Highland Tourist Route
|Highland Tourist Route|
|Via:||Alford, Grantown on Spey, Nairn|
|Distance:||118 miles (189.9 km)|
|Meets:||A96, A978, A92, A90, A980, A97, A939, A95, A939, A95, A940, A939, A9|
|Old route now:||A944, A97, A944, A939, A95, A939, B9101, B9090, B9091, B9006, A9|
Beginning on the A96 in Central Aberdeen, the route heads west on the A944, through Alford and a merger with the A97, to the A939, where it heads north. At Grantown-on-Spey there is a short merger with the A95 as the route continues north on the A939 towards Nairn. Just before reaching Nairn, the tourist route turns left onto the B9101, takes the B9090 via Cawdor and then the B9091 to Croy. At Croy, the route picks up the B9006, which leads us to the A9. The route turns north on the A9 for the short distance to the A96, where it ends.
Aberdeen to Alford
It is an inauspicious start in Aberdeen, and several miles of urban then suburban sprawl before the point of this route becomes clear. However, Aberdeen is not without its attractions, with a vibrant city centre, museums, galleries and plenty of shops, not to mention a long sea front with parks and fairground. The working harbour, although perhaps not quite so busy at present, can also be fascinating to watch. The famous Granite City has increased its wealth in recent years via the oil industry, but despite changes in world economies, Aberdeen is a tough city which will survive and thrive with the new challenges that changing markets throw at it.
Once Aberdeen is behind, the A944 finds its rhythm, striding out across the rich farmland that helped make this region prosperous in the past, and may yet help in the future too. To the north lies Castle Fraser, in its manicured grounds, and the nearby estate village of Monymusk on the B993 is a picture postcard place. Continuing west, the road winds down towards the River Don at Alford, where a motor museum can be found amongst the towns other attractions. New roads partially bypass the town, and lead to the Bridge of Alford, a fine old stone arch bridge.
From Alford the tourist route continues to head west through the scenic Strathdon, occasionally crossing behind hills around Kildrumny where the A944 multiplexes with the A97. It is climbing gently as it winds through villages and crosses a series of narrow bridges. There are few of the more usual attractions for tourists to stop at, but the landscape is enthralling enough, and only gets better the further west you head.
The A944 comes to an end on the A939 a mile or so east of Corgarff. The A939 to the south is a glorious drive over the hills to Deeside, where Balmoral and Braemar are tourist hotspots throughout the year, and served by the Deeside Tourist Route, so could be left for a whole new adventure in the future! If you can't wait that long, however, the A939 leads to Ballater, from where the River Dee can be crossed to head back up to Balmoral on the B976 A there-and-back extension leads to Braemar on the A93, and then on to the pretty Linn of Dee, before returning via the A93, B967 and A939 to Corgarff.
Corgarff village has a tea room, gift shop or a picnic site for those catering for themselves. A mile beyond the village near Cock Bridge lies Corgarff Castle, a majestic white tower house which was given added defences in the 1750s when it became a barracks. Ahead lies one of the best drivers roads in the country, rapidly gaining height as it sweeps round some tight bends before soaring up a straight road. It would be a miserable person indeed who didn't smile at the sight of this fabulous road leading away to the horizon.
There is a slight dip between the two summits, the second being home to the Lecht Ski resort, and the vast car parks are still insufficient when the snow is at its best. The road then plunges down again on the military road, to the Well of the Lecht, where an old chimney suggests an industrial history, and a stone stands to remember some of the soldiers who built this fantastic road 2 and a half centuries ago. Turning with the valley, the road heads west steadily dropping as the landscape opens out to reach Tomintoul. This is a picturesque Highland Village mostly strung along a single street with shops and cafes clustered around the square. Just before entering the village, the B9008 heads north east into Glen Livet, a tranquil area off the main tourist trail, except for the distillery.
