|Location Map ( geo)|
|Distance:||108.3 miles (174.3 km)|
|Meets:||M90, A9, A85, A92, A94, A97, A923, A924, A925, A926, A939, A957, A980, A984, A989|
|Route outline (key)|
The A93 is a road of superlatives, shadowing some of Scotland’s most dramatic glens, wilds and mountains, topped off by the almost otherworldly ascent through the Cairnwell Pass. It’s a road from Perth to Aberdeen rather than the road, but the difference between it and the coastal A90 must be measured in wonders rather than journey times.
In a more functional sense, the A93 is two different roads. One runs north from Perth along the banks of the Tay and its tributaries into the Cairngorms, much of it on the line of the mid-18th century military road up to Glenshee, Cairnwell and then Braemar. The other strikes west from Aberdeen, rising through the granite towns and forests into Royal Deeside and up to the same point. There is nowhere else to go at Braemar so the two ends were joined together as part of one route.
Perth was bypassed in 1985, bringing drastic change to the road network in the then-town, now city. The A9 moved off to the new bypass and Glasgow Road became part of an extended A93. It starts at arguably Scotland’s most notorious roundabout, Broxden, with a service station, hotel and park-and-ride facility that serves as the interchange point for coaches to all of Scotland’s other cities. There’s no frontage for the first mile until Cherrybank at its junction with the wonderfully titled B9112 Necessity Brae.
Glasgow Road is fringed by high hedges and grand homes with tall bay windows, many converted to guesthouses, until it widens from two lanes to four at Rose Crescent. There is a small roundabout and retail park near Dewar’s sports centre, the spiritual home of Scottish curling, at which A93 becomes York Place for a few hundred yards but then abruptly disappears in inauspicious inner-city surroundings.
The A93 is nominally shared with the A989 Perth “inner ring” road (way too grand a title) but if you’re going eastbound it is much easier to continue eastwards on to South Street, which an old enough map will refer to as the A921. Westbound, you’ll need to use part of the parallel Canal Street to pop back out at the other end of the ring.
Queens Bridge is beyond the inner ring so it again becomes part of the A93. This – and its co-located predecessor, the Victoria Bridge - was the furthest downstream road crossing of the Tay from 1902 until the Tay Road Bridge opened in 1966. It’s about 200 yards long and ends-on to Dundee Road, which is the through route of the A85 forcing the A93 to vanish again. Follow that road a little north upstream, let it cross the Tay on Perth Bridge, and the A93 re-emerges at its historic start point, Main Street in aptly named Bridgend.
200 yards further north, the road forks with the A93 holding the line beside the river and the A94 climbing to the northeast as Strathmore Street. There are a collection of old farmsteads, shielded from the road by high walls, and newer apartments sandwiched between the A93 and the Tay until the road starts to rise and exits the city to the north.
Glens Isla and Ericht
The first rural section of A93 passes by the monumental grounds of Scone Palace, one of Scotland’s most historic, and Perth Racecourse, one of Scotland’s most prestigious. The vista opens out at Lethendy and the rising of the road becomes more obvious, with the silvery Tay further beneath our feet and the bends tightening to reduce the angle of attack. It’s another couple of miles to Guildtown, the first of not too many settlements on the route.
The A93 passes between tree-canopies and wide-open fields over the next five miles until the Tay meanders off to the west and the A93 bridges its main tributary, the Isla on a late 18th century single-track eponymous stone bridge. North of the crossing. the view to the west is screened by beech trees which form an improbable hedge just south of the A984 crossroads at Meikleour, beautifully manicured to a height of dozens of feet.
From here it’s only another three miles to Blairgowrie, the largest town on the whole route and big enough to have its own out-of-town shopping park. There is an easily-missed urban T-junction with the A923 to Dunkeld in the south of the town and a one-way box lined with town centre shops and narrow parking spaces. We’re now far enough north for the influence of Gaelic to be felt in the bilingual street name signs, each adorned with the double-eagle motif of Perth and Kinross Council that wouldn’t look out of place on a Prussian coat of arms.
The northbound route winds steeply down Allan Street and Wellmeadow to a sharp left turn, or right to find the other end of the A923 towards Coupar Angus (via the almost-invisible A925) followed by a crossing of the Ericht, a tributary of the Isla. The other side of the bridge is technically Rattray although it has been united in a single burgh with the larger Blairgowrie for many decades. Don’t be distracted by the view, because it’s necessary to turn left to stay on the A93 here else the road will carry on to Alyth as the A926.
As Rattray is punctuated by its holiday parks, there is a sign inviting us to the Snow Roads Scenic Route, betraying the climbs ahead, followed by a second crossing of the Ericht on the attractive curved Craighall Bridge before the urban area is fully cleared. The section through Craighall Gorge spent years slowly tumbling into the Ericht, resulting in a much-maligned signal-controlled pinch point that was finally bypassed, with considerable engineering skill, in 2008.
