The Landscape Today
Today Glen Roy is a place of contrasts. The glen’s upper reaches are sparsely wooded with few houses or farms. The people of the tiny villages scattered along the lower glen have grasped the opportunity to farm the more fertile soil and use the shelter of dappled woodland straddling the burnsides. The bright green grazed fields at the mouth of the glen contrast with the subtle mosaic of wetland heath, unimproved grassland and bracken that clothe the more remote and rugged slopes at its head.
The journey along Glen Roy begins on a single track road winding gently up through a picturesque landscape of pasture and woodland. On rounding a bend, a panorama of open hillsides suddenly opens up, dramatically revealing the three Parallel Roads stretching as far as the eye can see. The ‘roads’ form perfect contour lines – snaking in and out of the glen’s irregular sides but, like tidemarks on a bath, maintaining precisely the same height throughout.
The ancient loch shorelines are made visible by the fall of light on their terraced forms and by subtle changes in vegetation pattern caused by differences in the underlying ground conditions. Such perfectly level lines in nature are unusual and the regularity of the ‘roads’ is further emphasised by their marked contrast to the organic shapes of the gently rounded hills, undulating ridges and sinuous river course of this rugged landscape.
The peacefulness and lack of development within Glen Roy is largely due to its relative inaccessibility, there being no through road beyond the head of the glen. In contrast, neighbouring Glen Spean has a long history as one of the most accessible east-west links in the Highlands.
Spean Bridge was the main exit from the Great Glen for cattle drovers going south from Skye to the trysts (markets) at Crieff and Falkirk. More recently, the Glasgow to Fort William railway also took advantage of these more accessible passes. Established to capitalise on this well travelled route are inns, hotels and small settlements scattered along the western end of Glen Spean.