Bealach Breac, The Speckled Pass (Old Post Road)
Start location: Alisary (NM 741 795)
End location: Inverailort (NM 762 814)
Geographical area: Lochaber
Path Type: Rural Path
Path distance: 3km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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This unsigned track starts beside Loch Ailort on the A861 (NM741795), leading to the farm at Alisary. A metal gate opens onto a track bounded on the left by a 1.5m stone wall and on the right a wire fence and field. The track is vehicle wide (4m) with a hard base. From the road the track remains level passing through stands of trees and crossing bridges for side-streams. After Alisary farm (NM743798) the track degenerates into a track 3m wide which can be both rough and wet. Avoid the thin track on the right rising through the farm buildings. The main track continues through trees and fords the next stream. Avoid the left-hand wide side track returning to the road. The main track continues to rise through the trees, with a stream on its left-hand side flowing down to the loch. This track passes through a small gate and patches of ancient birch to reach a summit (100m). After the summit it descends steadily, crossing a small bridge and passing through one gate before reaching a private house at NM761814. Here the track enters the garden of the house through a gate with a yellow footpath arrow then leaves by another gate on wide motorable track to descend to the main road. There are no signs indicating that this is a right of way at the road or on entering the house garden from this end. Throughout its length the track is obvious and on an engineered terrace of at least 2m width.
OS Landranger 40 (Loch Shiel)
Until 1967, when a road was built from Kinlochmoidart to Lochailort, the communities on the south side of Loch Ailort were linked only by a series of tracks. This new road became part of the extended A861, and it largely follows the route of the pre-existing tracks. Between Alisary and Inverailort however, the old route remains as it takes a higher line over the hillside.
This old route has a long history. In Moidart: Among the Clanranalds (1889), Father Charles MacDonald writes of its use during a plot to kill Dugald, the chief of Clanranald, in 1520. The conspiritors knew that Dugald would be returning from Arisaig by Kinlochaylort, so they "determined to suprise and attack him in the difficult ground between Roshven and Inveraylort. For some days they took up a position among the woods at Alisary; but the chief not appearing, they moved on towards the head of the loch. Concealing themselves on the north side of the Bealach Breac, they waited until Dugald, with a few attendants, was seen to cross the bay, and when near the foot of the Bealach they rushed upon him". Although Dugald attempted to escape, he was killed near Polnish; the spot, said by Father Charles, still known as Corrie Dhughaill.
The Bealach Breac remained part of a vital land route until relatively recently. Margaret Leigh's 1949 book Spade Among The Rushes tells the story of her time as part of the crofting community of Smirisary in the 1940s. She explains that travel to & from Lochailort was either by boat or on foot. One time she missed the returning store-boat and had to walk the 9 miles home carrying a young pup - the "rigours of the Bealach Breac" were specifically mentioned. Another time, she and a friend walked a cow from the station to Glenuig, and then on to Smisary the next day.
This route also functioned as a post road, the mail arriving at Lochailort station. Leigh relates that, in 1945, a daily pony post delived letters and parcels, but during the war as military camps were set up locally the mail shifted to the boat. After the war, this mail service ran only three days a week, but on the alternate days a postman carried letters not parcels in on foot.