Moray Firth Tourist Route
|Moray Firth Tourist Route|
|To:||Mound Rock (NH775982)|
|Via:||Muir of Ord, Dingwall, Bonar Bridge, Lairg|
|Length:||80 miles (128.7 km)|
|Meets:||A9, A82, A833, A831, A832, A835, A834, A9, A836, A837, A839, A836, A9|
|Old route now:||A82, A862, A9, B9176, A836, A839|
The Moray Firth Tourist Route provides an alternative route to the A9 north from Inverness. This is achieved largely by following the former route of the A9, and driving it proves how beneficial the new road has been to the area. However, for those less interested in rapid progress, and keen to explore what the area has to offer the this route is a pleasant meander around not just the Moray Firth (in truth it barely touches it) but the Beauly, Cromarty and Dornoch Firths of Easter Ross.
Inverness to Dingwall
Beginning then on the A9 at the Longman Roundabout, just south of the Kessock Bridge, the route heads south west initially on the A82 towards the city centre, before turning right onto the A862. The city centre offers a range of visitor attractions, although being the Highland Capital means it is perhaps more geared to services for the region than the tourist industry. Nevertheless, the recently refurbished Museum and Gallery stands below the castle, and not far from the delightful river bank with the wobbly suspension footbridge across. A stroll up river leads to Bught Park and the Ness Islands, whilst on the tourist route itself is the Muirtown Basin and Clachnaharry Sea Loch where the Caledonian Canal enters the Beauly Firth.
Beyond Clachnaharry, the A862 crosses the railway and runs along the waters edge as it heads west towards Beauly itself. There are holiday parks and forest walks either side of the road, which slowly leaves the shore behind to pass Kirkhill. Two left turns in quick succession provide an interesting, if lengthy detour for those with time on their hands. The A833 heads over the hills to Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness, home to the Nessie Visitor Centres. From there, the A831 heads west to Cannich and so the spectacular scenery of Glen Affric, with the car park at the end of the road on the banks of Loch Affric. Returning via Cannich, the A831 turns north through Strath Glass to rejoin the A862 just a mile from where the A833 turns off, at Lovat Bridge.
Beauly comes next, with its wide main street / market place, and the ruins of the Priory at the north end of town. Beyond Beauly, a long straight road leads to Muir of Ord. A large industrial area lines the roadside, but tucked in behind is the Black Isle Showground, which hosts a variety of events during the year, not least the Black Isle Show, where farmers from across the Highlands and Islands show their livestock, with local crafts and so on as well.
The Black Isle, whilst not an Island at all, is worth a visit if another lengthy detour appeals, and the A832 east from Muir leads out past Fortrose to Cromarty. In Fortrose, the Cathedral ruins are perhaps the least complete of those still standing, but interesting nevertheless, and Chanonry Point is a popular destination for Dolphin Watchers. Cromarty is a fine old town at the eastern end of the Black Isle, with some fine old buildings, a small harbour and walks out along the high cliffs of the Souters. The B9163 and / or B9169 will then lead you back on the north shore of the Black Isle to Muir once more, with fine views of the Cromarty Firth along the way.
Back on the tourist route, Muir is home to the Glen Ord Distillery, whilst Conon Bridge a couple of miles to the north is another pretty little place which, like many of these towns and villages has a selection of hotels, guest houses and places to eat. Dingwall, the county town of Ross-shire, has long been an important place in these parts, but it is the former spa resort of Strathpeffer, a few miles west on the A834 which is more suited to tourists, with museums, the pavillion, a visitor centre and forest walks which could easily consume a day between them.
Dingwall to The Mound
From Dingwall, the tourist route follows the last few miles of the A862 to the A9 at the north end of the Cromarty Bridge. Heading east, the Storehouse of Foulis is a farm shop and restaraunt set in historic buildings on the edge of the firth. The tourist route then sticks to the A9, but a left turn onto the B817 through Evanton may be of interest to some. A couple of miles further, the B9176 turns left off the A9, quickly crossing the B817 as it starts to climb the Fearn Road up above Alness. This, as with many of the roads already used, was originally built by Thomas Telford as part of his commission on Highland Roads and Bridges, and it is a fantastic route worthy of this great engineer.
It is a lengthy climb up through a variety of terrain, starting with fields and woodland and ending with forestry plantation and open moorland. From the top plateau, there are some amazing views to the east across the Cromarty and Dornoch Firths to the outer Moray Firth, and also occasional glimpses of the mountains to the west. The road is well provided with laybys and parking areas to make the most of these views. Dropping down to the Dornoch Firth, the road meets the A836, once more the old route of the A9, and heads west once more to Ardgay and then Bonar Bridge, where the bridge is worth a stop to marvel at the lightness of the engineering.
In Bonar Bridge, the tourist route turns left and continues inland, rather than following the A949 back east along the north shore. This leads it up the Kyles of Sutherland to Invershin, with its viaduct and further on again the Falls of Shin on the B864. The tourist route stays on the A836 north to Lairg, an overlooked village set below the Shin Dam, but still enjoying a lower loch to give it a fine waterfront. This is the hub of the road network for the far north, with the A837 and A839 leading west to Lochinver, the A838 heading north east to Durness and Cape Wrath and the A836 continuing north to Tongue and Thurso, all visited on the North and West Highlands Route.
From Lairg, however, the Moray Firth Tourist Route takes a line east on the A839 to find the coast once more. This is a fabulous road climbing up and over the low pass before a long fast descent through Rogart to the A9 at The Mound. The Mound is another of Telfords Bridges, this time incorporating a weir which enabled hundreds of acres of former salt marsh liable to flooding to be reclaimed as agricultural land. It is here that the route ends, but for those seeking more adventure, a blast north up the A9 leads to the afore mentioned North West Highlands route, whilst the A9 can also be taken south back to Inverness, taking the time to stop in Dornoch, Tain, and make the detour out to Portmahomack along the way.