|Distance:||110 miles (177 km)|
|Meets:||A956, A9013, A90, A957, A980, A97, A939, A924, A926, A923, A984, A94, A85, A989, M90, A9|
Aberdeen Council • Aberdeenshire Council • Perth and Kinross
Aberdeenshire • Kincardineshire • Perthshire
Much of the A93 was originally built, or at least formalised, as a Military Road by Major Caulfeild in the second half of the eighteenth century. In places this ancient highway is still followed closely, in others the modern road has been substantially realigned over the intervening 200-odd years. However, the principle of a route north from Blairgowrie, if not Perth, to Braemar and then east down Deeside to Aberdeen was set in stone roughly 250 years ago.
Perth to Blairgowrie
The first 16 miles north from Perth do not seem to have formed part of the military road system as such, although this is most likely because there was a pre-existing road of suitable quality already receiving regular maintenance. Whether this is the current A93, or a route closer to the River Tay, or indeed even the A94 to the east is uncertain. However, the A93 does cross the military road from Coupar Angus to Dunkeld, now the A984 at Meiklour, so not all of the roads in the lower reaches of the Tay were left unattended by Caulfeild.
Blairgowrie to Braemar
Coupar Angus was an important place for the military road builders, with roads heading out to Dunkeld and Dundee, as well as Blairgowrie. The road north then followed Upper Allan Street out of the town centre and up the west bank of the River Ericht. After crossing the Lornty Bridge, the road sweeps up the hill in a couple of zig-zags, past Woodhead Farm before straightening out high on the hillside. A series of long straights then stride across the fields, ignoring the contours, before a sharp descent drops down to the Bridge of Cally. After crossing the bridge, as the A93, the old and new routes are the same for a few hundred metres, before the old road forks left opposite Strone Farm and takes a more direct route up the hill, rejoining the A93 about a mile to the north.
Another deviation happens a little further north, where the old road forked left again at South Persie Farm, and took a straighter line across the shallow valley. However, as the road continues north, and despite all of the twists and turns that seem so contrary to the normal aims of the military road builders, the A93 does indeed follow Cauldfeilds route as far as Spittal of Glenshee, where it is only the bypass that deviates from the old line. That old road is still in use, and the old Glenshee Bridge appears to have been constructed as part of the road in the 1750s.
As the road continues north, the wiggly bends soon get ironed out by a much more modern, wider, alignment which often runs on a large embankment. This has hidden much of the old road line, but here and there small loops and laybys show the old road. The two longest are at Rhiedorrach and the notorious Devils Elbow. At long last, and at 665m above sea level, the summit of the Cairnwell Pass is reached, and soon the road is dropping again. As the A93 swings slowly round to the left, a grassy track forks right, and whilst it is again partially buried under the modern roads embankment, it is the old military road, reappearing at the old bridge next to the parking area. It then rejoins the modern road as it to crosses the river further north.
The old road seems to deviate through the trees at Alltamhait, and then runs parallel in several spots up to Newbigging, but in each place the surviving evidence is hard to find. A little further north, however, and the bridge across the Cluanie Water, carrying the minor road into Braemar, was probably built by Caulfeild, and his road then loosely follows the minor road into the village. Here and there deviations can be seen, and as Braemar is reached the line of the old road is less certain. However, it seems likely that the current Braemar Bridge sits on the same site as the military road bridge did.
Braemar - Ballater
After crossing the river in Braemar, the old military roads route is once more picked up by the A93. It curves around the hill, past Braemar Castle and heads east along the southern bank of the Dee. Just before Invercauld Bridge, the old road forks off right into the trees, and quickly finds the Old Bridge of Dee, doubling back to cross it. The A93 then once more picks up the military roads line, and follows it almost as far as Crathie, where a now unclassified road turns left up the hill to meet the B976 on its way north to Gairnshiel Bridge.
The A93 from Crathie onwards is a very different road in some respects. It's origin seems to have been as a rough path connecting scattered homesteads, with the main Deeside Coach road on the south side of the river. However, once the old road was closed up through the Balmoral Estate, the prominence of the old road from Blamoral to Ballater subsided, compounded by the new road being built along the north bank of the river.
Old Coach Road
Whilst the A93 now largely follows the old military road to Crathie, this is not the oldest road through Strathdee. Indeed, the old Bridge of Dee was a new crossing in this part of Deeside, with the old coach road staying on the south side of the River through until the 1850s. This old coach road survives, running through Ballochbuie Forest as a forest road, and was the main road until Victoria & Albert bought the Balmoral estate and it was decided that having a main road passing the front door of a Royal residence may not be a good idea.
The precise line of the old road past the castle is no longer so easy to identify, suffice to say that it is picked up by the B976 in Easter Balmoral. The B976 then follows the old road all the way down to Ballater, where a bridge replaced an earlier ferry crossing.