|From:||Hillside, Mainland (HU408637)|
|To:||Haroldswick, Unst (HP635119)|
|Length:||41.9 miles (67.4 km)|
|Meets:||A970, B9076, B9081, B9082, B9084, B9086, B9087|
|Former Number(s):||B9077, B9081, B9080, B9082, B9085, B9084|
|Old route now:||B9081|
|Route outline (key)|
The A968 is Britain's northernmost A-road and includes two ferry crossings (Toft-Ulsta and Gutcher-Belmont) as part of its route. It also has Britain's northernmost TOTSO at Baltasound. Despite being so far north, this road passes one of Britain's most famous bus stops. 'The Bus Shelter' was decorated by local children and sits on the corner of the A968 and the Little Hamar Road on the northeastern edge of Baltasound on Unst.
The road starts in Hillside, on the west coast of Shetland Mainland, where it turns off the A970. Heading almost due north the road climbs away from the coast along a small valley. Owing to the indented coastline of Mainland the east coast is met after only a couple of miles and the road runs along the north side of Dales Voe on a vertiginous route half way up a steep hill. The road bends to the left before running out of land and descends to cross a burn and meet the B9076 towards Sullom Voe. The road bends right here then left on the edge of Firth & Mossbank. The old ferry pier for Yell was in Mossbank itself but the A968 continues north before descending to sea level again at Toft, which is the current ferry departure point.
A 20-minute crossing on the Yell Sound Ferry brings the A968 out in Ulsta, on the island of Yell. There are two possible routes from here to the island "capital" of Mid Yell and the other route, the B9081 turns off to the right before leaving Ulsta to head east.
The A968 continues north following the west coast. The terrain is not as steep as on Mainland - but there is still quite a hill on either side at certain parts of the journey. At times it is fairly obvious that the road was once narrower and more winding and our route has been improved. After a couple of miles we reach West Sandwick which merits its own bypass; we run a short distance to the east of the scattered village. As the minor road comes in from the left once more we bear right to cross the centre of the island which, from the road at least, appears remarkably flat. The B9081 comes in from the right once again just before we hit the east coast near Mid Yell.
We turn northwards and follow a straightish road avoiding the winding coastline before descending to the sea at Basta Voe. A short detour is necessary round the northern edge of the inlet. We then run through the village of Sellafirth and head due east, again cutting off the corner where the coastline takes a longer route. The B9082 turns off to the left and we reach Gutcher and our next ferry pier.
The Bluemull Sound Ferry, takes about 10 minutes to get to Unst, the northernmost inhabited island in the UK. We land in the tiny village of Belmont and head northeastwards. Unlike the other two islands, the road prefers to remain inland on Unst. After rounding Gallow Hill the short B9084 turns off to reach the south coast and we continue north running along what appears to be a central valley - the A968 remains flat and straight although hills can be seen some distance away on both sides.
After passing the Loch of Watlee (which is barely visible from the road) we start to climb and skirt the Hill of Caldback before descending along a spur to reach the scattered village of Baltasound. We run to the east of the Valhalla Brewery and the secondary school then TOTSO right to pass the church to round the Balta Sound itself and reach what passes for the village centre. The road then bends to the left to reach a T-junction where we TOTSO right (if we had missed the first TOTSO and then turned right at the following T-junction this is where we would have ended up). A dead-straight road to the east ends at a sharp bend left next to the famous bus shelter, after which we round the rocky Muckle Heog hill, running along the east coast. The road is winding for the first time on Unst but then straightens out again just in time for the road to narrow. The A968 descends towards the sea, bearing left rather late, to reach Haroldswick, another village named after an inlet of the sea. The B9087 turns off to the right and the village centre and the A968 ends without ceremony at the junction; the road ahead is the B9086.
Something which must surely be a mapping error is the indication of the A968 running between Balmoral and Ballater along the southern bank of the River Dee. This is marked on the c. 1925 Bartholomew's Half Inch sheet 16, and presumably means the B968.
More seriously, the A968 came into being after World War II. It took over the B9077 on Mainland, ending at the Mossbank pier. It then crossed Yell on the B9080 to Cullivoe and then onto Unst via the B9085 and B9084.
By the mid-1950s the road had been moved to make use of the current ferry piers. It was diverted from Mossbank to Toft on Mainland. On Yell the detour was longer - instead of taking the direct route from Basta Voe to Cullivoe the road swapped numbers with the B9082 leading to Gutcher. The route on Unst remained unchanged.
More recently, the route across Yell was swapped with the B9081 so as to run via West Sandwick rather than Burravoe as it did before. It is this route which has been improved and which gives the A968 we see today.