Glen Ericht continues to provide the least challenging terrain for the A93 over the next four miles before the river is crossed for the third time at Bridge of Cally, the last outpost for lowland Scotland. Stay for the lodging, sweep left to take the long way to Pitlochry on the A924, or set your sat-nav for the mountains, after hiring your skis here if you so choose.
Glen Shee and the South Cairngorms
Despite its recursive status as a tributary of a tributary of a tributary of the River Tay, Glenshee is famous enough to lend its name to everything ahead, even those that rise out of its way. There are two last junctions with classified roads for those that daren’t commit the climb; the B950 at Dalrulzian, short-cutting back to the A924 four miles off to our west, or the B951 at Lair, arching into Glenisla a few miles to our east as a hair-raising single-track road which is nonetheless worth the journey.
Lair marks the southern boundary of the Cairngorms National Park. The park is the UK’s largest; it stretches out over much of the Grampian hills and almost half of the 100-plus miles of the A93 fall within its borders. The road through formed part of General Wade’s campaign of military roadbuilding following the ’45 Jacobite rising, although its construction began after his death under the instruction of his successor, Major Caulfeild. In opening accessibility to the Cairngorms it put paid to the traditional ways of life practiced here, commemorated in the Macthomas Bridge and its plaque celebrating the clan of the same name that settled here 400 years in advance of the road.
Signs for the last few miles have implored the traveller to check the weather before venturing further north. It is a running joke in Scotland that if the snow is heavy enough for the ski resorts to be open then it’s heavy enough for the roads there to be closed. There is enough truth in this trope that it is worth checking in winter long before reaching the snow gates at Spittal of Glenshee, after which the road narrows and pushes uphill.
While not challenging by the standards of Scottish mountain passes thanks to improvements in the 1950s and 1960s, there are few places that mix the steep gradients, tight curves and high levels of tourist traffic like the A93 does. The gradient was rumoured to reach 1 in 3 at the notorious Devil’s Elbow double hairpin bend a mile short of the summit, although this was likely embellished by creative camerawork. The modern A93 has been heavily graded to plough through in a straight line, with the Elbow ox-bowed and out of sight down the hillside.
From mid-autumn well into the late spring, the landscape becomes barren and unearthly as the terrain and the cold outwith the hottest months are not conducive to greenery. However, it is just as likely that the view from the road will be that of a queue behind a heavy goods vehicle, struggling forlornly up the final 12% (1 in 8) ascent to the summit. Finally, the road tops out in the Cairnwell Pass at almost 2,200 feet (670 metres), unmatched by any paved public road in the UK, let alone one of this importance. The pass forms the watershed between the Tay and Spey catchments and the boundary between Perthshire (modern Perth and Kinross) and Aberdeenshire.
Braemar and Royal Deeside
Our first sight of Aberdeenshire is of a wide expanse tarmac which functions as the gargantuan car park for the Glenshee Ski Centre, another holder of a “biggest in the UK” accolade. Its outbuildings look and feel rugged, with chairlifts radiating from behind them in every uphill direction. Despite its winter-centric reputation the on-site catering facilities and some of the lifts operate year-round and in the summer months the eponymous Munro, the Cairnwell, can be cheaply bagged as base camp here is more than two-thirds of the way up.
Before the A93 can begin its descent there is a snow gate (twinned with one southbound) to deter those trying to return to lower ground if the weather has deteriorated during their stay. The next four miles northbound are marked as a clearway, deterring climbers and onlookers from pulling over at the roadside to enjoy the view (probably also to prevent overspill from the car parks). We fall northbound through Glen Clunie into forest at the foot of Creag nan Gabhar, which sits in the mountain shadow as the elevation has already fallen below 1,500 feet (450 metres).
Another five miles north is Braemar. It is one of the coldest places in Scotland on account of its inland position and elevation at the heart of the Cairngorms, but the few hundred hardy souls that do live here are supplemented by masses of tourists to the famous Highland Games, the Mar Lodge Estate, the castle, the hills or any and all of the above. Despite its small size its isolation makes it an important centre and rest stop, especially for those who climbed from the south.
Braemar’s high street is bypassed to the east, running parallel to the gorge-like Clunie Water as it bisects the village shortly before discharging into the River Dee. This is the turning point – figuratively and literally – for the A93, as it swings from northward to eastward, falls into Strathdee and uses it as a guide all the way back to the coast at Aberdeen. The forests form a canopy around the road for the first time since Glen Ericht as it hugs the base of Creag Choinnich for a couple of miles before bridging the Dee at Invercauld, the one and only time it will do so despite their proximity for the next 50 or so miles. The granite arch bridge was built in the 1850s at the behest of Queen Victoria since its 18th-century predecessor infringed on her land. In 2022 it is in poor condition and is semi-permanently narrowed to a single lane with traffic signals on each end.
