The Road to the Isles is getting straighter. That’s good news for holiday makers with carsick kids and haulage drivers winding through some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain. But it’s not so good for wonderful old woodlands laid waste to make way for the bold, broad ribbon of tarmac unfolding a new straight A830 all the way to Maillaig.


Further down the coast: rare west coast woodland is protected on the SNH nature reserve at Taynish.

I had very mixed feelings on our last trip to Canna. I remember long, tortuous journeys, racing for the ferry with green-faced boys in the back seat threatening to offload their breakfasts at every passing place along the singletrack road. Now you can put your foot down and sail past Arisaig with only a sideways glance to catch sight of the golden sands. Our latest trip from Edinburgh to Mallaig took just under four hours, 17 minutes shorter than the AA estimate, and we weren’t rushing. When the final phase is finished the journey will be even quicker.

I know my feelings would be much simpler if I lived and worked anywhere along that route. Even with the new road this part of Scotland still feels extraordinarily remote. The remoteness is part of the allure but it is hard work trying to make a living in isolated shrinking communities where kids leave to go to college and rarely come back.

There are cheering signs of new bustling business in the little fishing port (and on the small isles). Not surprisingly Highland Council greets the road as great news for the local economy. But all progress has a cost and I wonder if the cost of road building ever includes the cost of the impact on the local environment.

Healthy survival of any human settlement requires good routes for trade and services. For the Highland Council this last £22million investment, with the help of European money, is a ‘lifeline for the community’. The loss of woodland must seem a small price to pay. But I think, or hope, that loss of our natural landscape may soon need to be factored into the cost of any new development. Those old trees on either side of the old A830 supported their own bustling community, a rich and complex mix of plants and living creatures: birds and bats thriving on West Coast midges. What was their value? Where and how will they be replaced?

Ironically, running alongside the A830 is an alternative route to Mallaig, a railway offering the most beautiful train journey in Britain running along the coast, passed heather tracks and through old trees. The young Polish hitch hiker we picked up on the road home said it was ‘like a fairytale’. Couldn’t we invest a few million to encourage more people to rediscover the magic of this way of travelling?