain a sense of the hierarchy of roadways. “M” roads are the biggest, fastest roads only around the central belt, and then you descend through “A” and “B” roads, the biggest of those with a single digit like the A9 and the smallest with as many as four digits, like the B8009. Some roads are so small they don’t have numbers or even names, they’re just squiggly white lines on the most detailed maps. This classification system does a pretty good job of setting expectations for what you’ll encounter out there in the Scottish wilderness — unnamed or multi-digit “B” roads are likely to be single-track and/or gravel, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Case in point: The Wee Mad Road of Sutherland.

When a road has a name like that in local parlance it tends to grab my attention. This road, which defies attempts to pin down its exact length, is a snaking span of coastal road north of Ullapool on the North Coast 500 route. Having driven the entire route mapped below, I feel confident classifying the whole stretch as “wee” and “mad,” though some sources indicate the Wee Mad Road of Sutherland is only the stretch from Lochinver curving clockwise toward Kylesku.

The Wee Mad Road of Sutherland is technically a three-digit “B” road in the hinterland west of the main North Coast 500 driving route. Many if not most of the roads in this corner of Scotland are single-track roads made of mostly curves, but the Wee Mad Road puts others to shame. I hope you’ll get a sense of it by the end of this post.

Leaving the wonderful Brochs of Coigach near Achiltibuie, we struck out on the Wee Mad Road heading north for Durness. The road passes out of Coigach north through ever-twisting vales, along the edge of hills, and between lochs glittering in the sun. Part of what makes the Wee Mad Road so mad is that this is absolutely stunning highland countryside but as the driver you must focus on the road and its many blind, hairpin turns. This is slow going, and we stopped often simply to step into postcards and send admiration into the heavens.

There are other people out here driving, though I saw more sheep, seals, and deer than vehicles. Still, you must expect a vehicle on the other side of every blind turn and rise or you’re asking for a head-on collision. We had a couple near-misses on this drive, one with a massive dumptruck as it sped around a turn in the midst of wooded hillside. In terms of trickiness, the Wee Mad Road is up there with the Bealach na Bà. I don’t mean to dissuade you — the Wee Mad Road is beautiful and remote and well worth the drive. Just be careful.

The Wee Mad Road steadily makes it way north past Inverkirkaig and the excellent Falls of Kirkaig hike to Lochinver, the last village of any size before Durness. Lochinver is a good stopping point for refreshments and a chance to allow the anxiety meter to return to zero. I took a couple of bouncy videos on my iPhone while we drove the Wee Mad Road, and while I didn’t run into any hair-raising moments (or people) in the course of these recordings you will get a sense for how narrow and capricious the roads can be.

The Wee Mad Road really comes into its own after Lochinver as it swings past Achmelvich Beach’s white sands, austere Clachtoll, and Clashnessie with its picturesque waterfall. Dozens of peninsulas and islands beckon around every corner. There are few places on the Scottish mainland more remote than the stoney highlands around the Wee Mad Road. This is a region for communion, losing and finding, and looking past the obvious.

Drumbeg makes another fine stop on the Wee Mad Road of Sutherland. There’s a great little store there and a beautiful viewpoint looking out to some of the 35 islands of the coastal parish of Eddrachillis. Handa Island is out there on the horizon.

Eventually the Wee Mad Road of Sutherland passes Ardvar and regains its sanity as it joins the A894 south of Kylesku. This is not the fastest way to do the North Coast 500, but then, if you’re doing the North Coast 500 why are you being hasty?

The Wee Mad Road requires a plodding pace and careful attention to the road, but it repays that care with endlessly beautiful coastal highland landscapes and some of the remotest feeling you can find in Scotland.

And when you’ve been on it for awhile, it’s the rest of the world that looks wee and mad.

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