|Distance:||30 miles (48.3 km)|
|Old route now:||A924, B8019, B8079, B847, NCN7, A889|
Perthshire • Inverness-shire
|Route outline (key)|
From Pitlochry, the A9 begins the long climb through the Forest of Atholl to the route's summit at the Pass of Drumochter. This is where we cross from the upper reaches of Strathtay - latterly the River Garry - into the catchment of the Spey. It is one of the most dramatic sections of the whole A9, passing through the southern flanks of the Cairngorm Mountains in a landscape where river, rail and old and new roads are all crowded into a narrow pass.
Old Military Road
This section of the A9 must surely be an ancient route north, following the Tay, Tummel and Garry to one of the lowest passes in the Cairngorms at Drumochter. It is therefore little surprise that it became the route of General Wades military road to Inverness built in the 1720s. Much of his route, improved by Thomas Telford and others, was still in use 200 years later in 1922 when the A9 was created. However, in the last 50 years much of this section has been improved offline.
The general alignment of Wades road north out of Pitlochry is now the route of the A924, B8019 and B8079 to Killiecrankie. Slight deviations have undoubtedly happened over the years, but largely due to development such as the A924/A9 junction at the northern end of Pitlochry. Another deviation occurs near the Garry Bridge, where the original bridge was a low-level crossing, and before the construction of the railway line it seems likely that the military road dropped down to meet it, before reclimbing.
Beyond Killiecrankie, the B8079 hugs the railway line a little too tightly to be considered the genuine route of Wades Road, but between forestry and houses along the sides of the road any evidence of the original route seems to be lost. However, as we approach Blair Atholl, the old road is shown on maps as forking right to cross parkland, pass the Episcopal Church and curve round the hillside to find the old Bridge of Tilt. Some of this route can still be traced on aerial photography.
Beyond the old bridge, the route survives as the road towards Old Blair, and then estate drives across the Blair Castle Estate. It seems to peter out in the middle of a lawn, and the onward route is unclear, although from the direction it is headed it must reach the B8079 before that route crosses under the railway. The long straight up to Bruar seems to genuinely be Wade's road, although his bridge is now lost. Maps then quite clearly show the old military road forking off to the right into the trees before the B847 passes under the modern A9. However, on the ground this is not easy to find although after passing under the railway, the military road becomes a very clear scar on the hillside, partly still in use as estate tracks, until it is cut off by a cutting for the modern road.
As the road heads higher into the mountains, the route built by Wade seems to have remained in use right up until the modern A9 was constructed, and much of it is still in use as local accesses and the NCN7 cycle route. As such it shall be described below.
The 1930s road
It is known that much of the A9 was rebuilt in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as were so many roads in the Highlands of Scotland. This section of the A9 is no different, and while the southern sections still carry traffic as classified roads (A924, B8019, B8079 and B847), beyond Calvine the road is starting to return to nature.
The small settlement of Calvine/Struan sits around the former B847 / A9 junction, albeit with the old A9 now part of an extended B847. Just to the west of the old junction, opposite the primary school, is the entrance to the NCN7 route north to Dalwhinnie. Whilst fronted by a drop kerb, there is nothing to suggest that cars can't use this route, and just around the corner the first white lines appear. The fact that there are old and date from a former tie-in between the new road north and the old road through Calvine is not immediately clear either.
This old tie-in section is actually quite interesting, as it lines up perfectly with the B847 through Calvine and a layby on the modern A9 just to the west of the modern junction. It is, however, short, and soon kinks back onto the original A9 route, complete with fairly modern kerbing on a partially overgrown junction splay, showing that the tie-in must have existed for a few years to make this sort of investment worthwhile.
Heading north, the old road is a pleasure to cycle, a tree-lined avenue with the burble of the River Garry down to the left, and of traffic on the A9 up to the right, both coming and going as the old road weaves between the two. The cottages at Clunes Lodge have an access onto the modern road as well as the original drive onto the old road, but it's then another couple of miles before the next houses at Dalnamein are reached, and all without a single obstruction to any traffic. The old Dalnamein Bridge is in a sorry state, but with connections to the A9 on both sides, and a narrow tarred cycle route across the bridge, there is still no significant hindrance to traffic.
Beyond Dalnamein Lodge, the road leaves the trees behind, passing through the open flat meadows that line the River Garry. Indeed, this section of the road is almost good enough to be brought back into use as the northbound carriageway of a dualled A9. A connecting link would be needed at Allt Geallaidh Bridge, to tie into the existing dualled section. Half a mile further on we reach the old military road south to Aberfeldy, and the junction is lined as a normal give way. After a short section on this unclassified road we reach Dalnacardoch Lodge, where the cycle route is diverted onto a path, despite the old road continuing past the lodge and on as far as Edendon Bridge.
