|Distance:||101.5 miles (163.3 km)|
|Meets:||A9, A939, A940, A941, A98, A95, A920, A97, A90, A947, A92, A978, A944, A956, A9013|
|Former Number(s):||A95, A946|
|Old route now:||A97|
|Route outline (key)|
At just over 100 miles long and the main road between the cities of Inverness and Aberdeen, the A96 is one of the more important roads in Scotland. It is trunk for almost its entire length, with only the section in central Aberdeen not so.
Section 1: Inverness – Nairn
The A96 starts at the Raigmore Interchange on the Eastern side of Inverness, with the A9 flying over the top and the dualled B865 leading into the city centre. As we head eastwards on the long journey to Aberdeen, we start with a dual carriageway. However, within a mile we reach the next roundabout, for the Inverness Retail Park, and immediately drop to S2.
We are now running along within easy sight of the coast, although the railway line provides a barrier between us and the Moray Firth. A couple of side roads have level crossings, the second leading to Alturlie Point which offers some spectacular views across the Firth to the Kessock Bridge. On the landward side of the A96 lie the 'suburbs' of Smithton, Culloden (with the 1746 Battlefield just beyond) and Balloch. The main route through these three settlements links to the A96 at each end. The A96 has now dipped further from the coast, and the next junction is the B9039, which takes up the reins as the coastal route to Ardersier.
The next notable junction is an unclassified route signed to Inverness Airport. After another mile and a half or so, we cross the B9006 at a staggered crossroads, also crossing the railway with a bridge before reaching the B9092. Both of these B-roads also lead to Ardersier, and so its neighbour Fort George. After passing through fields and woodland since leaving Inverness behind, we can now see the outskirts of Nairn ahead, and soon the speed limit drops to 30.
We pass to the northwest of the town centre, through several sets of lights, before turning right and soon crossing the River Nairn. The High Street itself is part of the B9090, and across the river we find the A939 which had wound its way across the hills from Grantown on Spey. If the traffic is light, Nairn can be passed through in no time at all, but when it's heavy you can understand why talks of a bypass keep on recurring.
Nairn is currently seen as a major dormitory centre for Inverness, and as such there are plans to double the size of the town. There are currently plans to dual the A96 from Inverness to Nairn, and build a Nairn bypass, as part of a wider A96 Dualling project. The proposed alignment is mostly offline, with grade-separated junctions.
Section 2: Nairn – Elgin
Shortly after leaving Nairn we reach Auldearn. For some reason this village is deemed worthy of a bypass (the old A96 is now the B9111) when Nairn was not. The good quality of the road on the bypass remains as the A96 rejoins its original route and crosses Hardmuir, soon returning to the railway line. In Brodie a minor road turns off to the left in the direction of the castle, crossing the line on a level crossing almost immediately. The Muckle Burn is crossed and then road and railway line run almost parallel. This section of road has obviously been upgraded and the occasional lay-by marks a corner cut off. Just before crossing the River Findhorn the railway line actually runs between the old and new routes of the A96; an upgrade shown on the 1976 OS Landranger map.
After crossing the river the A96 winds into Forres, passing an industrial estate before the speed limit drops to 40 and then a roundabout marks the start of the bypass. The old road through the town centre is now the B9011. The A96 passes the station and continues adjacent to the railway line for about half the bypass, including a turn for the A940 for the town centre and on to Strathspey. There is a short dualled section here to aid with this turn and those of a couple of minor roads, before the road becomes S2 again and the speed limit increases. At the far end of the bypass the B9011 is crossed at a roundabout. There is another roundabout a mile further on to serve the Forres Enterprise Park, after which there are few modern distractions.
The road continues eastwards as a flat and relatively straight road, with the occasional oxbow where bends have been ironed out. This includes the bridge across the railway line; the old bridge, still clearly visible to the right, would require a sharper bend on a narrower road. Now north of the railway line for the first time since Nairn, the A96 goes through Alves before its quality decreases. Passing through the woods, the road is narrower and more winding than before.