It was Victoria’s influence that gave this area the name Royal Deeside, and the recently departed Elizabeth II’s love for the area was well known. Balmoral, her Scottish summer home where she spent her final weeks, is six miles east of Invercauld where the A93 meets the B976, its first junction with another classified road since Lair some thirty miles back. Crathie Kirk, also synonymous with the Queen, is opposite the castle entrance on the other side of the A93. The road dives briefly out of the forest east of Tomidhu and slides along the north side of the already impressively wide Dee, offering a view of the striking pink sandstone Abergeldie Castle on the opposite bank. There is a T-junction with the A939 at Bridge of Gairn, offering drivers an opportunity to scale the Lecht, mirroring Cairnwell as another fine mountain pass drive complete with its own eye-watering gradients and ski centre at the top.
Ballater, Aboyne and the East Cairngorms
Another mile east of Gairn is the village of Ballater, lower in the valley under Craigendarroch Hill. The A93 dives around its south side in a long meander to serve the urban area so through traffic can use the more direct but narrower B972 Pass of Ballater around its north side. Confusingly, Aberdeen is signed in both directions when approaching from the west and Braemar in both from the east.
Ballater marks the end of the A93’s wilderness away from urban life, with Ballater sufficiently important to once have rail connection to Aberdeen, the long-departed Deeside Railway; the A93 Braemar Road bridges the old sidings and forms the western quadrant of Station Square, with the station buildings beautifully restored. South of here it the A93 becomes Bridge Street, the main shopping parade which also bisects the village green, dominated by the kirk. While Bridge Street will continue south and live up to its name by crossing the Dee at Ballater Bridge, it will do so as the B971, a short spur of the B976 South Deeside Road which has mirrored us since Balmoral. The A93 instead turns left at Bridge Square (a triangular junction) and proceeds eastwards as Tullich Road out of town before meeting the other end of the Pass of Ballater.
Cambus o’May is another mile or so east, an key area for conservation of nesting ground birds next to an unrelated but beautiful suspension bridge across the Dee. This is the cue for the A93 to briefly rise away from the riverside on a more northernly path. After a junction with the B9119 it enters the hamlet of Dinnet, marking the eastern end of the Cairngorms National Park. There is one junction in the hamlet, a crossroads forming the starting point of the A97, the lesser used road north into Gordon country and the Moray coast, and the B9158, another shortcut to the B976 that bridges the Dee.
Halfway between Dinnet and Aboyne lies an old airfield used by glider enthusiasts attracted by the relatively still conditions in the shadow of the Cairngorms, with takeoffs visible from the A93. The road is rolling through relatively gentle terrain which must be encouraging higher speeds; the warning signs for each curve are now enlarged and emblazoned with motorcycle motifs in an awkward, non-standard attempt to warn them of the dangers of this stretch.
Aboyne is another step-up in size, twice as populous as Ballater. The unmistakably 1960s high school would dominate the view but for the shield of trees between it and the A93; the road through is surprisingly leafy with little direct frontage. After the school comes crossroads with the B9094 north to Tarland and what will become the B968 Bridgeview Road to the south, no explanation needed for its purpose perpendicular to the A93. The road curves slightly to the north to avoid the central Station Square, an oversized car park that divides it from the granite-grey buildings characteristic of Aberdeen’s cultural and geological grasp.
The beautiful community hall, purpose-built in the 1920s, offers a more appealing roadside view as does the artificial Loch of Aboyne that nestles behind the holiday park on the eastern edge of town. Here, the A93 ventures about as far from the Dee as it dares, with a straighter section that offers rare overtaking opportunities on a road increasingly trafficked with caravanning holidaymakers and heavy plant to and from depots and forestry sites. It comes and goes too soon and the Dee meanders back up to the roadside at Dess.
Kincardine O’Neil is a hive of development, spreading westwards along the A93 with modern houses invoking their granite predecessors to fit in with the conservation village aesthetic, complete with vintage street lighting. The verges of the road are still cobbled in the village centre and it narrows significantly as it weaves around the ancient kirkyard. It is another two miles due south-east to a junction with the B993 (former A973), one of many B-roads that roam across the Aberdeenshire countryside to considerable length. It too bridges the Dee on Thomas Telford's Potarch Bridge where the scenery is attractive enough to need its own car park.
