Friday, 23 February 2018

Skye Roads

When Skye was first populated by humans, the sensible residents stayed close to the shores and travelled about by boat. Simple paths were sufficient to get between the scattered farmsteads and crofts in a township.

Time moved on, and the need for wheeled transport became greater – though it was well into the 20th century before coastal ‘puffer’ boats ceased to visit piers around the island bringing in supplies and taking out produce.

However, rough tracks were built around the shores and over the moors to connect the various coastal communities, and as over time some of the communities grew larger, better surfaced roads were constructed. Many of the older tracks have now disappeared back into the moor. Single track roads are still the only way of getting to the far-flung tips of the island.

Almost gone - a disused gated track leads onto the moor. 
By the middle of the 20th century, Skye had a widespread network of roads, both inland, and around the coast. However, all the roads were single-track, and barely able to cope with local traffic, let alone the cars belonging to the increasing numbers of visitors. It was from the 1960s to the early 2000s that saw significant improvement, with the start of the reconstruction and realignment of many of the single track roads to create two-way modern highways to connect the largest settlements of Broadford, Portree, Dunvegan, Armadale and Uig.

Typical single track road - roads like this provide access to the far tips of Skye.
Good for dog-walking in winter when they are very quiet..
Re-alignment of the single track roads when two-way roads were built
has left sections of old road like this all over the island.
A modern Skye main road
The Skye Bridge opened in 1995, providing a fixed-link from the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh. Originally a toll bridge, it became free to cross from December 2004.

Today, Skye’s roads are suffering again. A slight increase in the island’s population has led to an increase in building and renovation works, meaning heavy lorries are plying the single track roads more suited to horse and cart. Plus - a continued increase in tourism means that all the roads are busier, especially in summer. For the most part, the main roads don’t go to the most popular tourist destinations, so again many of the old, single-track roads are carrying far more traffic than was ever envisaged.

Add to that, a general lack of maintenance over the years, leading to blocked drainage ditches and cracks in the road surface going unattended, then it has only taken one winter of harsh weather (we’ve had a lot of snow and rain this year) and many of the roads have returned to being little better than rutted and pot-holed cart tracks.

Weather damage this winter is extensive, and is costing £millions to repair.

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