Presently the A96 reaches signs welcoming traffic to Elgin. These are only the suburbs, however and the road still seems rural until after crossing the River Lossie. It meets the B9010 at a roundabout before running along the High Street to another roundabout on the A941. Up to this point the High Street has been mostly residential but the actual town centre lies on the far side of the roundabout. The A96 has therefore been moved onto a relief road to the left, via several roundabouts, at one of which the A941 leaves the multiplex to head north to the coast.
Section 3: Elgin – Inverurie
After rejoining its original route the A96 leaves Elgin along a road liberally scattered with roundabouts and a short section of D1. It reenters open country and crosses the B9103 before two roundabouts mark the ends of the Lhanbryde bypass, where the A96 runs adjacent to the railway line once more. Road and railway line then diverge and rarely meet for some distance, although both have the same destination: Aberdeen.
After passing Loch Oire the road bypasses Mosstodloch (the old road is the B9015) and (after crossing the River Spey) Fochabers (with the old road being the B9104). This upgrade was completed in 2012 and included both bypasses, connected by the pre-existing 1970s Fochabers Bridge over the river. At the far end of the bypass a roundabout is reached, where the A98 turns off to the left. This road continues along the north coast, allowing the A96 to bear off southeastwards and leave the flat lands behind. It climbs through a wood before descending again into Strathisla where it crosses the railway line and meets the A95 at the start of a multiplex into the centre of Keith. Originally the A95 was the dominant number but things have changed, presumably because the A96 is now the more important route.
After crossing the River Isla and the preserved Keith & Dufftown Railway the A95 turns off to the left in the town centre just before the A96 bends sharply to the right. It heads more-or-less southwards through the town's grid-pattern streets before open country is reached and the road can climb once more. It contours round the Hill of Greenwood, meeting the B9115 en route, before reaching an upgraded section of road heading almost dead-straight. This doesn't last, however, and the road winds past Cairnie where it crosses a small valley, before climbing through The Bin Forest and then descending into the valley of the River Deveron.
On the near side of the river the B9022 turns off to the left; this marks the original line of the A96 but the road now continues ahead along the Huntly bypass (Shown as under construction on the 1979 OS Routemaster map) to cross the river slightly further upstream. The A920 is soon met at a staggered crossroads, followed by the A97 at a roundabout; that road continues into Huntly as it always has done. After crossing the River Bogie and the railway line the pre-bypass route of the A96 is met once more; this is now numbered A97 and there is a short multiplex until that road turns off on the same side it met us as it continues north.
The A96 climbs along an upgraded section of road along one of the more scenic sections of its route. It passes a couple of wind farms up in the hills before descending a small, winding valley, the Glens of Foudland. The road bends sharply to the right as the glen passes between two hills and now continues southwards. The A920, which has been following us since Huntly without us realising, now turns off to the left. The valley continues and opens out as the terrain becomes flatter and the burn becomes the River Urie. The B992 crosses at a staggered crossroads before the A96 goes through Pitmachie and then meets the B9002 and also the railway line at Mill of Carden.
Road, river and railway line continue east together in an area that could easily cope if they did not run adjacent to each other. After Pitcaple, the road diverts onto a new alignment, opened in 2016, bypassing the infamous Inveramsay Bridge, where the A96 used to cross the railway under a narrow bridge with flow controlled by traffic lights. The road now flows smoothly across a new bridge over the railway. A short distance further on the road quality improves as it turns into the Inverurie bypass. Initially the old road is unclassified. The A96 passes a suburb which for some reason has been built on the wrong side of the bypass, although this does not cause problems for traffic flow as it is accessed from a roundabout, which also serves the B9170 into the town centre. Presently the road crosses the River Don and skirts the suburb of Port Elphinstone to reach a roundabout on the B993.
Section 4: Inverurie - Aberdeen
The A96 becomes dual carriageway at the roundabout with the B993. The road is then dual carriageway all the way to Aberdeen, although the majority of junctions are via at-grade roundabouts (a couple of grade separated junctions at Kintore being the exception). Much of the old road is still present next to the current dual carriageway here, although it is not continuous and just remains for local access. We bypass Kintore and Blackburn (the old A96 now being numbered as B977 and B979 respectively through each town), and then leave Aberdeenshire and enter the City of Aberdeen, administratively-speaking.