However, the modern A9 has obliterated any sign of the old Edendon Bridge, with the old road seeming to loop into the new embankment and not reappear for some distance. When it does reappear, it is intermittent, suggesting that the current northbound carriageway is largely on the line of the old road, a road first built nearly 300 years ago by General Wade! In places the cycle track drops onto older tarmac which makes a brief appearance from under the embankment of the modern road, but generally speaking there is little more to see until we reach Dalnaspidal Lodge.
Dalnaspidal Bridge has been widened in a most incongruous manner. The old stone arch, similar to those built by Telford on his Highland Roads in the early 19th Century, still stands carrying the access road to the lodge. Indeed, by dropping down and underneath the bridge it is easy to see that this bridge was widened in the 1930s. However, the river does not reappear on the upstream side, instead there is an embankment to the A9, which crosses the river on a huge concrete culvert that has been abutted directly onto the old bridge. It is therefore a rather surreal experience to cross the old bridge!
Beyond Dalnaspidal, the modern A9 is once again single carriageway, but that does not mean that the old road survives intact. Apart from a partially collapsed culvert just north of Dalnaspidal, there is also a point where the cycle track uses a section of road built as a temporary diversion whilst the new road was built. This diversion is short, and built to accommodate the new embankment for the new road. It then disappears completely at the summit of the Pass of Drumochter, with the modern road clearly being an online upgrade.
The final approach to the summit was built new when the road was improved. As the map on the left shows, in 1922 the A9 crossed the railway line twice, firstly with an overbridge (which is shown on the 1976 OS map but gone by the 1979 edition) and secondly at an underbridge which survives and is well used by walkers tackling the Munros beyond. The track on the western side of the railway line is a rough route, showing no signs of ever having been surfaced.
To the north of the summit, laybys 81, 82, and 83 reveal the old route of the A9, but it then stays online until Drumochter Lodge, where a short oxbow is used as the cycle track. The old road diverges once more about half a mile before the A889 junction, although while the Wade Bridge marks the old military crossing point of the river, by the 1930s the A9 was crossing the river where the A889 still does.
The road from Pitlochry to Dalwhinnie is, as can be seen from above, mostly an offline construction dating from the 1970s onwards. It provides bypasses to all of the settlements along this section, with only a very few properties remaining with direct access only to the A9.
The Pitlochry Bypass is shown as under construction on the 1980 OS Landranger Map, and completed by 1982. It required the A9 to cross the River Tummel twice to find an easy route around the town. The southern bridge doesn't appear to have a name, but the northern, Coronation Bridge, stands on the site of the old Clunie Bridge, which was replaced by a footbridge when Loch Faskally was created in 1950. As the road winds north, it has to pass through the Pass of Killiecrankie, a steep sided ravine which resulted in the road, at this point a dual carriageway, being constructed on a viaduct structure which is sometimes at ground level on the eastern, uphill side of the road, whilst the piers on the downhill side can be as high as 8-10m.
The villages of Killiecrankie and Aldclune are bypassed to the north east, but then the A9 drops back towards the river, crossing both the B8079 and River Garry with one bridge, again un-named. The A9 therefore bypasses Blair Atholl on the opposite side of the river, and as it follows the sinuous curves of the River Garry, it is nowhere near as straight as the old road it replaces! Recrossing the Garry at Bruar, there is another junction with the B8079, where the B847 also terminates. The latter road is soon crossed as the modern road climbs across the railway to bypass Calvine to the north.
Beyond the other B847 junction at Calvine, the A9 has 16 miles through the Drumochter Pass before the next junction with a classified road. Most of this route is offline single-carriageway, but between Dalnacardoch and Dalnaspidal the A9 is dualled, with the northbound carriageway generally following the old road. Due to the shape of the landscape, and the ever present railway and river on the western side, the two carriageways of this dualled section are far from parallel. At times it feels as though the southbound carriageway is the old road, as it twists, turns, rises and falls, but as a general rule this does not seem to be the case. This whole section is shown as under construction on the 1979 OS map.
The bridges on this climb through the pass are far from inspiring. Unlike their stylish predecessors, they are often giant concrete culverts, or at best single span concrete decks. As mentioned above, Dalnaspidal Bridge is a little surreal, but the remainder are dull at best.
The summit of the pass is marked by a large sign alongside a layby, but no more, and then the descent to Dalwhinnie begins. Apart from the much larger laybys showing the old road alignment, there is little of interest in the 4 or 5 miles to the A889 junction, just two lanes of blacktop which are occasionally straight enough to offer overtaking opportunities, were it not for the 40 tonners heading the other way!