Before 1800 transport in the West Highlands depended on the sea. Land travel was on foot or on horseback.
In 1802 a Parliamentary Commission for roads and bridges was established. Under their engineer, Thomas Telford, more than twelve hundred miles of roads were built in the Highlands over a period of little more that twenty years. Lochcarron was to benefit considerably from the Commission’s work.
In the Lochcarron area the first road to be completed, in 1813, was from Kyle to Strome Ferry.
The road from Strome Ferry to Lochcarron was finished in 1817; Mr MacKenzie of Applecross was the contractor – having a proprietorial interest in the road, it is not suprising that one of the Commission’s reports makes mention of ‘his judicious exertions’. The rest of the road to Contin was much slower, and in one case the contractor’s sureties were called upon to complete the road.
Meantime Mr MacKenzie was promoting his own interests, and was the contractor of the road from Lochcarron to Shieldaig, completed in 1819.
The famous mountain road to Applecross over the Bealach na Ba, was not one of the Parliamentary roads. Mr MacKenzie of Applecross built it entirely at his own expense in 1825 and 1826. This is the third highest public road in Britain, reaching 2,050 feet.
It was the Parliamentary roads of the early nineteenth century which were still in existence when we entered the twentieth century and the motor car age. The culverts and bridges which we can still see in many places are the masonry built by the contractors under the supervision of Telford over 200 years ago. To cope with the new traffic, most of the roads got their first black top bitumen between 1930 and the mid 1950s, the first major change in over a hundred years. Even in 1956 the Applecross road, over the Bealach na Ba, was still gravel on the summit, although there were two tarmac tracks, separated by grass on the climb up the Pass.
In the early 1930s, under the Crofter Counties Act, the Strathcarron bridge was rebuilt, and improvements made to parts of the roads immediately east of Lochcarron.
The breakthrough to the whole of the North Highlands came in 1963 with the openingof the Balgy Gap road between Shieldaig and Torridon. This had a positive knock-on effect for many areas.
The road known locally as the Stromeferry Bypass was built in 1970. Since then, this road has been unstable and problematic with regular rock falls and landslides. Solutions are currently being sought.
The Glencarron stretch of the Achnasheen/ Lochcarron road was upgraded to a two lane highway about the same time. The Stromeferry/ Auchtertyre road was re-built in 1976-78.
Access to Applecross by road had long been a problem. Up to the mid-1950s, the main means of access was the traditional route by sea. The steamer used to transfer passengers and goods to local small boats in the exposed Applecross Bay. By 1960, a regular service, a converted fishing boat, was running from Toscaig to Kyle daily.The settlements on the north coast of Applecross peninsula still depended on a motorcycle track, and the sea. The existing transport routes became impassable in winter weather or rough seas. In 1964, a start was made on a road from Sheildaig to Kenmore, on the North Applecross coast. Eventually, partly promoted by the development of the Butec torpedo testing range, with its control base north of Applecross, the road to Applecross was complete in 1976.