From Tomintoul, the A939 heads north west, crossing the River Avon at Bridge of Avon, where there is a picnic site and then over the hill to Bridge of Brown. The descent and re-ascent across the valley is a series of steep bends, which were a real challenge to drivers in the past, but are now somewhat easier with modern cars. Beware the slow lorry or tourist coach though! Beyond the bridge, the road continues to climb over some spectacular open moorland, before a long gentle descent into Speyside. A left turn leads to Nethy Bridge, with accommodation and activities in the nearby Abernethy Forest.
It is now just a short run down to Grantown on Spey. Like Tomintoul, this is a planned town laid out in the 18th Century by the local laird partly to rehouse his tennants in the clearances, and partly as a market town / trading post on the new military roads, where he could influence and control the trading. Today it is a bustling place with shops and eateries as well as a large wooded park to the south which has plenty of trails laid out. The Old Speybridge crosses the river on the military road, but today the road uses the magnificent single span New Speybridge on the bypass.
The full delights of Speyside are readily accessible from Grantown, with Aviemore and the Cairngorm Mountain resort lying half an hour to the west on the A95, whilst to the east, a series of distilleries line the valley culminating in the Aberlour / Dufftown area where in addition to the highest concentration of Whisky Distilliries on the planet there is Telford's majestic Craigellachie Bridge across the Spey. Whilst none of these are on the Tourist Route, the distilleries are served by a Malt Whisky Trail which guides visitors between a series of selected sites.
Speyside to Inverness
From Grantown on Spey, the tourist route follows the A939 north, still loosely following the line of the military road built by Major Caulfeild in the 1750s. After the blast through the mountains, it is a somewhat mundane road, but still has plenty to offer the more energetic tourist. As an alternative to the car, the Dava Way follows the old railway line north from Grantown to Forres, and runs alongside the A939 in places as far as Dava. Here the route turns north west, crossing some open moorland before dipping down to the River Findhorn at Ferness. A far more spectacular bridge lies a little upstream at Dulsie Bridge, and whilst it isn't that easy to find, it is worth the detour.
From Ferness to Nairn, the A939 winds through hilly terrain, with patches of woodland and some scenic little valleys before emerging onto the plains of the Moray Firth. The tourist route doesn't go all the way to the town, instead turning off on the B9101, but the town has a good beach and sea front with other attractions and holiday parks along the shore. The B9101, meanwhile, becomes the B9090 and heads south west to Cawdor, home of the castle made famous by Shakespeare in MacBeth. It is open to the public, and there are also a range of walks in the forests around the village.
Beyond Cawdor, the road turns to cross the River Nairn on White Bridge, a military bridge built by Caulfeild. His road continues dead ahead at Clephanton as the B9006 to Fort George, a very interesting site still in military use, but also open to the public, set on a headland in the Moray Firth. It is also home to regimental museums, and the walls are a good place for Dolphin Spotting out in the firth. Nearby Ardersier is a pretty village strung along the coast, with a beach and other attractions.
Back to Clephanton, and the tourist route turns west again onto the B9091, passing Croy and climbing up onto Culloden Moor. There can be few places in Scotland with a name as evocative as Culloden, where the hopes and dreams of many Scots were destroyed, not to mention their lives, in the fierce Jacobite battle of 1746. It was the beginning of the end of the Highland clans, and life in the far north would never be the same again, but enough cliches, the battlefield is open to explore for free, although the visitor centre does charge. The nearby Clava Cairns takes the local history back several thousand years, whilst the railway viaduct across the River Nairn is somewhat more modern!
The hillsides below Culloden have now been developed as vast suburbs of Inverness, although the locals still call them villages, with many of the houses having stunning views across the Firth to the Kessock Bridge and Black Isle beyond. The B9006 leads west to the A9, where the tourist route briefly turns north to end at the Raigmore Interchange. However, it is just a short distance to the heart of the Highland Capital, where a bustling city centre offers shops, food, a museum and so much more to round off the journey from Aberdeen.