The A96 here is a new, fairly modern stretch, although with a few slightly tight bends as we pass through a cutting through the forest. The old road follows us to the south for a stretch, and can be accessed from the Clintery Roundabout. The B979 has multiplexed with us from Blackburn, and leaves us towards Kirkton of Skene around a mile and a half after Blackburn. Watch out for traffic turning across the carriageway here - no grade separation or roundabout for this relatively busy junction, although there is a deceleration lane if you're heading westbound. There are some nice forest walks in both Kirkhill forest and Tyrebagger forest which are just off the road.
About a mile on, we encounter another junction, with a left turn taking you to an industrial estate, and a right turn taking you south towards Kingswells. There are an increasing number of speed cameras as we get closer to Aberdeen, including one at this junction. The speed limit is still 70mph here, although that's not to say it's always wise to do that around these junctions. A short distance further on we have a junction with access to the Aberdeen campus of the Scottish Agricultural College. Technically, one could argue that this is a grade-separated junction, as there is an underpass connecting the two sides of the road - however, part of this is a private road owned by the Craibstone estate. It is reportedly possible to see an entire armada of pizza vans parked up near a building here at times!
As of 2016, the A96 is now surrounded by roadworks for the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, which will soon fly over the existing road. A new roundabout has been constructed at Craibstone which will provide access to the AWPR via a short link road. The roundabout also provides access to Aberdeen Airport, via another new link road.
Shortly after Craibstone roundabout, we reach a set of traffic lights with Dyce Drive, providing an alternative access to the airport from the city. This used to be a very busy roundabout, but was removed as part of the AWPR works in 2016. The A96 continues (still with a 70mph limit) for another mile or so, and we enter Bucksburn, effectively the start of urban Aberdeen, with a reduction to 40mph to boot. Plenty of facilities here, including a petrol station, Travelodge and a McDonalds. The A96 swings to the right at the next roundabout, where you can take the A947 to the airport, Dyce, or onwards to Banff. A filter lane is provided here for A96 westbound traffic.
The A96 drops to a 30mph limit here (with speed cameras). There are an assortment of traffic lights for local routes, and a bus lane appears when heading eastbound, just outside Bucksburn - although we do regain our 40mph limit. We're now approaching the notorious Haudagain Roundabout, the junction with the A92. If you're heading through this junction at any time near rush hour, don't expect to get anywhere quickly. This is surely the worst junction in Aberdeen - this ill-designed roundabout is far too small and underpowered to support the sheer volume of traffic it takes. There is currently a proposal to build a new dual carriageway link road between the A96 and Anderson Drive, which would "cut the corner" and remove a chunk of traffic from the Haudagain. This project is expected to start construction some time after 2019.
The A96 loses its trunk status after the Haudagain roundabout (although some old green A96 signs can still be found lurking around Aberdeen), and continues towards Aberdeen city centre. The road becomes a single carriageway about half a mile on, and after a further half a mile, we meet the A978 at a large roundabout. The prominent Northern Hotel is a few hundred yards down the road on our right, and the B986 joins us just afterwards from Clifton Road. It multiplexes with us for a little while, then turns right up Belmont Road at a busy set of traffic lights. There's a further busy set of traffic lights shortly afterwards, at the junction with the B991. Another set of lights, this time for the junction with George Street, and we regain our dual carriageway status. We then meet the ridiculously huge Mounthooly roundabout, said to be (or have been) the largest roundabout in Europe. The A944 begins here, heading off towards Alford. We continue past an assortment of retail outlets, as well as the ancient Marischal College. The A96 then comes to an end at the junction with King Street, with the road ahead (and King Street itself) continuing as the A956.
Upgrades and bypasses aside, the A96 has not changed until it gets to Aberdeen. The original eastern end ran along Gallowgate and Broad Street to end on the A92 Union Street. By the 1980s this section had been declassified and the A96 rerouted along part of the A946, still to end on the old A92.