|Location Map ( geo)|
|From:||Polmont, Stirlingshire (M9) (NS929796)|
|To:||Scrabster, Caithness (ND101704)|
|Distance:||279 miles (449 km)|
|Meets:||M9, M90, A82, A99|
|Route outline (key)|
The A9 is a strategic link from the Highlands of Scotland south to the Central Belt - perhaps the most strategic link. It is certainly the highest quality route between the Central Belt and Inverness. The Scottish Government have announced proposals to dual the whole route from Perth to Inverness, and whilst a few local sections have started, commencement of work on the ground is still several years away for most of the route.
Route in Detail
Edinburgh - Perth
Today the A9 may start on the M9 at Grangemouth, but prior to the building of the motorway, and indeed Edinburgh Airport, the A9 started much further east on the edge of the capital. Most of the old route can still be followed today. Falkirk Town centre has then been bypassed by the A9, but from there to Stirling the road largely still follows its original route.
From Stirling, today's A9 is mostly a dual carriageway through to Perth. However, stray off that well-beaten track and there is plenty to discover on the old route, through Dunblane and over the Cairnie Braes. The dual carriageway starts at Kier Roundabout, a junction with the M9, and continues up to Broxden Roundabout. It has average speed cameras along that section. It passes Blackford, Gleneagles and Auchterader. Along its length, there are three roads which leads to Crieff, in the north: the A822, A823 and B8062.
Perth - Inverness
From Perth the A9 heads north through the Tay and then Tummel Valleys to Pitlochry. Whilst many miles of the A9 still closely follow the road built by Telford, or Wade, the numerous B roads through villages hint at some sections of the old road.
The climb over the A9 Summit is a long slog from either direction, but from the south there is the benefit of passing through some historic and pretty villages if you follow the old road line. As the landscape becomes wilder, there is ever more evidence of the old road to discover.
Across the water shed, the A9 drops down to the mighty River Spey, and follows it as far as Aviemore. Along the way the modern road deviates substantially from the older routes it replaced. This is also the section where work has started on dualling first, past Kincraig.
From Aviemore the A9 climbs over The Slochd before dropping down to Inverness on the Moray Firth. The dual carriageway bypass of the Highland Capital extends as far as the Tore Roundabout half a dozen miles to the north.
Inverness - Scrabster
From Tore, the A9 winds along the coast, bypassing the numerous and populous towns of Easter Ross via the Cromarty Bridge and Alness / Invergordon Bypass. The old road, built by Telford, remains open as a longer route round the head of the firths.
After crossing the Dornoch Bridge, the A9 resumes Telfords route with little deviation in the long miles north along the coast of the ancient county of Sutherland. There are no bypasses for the scattered villages and small towns, although the County town and Cathedral city of Dornoch never lay on the main route north.
The last leg of the A9s epic journey starts at the Ord of Caithness, a couple of miles north of Helmsdale. The Berriedale Braes have seen improvements, but nothing like the new bridge at Dunbeath, and then it is ever northwards to the current terminus of Scrabster, moved just 20 or so years ago from John O'Groats.
Today's A9 is a very different road from the route described in the 1922 Road Lists, not least because that route stopped at Inverness! It was extended to John o'Groats in 1935. It has been truncated at the Edinburgh end by the construction of the M9 and almost all of the road north of Dunblane has been reconstructed, with the section from Dunblane to the Dornoch Firth mostly being on a new alignment.
Wade's Military Roads
Before even Telford had arrived in the Highlands, General Wade and his successor General Cauldfield had built a route north to Inverness, using much of the route that the A9 still follows.
Telford's Highland Roads
Little more than 50 years later, Thomas Telford was commissioned to build a network of roads across the Highlands, and many sections of the A9 owe their existence to him.
For a comprehensive schedule of opening dates of the modern road see https://www.scottishroadsarchive.org/a9
Notable locations along the route
After many years of ferries crossing the narrow point of the Moray Firth from Inverness to North Kessock, the Kessock Bridge was finally built to take the A9 north, bypassing the city centre.
Cutting a dozen or more miles off the route north, and bypassing towns such as Beauly, Muir of Ord and Dingwall, the Cromarty Bridge has significantly shortened the route north from Inverness. It was opened as part of major improvement works, which also saw a new stretch of road constructed across the Black Isle.
Dornoch Firth Bridge
Like the Cromarty Bridge to the south, the Dornoch Firth Bridge cut a dozen or so miles off the route north when it was opened. These two old roads meet at Bonar Bridge, where the A9 used to cross the Kyle of Sutherland at the head of the Dornoch Firth.
The A9 now terminates at the Scrabster Ferry port north of Thurso. This is a traditional crossing point for the Orkney Isles, and was where the original north road, the A88 also terminated.
Scottish Roads Archive