|Distance:||51.1 miles (82.2 km)|
|Meets:||B9034, A90, B9031, B9032, A950, B9027, B9105, B9031, B9026, A947, A97, B9038, B9121, A95, B9025, B9022, B9139, B9018, A942, A990, B9016, A96, B9104|
|Route outline (key)|
Ask the layman to describe the A98 in one sentence and he or she might come up with “the Moray coastal road”, assuming they're roads-knowledgeable enough to come up with anything at all. And the A98 certainly connects up the towns, ports and harbours on its portions of the Aberdeenshire and Moray coast, but the moniker is not quite legitimate given the route taken between these points of interest, which is significantly further inland than you might first think.
Fraserburgh – Banff
In its beginnings at Fraserburgh, the A98 behaves like it is the onward continuation of the A90; that is if the coast didn't abruptly turn through 90 degrees. I say “behaves like”, because its origin is not as one might suspect at the A90 Cross Street junction, it's actually a few hundred yards to the south east on Dalrymple Street where it meets the B9034 Station Brae. This seemingly wayward stub is a way of linking the harbour to the A-road network much like the A953 in Banff or A771 in Gourock, a legacy of the importance of sea transport in coastal Scotland's past. Thankfully in Fraserburgh's case, there is plenty of room for it in Scotland's future too as it functions as a major trawling and fisheries hub. Justified to still be A98, but not justified enough to appear on the signs? That is the question. Most of this eastern section is one-way anyway.
Anyway, the A98 does behave much like the A90 from the south because it's a good quality single carriageway road. It's had a couple of its bends straightened out and makes for a comfortable drive with ample overtaking opportunity from here to the first westward town, Macduff. What it doesn’t do is meet any settlement of any size in between; it misses the only realistic target (New Pitsligo) by a hair, ceding the honour to the A950. There are a couple of “Welcome to...” signposts and the limit might drop to 50, but that's it for the first half of the road. The actual coastal route, the B9031, meets it at both ends of this run and makes a shorter crossing between the two via some urbanity in Rosehearty and New Aberdour.
Having quickly covered the opening 25 miles, the expansive golf club on the outskirts of Macduff is the first sign of civilisation returning, and of a true run round the coast; only the boatyards and the aquarium get between the road and the open water in town. Macduff is in many ways the smaller brother of the town to the west, Banff, to reach which the A98 must turn at Banff Bridge and abandon the straight ahead route to the southbound A947 (a shortcut back to Aberdeen). The bridge crosses the mouth of the River Deveron and quickly enters Banff. Macduff and Banff are essentially one urban area, but have separate identities as this A98 bridge, their sole link, was only built round about the time of Macduff's centenary of establishment.
Banff – Cullen
The A98 route through Banff is circuitous, and requires the road to vacuum up the Aberchirder-bound A97 through the town centre. Eventually, the coast's emergence forces it westward, frees the A97 (for all of three hundred more yards - but that's another story) and reverts to its former self having left town, as a well-engineered road with generally gentle curvature (just watch for that double-kink near Blairshinnoch).
And on the subject of reverting to form, it again projects inland between Banff and the next destination Portsoy, letting the B9139 do the waterside work, although the inland route is, however, much less work in terms of engineering and in taxing the road user. What it also does here is bring the A95's impressive sojourn to an end at Muir of Rettie. That road ceded its trunk status much further back in Keith, but until recently still qualified as a primary road, a status which transferred to the A98 from here all the way back to Fraserburgh. This explains the occasional green signs up to this point. Both are non-primary now, however.
Portsoy is entered from the south on a road seemingly hanging from the rock face, and swings through in a loop tightly hemmed in between the granite grey houses – so much so as to require the omission of a pavement in places. It doesn't venture too far from the coast on the way out and over to Cullen; in fact this section features very little in the way of corners. The rocky natural harbours give way slowly to beaches, and the industrial harbours slowly to caravan parks from here on in. Cullen's high street (Seafield Street) is quite disorientating in that it slopes downhill to the water all the way with the potential drenching nicely framed by the disused railway viaduct which glamorously splits the view. The road does turn left to avoid splashdown and weaves back under the quite astonishing viaduct, big enough to cast a shadow on the beach before leaving town.
Cullen – Fochabers
As the engineering effort of a railway viaduct suggests, this part of the coast has some variation in height despite the proximity of the sea. There are more rises and falls in this section of the road although it is really ruler-straight now. The seemingly deliberately engineered straightness, combined with the inland circumvention of three close-by settlements in Portknockie, Findochty and Buckie (the latter the largest) which are served by an ox-bow A942, make this appear to be a modern bypass. Not so; the A98 has always strayed inland and the A942 was just extended from Buckie harbour (theme emerging with harbours again) back round to become the Moray Coast D-road. It even grows a little brother, the A990 via Portgordon, which runs west from Buckie to meet the A98 at the end of the “bypass” by Slackhead.
And that's essentially it; there’s a final four miles that's exciting in visual terms but disappointing in engineering terms until the outskirts of Fochabers, where it ends at a roundabout on the A96 bypass, which was completed in 2012. This has severed a few hundred yards of A98 into town, but provides a much neater link on to the trunk road A96, heading for the top signposted destination all along – the relative metropolis of Inverness.
East of Cullen
A long time before the roads were classified in 1922, the main road east from Cullen was upgraded. This seems to have been done in the first half of the 19th century as a new turnpike road. The A98 still roughly follows this route, but the older route, still known locally as the 'Kings Road' is also still in use for much of the way. To make most sense of the old road, it is written in the reverse direction to the main route description above.
As the A98 leaves Cullen, heading south / east, the B9018 continues ahead, with a short link a little further south back to the A98. This appears to be the start of the old road, which crosses the A98 and disappears into the woodland of Crannoch Hill. The old railway line has disturbed the old road line here, although a forest road and railway bridge are shown on older maps on roughly the right route. The path then turns right after this bridge and curves around the contours to reach the edge of the trees. From here, the road has been obliterated across the fields, but can be picked up again on the far side.
A straight road of over a mile in length runs down the hill past Findlater into Sandend. This is the old main road, which can also be traced a little further west as a field boundary. Returning to Sandend, the old road presumably curved around the back of the beach and negotiated the climb up the gulley next to the Distillery. None of this section is particularly obvious today, partly due to the changing nature of the dunes, and partly due to the development of the distillery. At the top of the bank however, the old road can be found as a grassy track, part of the coast path, and then crosses a cattle grid to become a farm lane up to Redhythe Farm. From here, it once again becomes a public road, running all the way down into Portsoy, where it becomes Park Crescent.
On the east side of Portsoy, the A98 heads south as Aird Street. After the last house on the left, a track heads east and this seems to be the old line of the road, which crosses a stream and then climbs up to meet the B9139. The B9139 often runs nice and straight as it heads east towards Banff, and as this is a characteristic of the section from Cullen to Portsoy, it seems probable that the B9139 follows the old main road. The only variation seems to be the last mile, from Inverboyndie into Banff, where the old railway seems to have been built on the line of the road. However, a possible road line can be traced climbing the hill above the car park at the end of the shoreside road. This climbs from the old railway up to meet the A98 immediately east of the layby on the edge of town.
This long section of old road raises an interesting question. Much of it runs in long straights, and it passes through Portsoy which is known to have been the northern end of a military road built in the second half of the 18th Century. The road outlined above also carries the name of the 'Kings Road', all of which could be seen as identifying it as another old military road. However, there are a number of routes in Aberdeenshire which have been identified as being pseudo-military - the military provided the engineering skills and some of the manpower, whilst the road was actually paid for by the county. It seems most likely that this route falls into that category.