|From:||Tore Roundabout (NH601524)|
|To:||Dornoch Firth Bridge (NH749843)|
|Distance:||30 miles (48.3 km)|
|Meets:||A832, A835, A862, A836|
|Former Number(s):||A88, B817|
|Old route now:||A862, B817, B9174, A836|
|Route outline (key)|
The historic route out of Inverness is now the A862 through Beauly, Muir of Ord and Dingwall, meaning that at Tore Roundabout the modern A9 is almost as far from its historic route as it gets, although even this is misleading. Originally the A9 stopped at Inverness, and it was the A88 that headed north, and it was not until c1935 that the A9 was extended north. After crossing the Cromarty Bridge, the A9 rejoins its old route, albeit diverging again as it bypasses Alness, Invergordon and the Tain.
The 1930s Road
The old road out of Inverness is now the A862, following the southern shore of the Beauly Firth for a few miles through Bunchrew, before turning under the railway line and heading inland around Kirkhill. Contrary to first impressions, the B9164 does not follow an old line of the A9, the route always bypassed the village and the only significant change since 1922 appears to be the removal of the right-angle bend at Moniack Bridge.
Staying on the A862, we pass the junction with the A833, cross the River Beauly on Lovat Bridge, built by Thomas Telford in 1814 and then turn sharp right at the junction with the A831, which seems to have been reprofiled in the past to remove what was surely once a TOTSO. The route through Beauly and into Muir of Ord is also unchanged, with the deviation from the historic North Road in Muir predating 1922, let alone the A9 extension. The old road continues north up Seaforth Road and into Highfield Circle, but was cut off by the construction of the Railway line, with the railway company choosing to build one bridge instead of two.
North of Muir, it is still the A862 that marks the old route of the A9, with the next deviation occuring in Conon Bridge, where Telford's bridge lay ever so slightly further upstream of its 1960s replacement, and saw traffic using part of the modern cul-de-sac of Wrightfield Park. The old road then crossed the site of the roundabout at Maryburgh, before climbing slightly above the modern alignment into Dingwall. Indeed, much of the old road can still be followed as the cycle route past the market site and into the town.
The modern route of the A862 through Dingwall was built as a relief road for the town, with the old route following Station Road, High Street, Tulloch Street and Craig Road before rejoining the modern route. Leaving Dingwall, the A862 is still the same road as the former A9 all the way to its terminus at Ardullie Roundabout. The access road to Ardullie Lodge marks the old route, which is then picked up by a couple of laybys as the A9 heads east, but otherwise any evidence for the slight meanders of the old road are lost amongst the earthworks of the new road.
This changes when we reach the B817 junction, which is where the A9 once crossed the railway line and headed into Evanton. Indeed, apart from the obvious realignment at the B9176 junction, the B817 seems to follow the old A9 route all the way through Alness and almost as far as Invergordon. Just before the town, an obvious realignment and new bridge exists at Rosskeen Bridge, with the road having been widened for much of this shoreside run.
Originally the A9 would have followed High Street through Invergordon, but the town was 'bypassed' on the shore side at some point, which is the route still used by the B817. This road seems to have been mostly new-build, using the old railway line to the harbour at the western end and possibly with some land reclamation. It probably dates from the early 1970s when Invergordon became an important port for the North Sea Oil industry.
Heading northeast through Saltburn and Barbaraville, there are various loops and laybys that suggest realignment, including an easing of a sharp bend in Barbaraville. Suggestions of a substantial realignment at Milton are discounted by old maps which show the route as it is now, but may well indicate a pre-1922 improvement. Under the modern A9, there is what appears to be a former TOTSO with the old B817 at Kildary, after which the old road slowly peters out as it converges with the new A9. A large loop on the opposite side of the new road shows the old alignment, but then the route seems to be an online upgrade to the Nigg Roundabout.
Beyond the roundabout, the bend at the Garrick Bridge junction with the B9165 has been eased substantially, and then we reach Tain which was bypassed in the mid 1970s. The old road through the town is now the B9174, except that the A9 appears to originally have used King Street or Market Street for the first kink. Both ends of the B9174 have also been realigned to meet the A9 bypass at proper junctions rather than acute forks.
Beyond Tain, an old loop exists at the Glenmorangie Distillery, but otherwise the A9 appears to stay with the old road all the way to the Meikle Ferry Roundabout at the southern end of the Dornoch Firth Bridge. This is where the modern route crosses from Easter Ross into Sutherland, but the old road continued west along what is now the A836 to Bonar Bridge. That route seems little changed from its days as the A9, and there are no obvious realignments along the route since the days when Telford first built the route at the beginning of the 19th Century.
The last thing to note, on a historical route north, is that into the 1960s a passenger ferry crossed the Dornoch Firth at Meikle Ferry. This was presumably an ancient crossing point, and the roads on either side are still open to traffic, the southern route found by turning into the caravan park entrance from the A836 just past the modern roundabout. This route quickly doubles back and heads out across open ground to reach the ferry point and piers.
The Modern Road
As can be seen from above, much of the modern A9 route north of Inverness is new, deviating substantially from the old route. However, much of it follows pre-existing roads as we bypass towns and villages on the long road north. This is not, however, true of the first few miles north of Tore Roundabout The road here is completely new-build, crossing the low ridge of hills that forms the spine of the Black Isle, and dropping quite sharply down to the Cromarty Bridge. The bridge opened in 1979, but because it took a few more years for the Kessock Bridge to the south to open, it was initially shown as unclassified, and then became an un-numbered A road on mapping prior to the rerouting of the A9.
Across the Cromarty Firth, Ardullie Roundabout turns the A9 onto its historic route north, for a few miles at least, before the two routes split again. The old road crosses the railway as the B817 to pass through Evanton, whilst the new road takes long straights and sweeping bends to stay on the shore side of the railway and so bypass Evanton and Alness. The two routes cross again at Dalmore, and after crossing the railway line, the modern A9 quickly picks up the original route of the B817, following it, albeit with several kinks and bends ironed out, for over four miles. When the two routes do finally diverge, they run parallel for a short distance, before the new road drops down to run alongside the railway line past Kildary. This is the start of another very long straight, broken only by the slightest of curves, and the last mile before the Nigg Roundabout is actually on the line of the old A9.
The A9 and B817 routes were swapped through Invergordon at some point in the late 1970s, but it took several more years for the Evanton and Alness bypass to open. At first, the A9 followed the old B817 route unchanged, complete with the meandering bends around Kildary, but these were later ironed out to create the straighter road we have today. Whilst the bypass has undoubtedly speeded up traffic on the main road, it has left many other problems in the area, not least because all of the junctions are effectively at-grade, and the main connections between Invergordon, Alness and Evanton with the A9 are all on the northbound carriageway. This is fine for coming home at night, but as these towns all lie within the commuter belt for Inverness, it can cause problems in the mornings.
The Nigg Roundabout is as much a useful way of turning traffic sharply to the left as useful to traffic taking the B9175, although when built the B road would have been much busier with traffic for the oil terminal. The road climbs away from the roundabout with a climbing lane for northbound traffic around the bend, and then sweeps through woodland on a new alignment past the B9165 junction.
The Tain bypass was built in the late 1970s, indeed it is shown as under construction on the 1980 OS Landranger sheet, and the town is slowly filling up the land within the A9 as it expands. It is now home to more supermarket chains than some towns three times its size further south, such is the towns importance in this sparsely populated region. North again, and the Meikle Ferry Roundabout soon appears, turning the A9 north across the Dornoch Firth Bridge, which was opened in 1991 to cut 18 miles off the journey north.