The Old Highways

The roads through Furnace followed substantially different routes from the A83 of today. In earliest times, before the Furnace was built, the road swung inland where the fishermen berthed their boats at Sandhole, crossed the top of the field between the Manse and the Doctor’s house, and climbed up the hill to pass the crofts of Upper Goatfield. This seems to be the route as shown on General Roy’s military survey, made in the mid-18th century after the last Jacobite Rebellion. In the 1960s this route could still be walked northwards from Goatfield through the forest, until it disappeared in the woods above the “New Bridge”, near the old Water House. It must have veered right here, to cross the river at the “Roman Bridge”, the remains of which may still be seen from the Leacain Walk.

About the time the Furnace was in operation a lower road passed through Sandhole, following much the same line as today until it reached the settlement at the mouth of the Leacain. As shown on John Thomson & Co of Edinburgh’s map of 1824 it then crossed the river by the old arched bridge that survived until the 1960s, and climbed the hill above where the Bridge Terrace is today. This was known as “The Galloping Brae”, from the sound of carts being driven at speed down to Furnace. The road passed through “Jock Fyne’s Gate” below South Craleckan Farm: who “Jock Fyne” was nobody seemed to know. Maggie MacInnes said he was a travelling man, or “tramp”, who used to live sometimes in a bothy there, and before the forestry destroyed the gate the outline of a small building above the road could be traced. After the road end to South Craleckan was passed the road crossed open moorland (the route of the Leacain Walk) and passed Clach a’ bhatain (the “stone of the foxes”, now known as Clach a’ Mhadaidh) to join the earlier route above the Brenchoille Bridge and travel on to Auchindrain.

This low road between Sandhole and Furnace, with several minor realignments over the years, was followed by the trunk road we now know as the A83. However, instead of crossing the Leacain in the village it followed the west side of the river for one mile before crossing. Between the Powder Mills cottages and this bridge the road twists and turns along the river bank: one bend being known as “the Tinker’s Turn” because a clearing in the trees was a favourite camping spot for the travelling people. Another bend, a regular accident spot up until the mid-sixties when the council erected a barrier to stop cars crashing into the river, was known as “Dead Man’s Corner”. Although there was a fatal accident there in the early 1960s, Maggie MacInnes said its name was due to a much earlier incident that had taken place there. The only major realignment of the trunk road that affected Furnace was the 1930s bypass, a “cut” made through the lands of the old Powder Mills from “Fascagh” to Powdermills Cottages. This was so straight it even cut the corner off one of the Sinclairs’ stone outbuildings, accounting for its strange shape. The turn off into Furnace following the old road was known as “The Cuts”. At the same time the old arched bridge across the Leacain one mile north of Furnace was replaced by the “New Bridge” and it was still called that in the 1950s.

Another road, also long disused, left the old bridge in Furnace village and climbed round the east side of Dun Leacain to the now deserted village of Auchentiobairt (Achadh na tiobairt – “field of the well?” or Achadh na t-iobairt – “field of the offering?”) There is certainly a well on the road below the site; it was cleaned out by Robert Paterson, Goatfield, but when he went back the recut forestry road had destroyed it, and now the water merely trickles from the bank. However, there was also an old chapel here, on the high ground slightly south of the settlement, so it may have been a holy place for centuries. The families who lived here were MacArthurs, MacVicars and MacPhails, and it was finally abandoned just prior to the First World War. By that time the original road between Furnace and Auchentiobairt had been swept away by the quarry workings: a small piece of the retaining wall that carried this road may still be seen on the “island” above the “big quay” and former crusher site.

The last road connecting Furnace with the outside world was constructed as an estate road along the coast, connecting Pennymore, the then (1770s) recent village of Kenmore, and Dalhenna. This was part of the great “improvements” made in the time of the 5th Duke of Argyll, who tried to bring new industries, including flax growing and weaving, to his tenants. Some of these industries were short-lived, but the road is still there, surviving periods when it was a private estate road, and, apparently, for a time, a toll road. It is now used to access the growing community at Pennymore from the south end, and the houses down to Kenmore from the north end, as well as the removal of timber. It is also ideal for hardy Furnace walkers intent on accessing the delights of Inveraray!

Ivar Campbell, who lived in Strachur and was a grandson of the 8th Duke of Argyll, died in 1916 during the First World War. He obviously had a soft spot for this road, and Kenmore, both across the loch from his home, as he wrote this short poem:

“The road that leads to Kenmore
Is overgrown with grass;
And brambles stretch their fingers
Where rich folks used to pass.
The little crofts are falling
The fields are lying bare
And curlews calling, calling
Are the only creatures there.”

From the south end this road also gave access to the quarry and, during the twenty year period from 1867 to 1887, the “Gun Park” used by the 12th Corps of the Argyll Artillery Volunteers. The ruin of the gun house and magazine can still be seen near Pennymore, where the local volunteers met to fire their “Big Gun” down Loch Fyne.

Of course, not all highways are roads, and another means of reaching Furnace in former times was by ferry. There were several ferries across Loch Fyne, but the one accessing Furnace directly was the “Barnacle Ferry” (Creagan na Bairneach) with Balure (Baile Ur – the Newton), a fishing village created by the MacLachlans for their displaced landward tenants in the middle of the 19th century.