Navvies roads to Blackwater dam
Start location: Kinlochleven (NN 194 617)
End location: Altnafeadh on A82 (NN 220 564)
Geographical area: Lochaber
Path Type: Industrial Path
Path distance: 11.5km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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These are two separate access routes used during construction of the Blackwater dam, one from Kinlochleven in the east and the other from Altnafeadh in the south. They meet at the dam (NN246599). That from Kinlochleven is the more straightforward as it initially follows the West Highland Way (WHW), then branches away from it in order to follow closely the line of the conduit on the south side of the River Leven. The route to Altnafeadh is trackless, so is more challenging. These two routes can be combined with a further section of the WHW (Devil's Staircase) to form a loop trail.
OS Landranger 41 (Ben Nevis, Fort William & surrounding area)
The Blackwater Dam was constructed between 1905 and 1909 to power an aluminium smelter in downstream Kinlochleven. It was the last major construction project in Scotland to be built without the aid of machinery. As such, it required the labour of some 3,000 workers, mostly navvies from Ireland.
The navvies lived in a self-constructed village below the dam, the remains of which can be easily seen today by the piles of rubbish. There is also a small graveyard for the navvies who died in the dam's construction, either from accidents or sickness. Several also died while attempting to cross the pass in winter to the nearest pub at Kingshouse, along the more southerly of the two access routes here mentioned
A powerful account of the lives of the navvies working at Kinlochleven is contained within Patrick MacGill's Children of the Dead End, published in 1914. Sometimes known as the "navvy poet", MacGill left his home in Ireland at a young age to work as an agricultural labourer and later moved to Scotland, amongst other jobs he worked as a navvy. His book accurately portrays the conditions known to have been experienced by the workers at the dam.
For more reading about the dam and the navvies who constructed it, Cameron McNeish's article Hills of the Dead End - Remembering Patrick MacGill is highly recommended.