|Distance:||46 miles (74 km)|
|Meets:||A897, A99, A882, A836|
|Former Number(s):||A88, B873, A895, A882|
|Old route now:||A99|
|Route outline (key)|
The final leg of the A9 crosses Caithness. From 1935 until the mid 1990s it hugged the coast through Wick to John o' Groats, the opposite end of the UK mainland to Lands End, although it is neither the most northerly or north-easterly point of Scotland! This was not the route of the A88 back in 1922, which at the time crossed from Wick to Thurso via what is now the B876. However, with the growing importance of the Scrabster Ferry to Orkney, the A9 was rerouted to Thurso, this time missing out Wick completely with the former A9 route being renumbered as the A99. The final stretch of the A9 from Thurso into the ferry port may or may not be primary and or trunk.
Ord of Caithness - Latheron
From Helmsdale, the A9 has climbed around the bends of Navidale and the Ord of Caithness, to cross into the historic county of Caithness. At the county boundary the road is 220m above sea level, heading north in sweeping bends, with long laybys and loops showing where the alignment has been improved. The road drops at Ousdale, crosses the burn and then reclimbs past the ruined clearance village of Badbea. A long gentle descent moves the road closer to the clifftops, with forestry plantations to the left.
The gentle descent suddenly steepens as the road plunges down to Berriedale. The road snakes down, with an escape lane just before the final bend. Its then over two bridges, with their predecessors in the trees to the left, round a sharp bend and back up as steeply as ever. There is even a hairpin on the re-ascent, although plans are in hand to realign the road once more (a layby shows the old line) and lessen the gradient.
From Berriedale it is 4 or 5 miles along the clifftops, with stunning views out across the North Sea, to Dunbeath the next real settlement. Here a series of bends leading down to the old bridge and back up were replaced many years ago by a substantial bridge across the steep valley, bypassing most of the village. North east again through Knockinnon and Latheronwheel to Latheron. Here, the road changes completely. Until the mid 1990s, the A9 continued along the coast to Wick, but for the last 20ish years it has turned due north to Thurso, leaving a TOTSO at Latheron.
Latheron - Georgemas Junction
From Latheron, the A9 heads north across open moorland. There is no obvious valley for the road to follow, so instead it picks the edge of a hill to guide it up to the 150m contour, where it stays more or less until the watershed is reached. This seemingly arbitrary route is then explained as the tributaries of the River Thurso are found. A number of loops and laybys show where the road has been improved on the ascent, and these continue across the watershed as the road skirts Loch Rangag.
Beyond the loch, the road loosely follows the Loop Burn, which becomes the Little River. However, where this swings westwards to find the River Thurso, the road stays due north, passing forestry plantations and a small windfarm to reach Mybster. Here the B870 crosses on its strange, meandering route across Caithness. The road then kinks slightly to avoid Spittal Hill, before reaching Georgemas Junction, the name originally used for the railway junction where the Thurso branch meets the Inverness - Wick Mainline, but now used for the road junction too.
Georgemas Junction - Scrabster
At Georgemas, the A9 meets the A882 at another TOTSO. Until the mid 1990s, the A882 ran from Wick through Thurso to Scrabster, but with the A9 diverted along the old A895, it took over the northern end of the A882 too. Half a mile further on, the B874 crosses at a crossroads at Roadside. The River Thurso is now in sight on the far side of the railway line, and the road follows it all the way into Thurso, and uneventful 4 miles away.
The A9 enters Thurso through Millbank, then meets the A836 just past Tesco at Mountpleasant before crossing Thurso Bridge. This leads into the town centre, with a sharp right turn onto Traill Street controlled by traffic signals. The left turn onto Olrig Street, avoiding the pedestrianised High Street comes next, with the road already heading out of town through Pennyland. In the past Princes Street, parallel to Traill Street, and some connecting streets were also marked as an A road. Whether this was part of the A882 as was, or the former A840 is uncertain, but it seems as though it has been the northern end of the B874 since the A9 was re-routed to Thurso.
Despite being the most northerly town on the Scottish Mainland, the A9 seems to pass through Thurso very quickly. Just beyond Pennyland House, the final TOTSO on its long route is reached, where the road ahead is the A836, while the A9 turns right into Scrabster, curving around Thurso Bay to reach the ferry terminal from where the Orkney Ferry sails to Stromness. This is the very end of the longest classified road in Scotland, finishing as it started in a semi-industrial environment. There is also a step change in speed for onward travel. At the southern end, the A9 starts on the much faster M9, whilst here in Caithness it finishes at a ferry port, leading to the relaxed island life of Orkney.
Of course, the A9 never used to finish in Scrabster. Indeed, in 1922, it stopped back in Inverness, with the A88 reaching Scrabster. This was initially by what is now the B876 from Wick, then re-routed along the modern A882 route. Then, in 1936 the A9 was brought north, this time to John o Groats, with the A882 switching to its current line, albeit reaching Scrabster, and the A88 disappearing completely. The A895 was created in the late 1920s, linking Thurso with the south along the former Latheron, and it was this route that was chosen when the A9 was re-routed into Thurso in the 1990s. At that point, its old route via Wick to John o Groats became the A99.