Banchory and Crathes
The next town, Banchory, maintains the theme of progressively larger settlements as the A93 runs eastwards and downwards towards the sea; is a relative metropolis although it doesn’t appear so at first glance from the A93 that skirts the south of the town, its bulk higher in the Dee valley obscured by the tall trees and set-back detached houses reminiscent of Aboyne. This holds true until the A93 reaches the bustling high street, dotted with independent shops and hemmed in by parking on both sides with the imposing West Church towering over it to a height of 70 feet.
The main town centre car park is accessed using a T-junction with the B974 (ex-A943), the first signal-controlled junction for many miles, which vaults across the Dee (maintaining the theme) before climbing improbably south into Angus. A second such junction sets the A980 Raemoir Road northwards to Torphins taking the signposted Victorian Heritage Trail with it, marking the easternmost extent of Royal Deeside.
Housebuilding in Banchory is continuing apace, with the town expanding considerably to the east over the last decade driven by Aberdeen’s economic prosperity; we are now well within the Granite City’s commuter belt. The developments are served by a new distributor road, Hill of Banchory, that meets the A93 at the very edge of the urban area, complete with a large supermarket.
In another mile or two comes Crathes, lending its name to the wider area consisting of a handful of houses, a shopping village, a station on the preserved section of the Deeside Railway and the grand Crathes Castle, all within easy reach of the A93. It too cannot escape the rush to urban development with new houses appearing south of its junction with the A957 to Stonehaven, yet another road that begins its life by bridging the Dee. The same story is told at Drumoak, another three miles eastwards, which also has older houses fronting on to the A93 while the rows and tows new-builds rise away to its north.
The A93 has made it most of the way back to sea level as a large, deep-red sign welcomes us to Aberdeen City council area, even if the city itself lies still further east. Instead we enter the commuter town of Peterculter, nestled between the banks of the Culter Burn. The sudden geography complicates the A93’s junction with the B979 – another grand voyage of a road – with the two approaching from different levels and meeting at a very tight angle. There is a wide but sparse high street, which much of the A93’s frontage consisting of dormitory dwellings.
Only a few hundred yards separate Peterculter from Milltimber, into which has shoehorned the A90 Aberdeen Western Peripheral Road, the city’s long-awaited bypass. There isn’t space for a full set of sliproads here so there is a short link road, meeting the A93 at an oversized signalised crossroads, which meets the appropriately-named Deeside Junction about half a mile to the north.
Milltimber, like many of the towns on Deeside, is much more expansive north of the A93 than south owing to the proximity of the Dee. The main road running through ruler straight and with high trees and low granite walls, much of it is visually indistinguishable them save for the much higher traffic levels. It too is expanding vastly in its outskirts, but it hasn’t quite bridged the rural gap to the city proper.
Bieldside has retained enough of its own identity to get a sign announcing its existence on the A93, but otherwise indistinctly continuing the pattern of developing up northwards away from the Dee with the A93 bordered by well-setback houses with leafy gardens. Bieldside and Cults are one urban area with two identities. Cults is bisected by an eponymous burn which the A93 does bridge. The centre of Cults has a more built-up feel with a small shopping centre and parking on both sides of the road. A set of very narrow bicycle lanes are present, having disappeared and reappeared many times along the A93’s length, offering no realistic alternative to the ex-Deeside Railway cycle path which runs parallel to the road for miles and miles.
There is just about a green field or two between Cults and the contiguous Aberdeen urban area, which is finally entered proper at the International School in Mannofield. The A93 becomes St John’s Terrace, having been North Deeside Road for about the last forty miles. East of Springfield Road the houses, again built up on the north side only, get their own distributor road. The A93 then makes a slow right turn and becomes the Great Western Road, although not quite as great in length as its Glaswegian equivalent being just a mile long.
Great Western Road shares a sizeable crossroads with North Anderson Drive (on its third number as the A92), the road belatedly relieved by the Peripheral. More than two dozen side streets meet it over the next mile, while its houses have finally shed their leafy gardens and closed up to create a two-storey canyon of granite. A tiny pavement squeezes in between the houses and the A93, complete with eastbound bus lane, and a concrete overhang hides a row of shops just before an offset crossroads with Holburn Street.
This is the historic endpoint for the A93, which met the A92 here for much of its early life. In the 1960s the A92 was extended north using North Anderson Drive, Holburn Drive into central Aberdeen became the A9013, and the A93 extended across it to Willowbank Road, around the side of the station on South College Street and on to Guild Street to meet the A956 at the bustling quay. However, unlike in Perth where the coming of the bypass extended the A93, the coming of the Peripheral led Aberdeen City Council in 2020 to reclassify, and in many cases declassify, its urban A-road network. The A93 was curtailed back to this point, awkwardly so since the A9013 was also consigned to history, leaving it dangling with no A-road to terminate on.