Last week the Mrs and I drove up to the north of Scotland to visit friends. Fortunately we had decided to split the journey over 2 days, so after a pleasant evening at a border pub and overnight camp we set off for the second part of the drive with, we thought, only about 250 miles to go.
Having taken the west coast route on other recent trips we decided to use the A9, and all went well until we were approaching the Forth road bridge above Edinburgh when the signs lit up to say that the A9 was blocked and suggesting the A82, all the way back to the west. So we decided to go the other way and leaving Perth we turned east, intending to drive up through the Cairngorms, an area we hadn’t previously visited.
It took all day to get to our destination, travelling to what seemed like almost spitting distance of Aberdeen due to another road being closed for road works before we could join the Aberdeen to Inverness road and get back to the A9 for the journey further north. It turns out the A9 was closed because of a fatal accident, desperately sad for those involved and which puts our minor inconvenience of a 2 hour diversion into perspective.
Travelling home a couple of days ago we did take the A9 south from Inverness, and it made me realise what an awful and unsuitable route this is. Google suggests it’s 112 miles by road from Inverness to Perth and offer a driving time of almost 2 ½ hours, which seems about right unless, as is more usually the case, that everyone is stuck in a long slow tailback behind the slowest vehicle of the day. Almost the entire length of the road is single carriageway, and most appears to be almost entirely unimproved for decades. For most of its length there are no crawler lanes, overtaking lanes or even safe overtaking opportunities. There are a few short three lane overtaking sections towards the southern end but inexplicably most of these are in favour of traffic travelling north, even when the southbound traffic is queued uphill behind a labouring lorry or caravan. The entire journey is an exercise in frustration that positively invites the less patient and inexperienced to take risks. It’s made worse by the nature of the road. It bends and undulates causing difficult sightlines while the scale of the mountains somehow disorientates one’s sense of scale and distance, inviting miscalculation and misjudgement of speeds and safety margins.
Somewhere towards the southern end of the journey there was a 40 minute tailback because some complete pillock had decided that the day after a long holiday weekend was a good time to resurface a short length of road, the one remaining lane was left with unattended traffic lights. Needless to say when we finally passed the obstruction there was nobody working, just a missing length of top surface, temporary traffic lights and a 40 minute tailback, nothing better for getting drivers really annoyed..
It’s fashionable, and often justified, to complain at English roads, they are hideously congested and inadequate in places, but even they look good by comparison with the A9. When did any of us last spend 100 miles in a long nose to tail slow moving queue behind one slow lorry all the way between two major towns?
I admire Scotland, it really is a great place and I love visiting, but honestly if the authorities can’t organise a decent safe road on the main route to half the country, and employ officials who close that down to one lane on a public holiday week, their chances of making it after independence look pretty dismal. Just the addition of a few well placed crawler lanes would work wonders to relieve the frustration and risk taking.
The day we got home there was sadly another news report, yet another fatal accident involving a coach. More death and injury and more chaos for anyone needing to travel. Four people killed in a week. It’s a serious indictment of the planners that they are only now planning improvements that will take 20 years.
Photo from the Courier newspaper