The underpass under the A9 at the North Kessock Junction was not built with cyclists in mind. 40 years ago when this section of the A9 was built the main concern was that livestock would be able to cross the road safely.
The North Kessock underpass was originally built in two parallel parts; a footpath and a cattle creep. There haven’t been cattle needing to use it for a number of years, but a small muddy patch prevented the cattle creep being repurposed for cycles. It also had a large hump on the south side and a very tight turn and narrow route beside some steps on North side.
The underpass is a key crossing point on the A9 for National Cycle Route 1. It is heavily used and the underpass was a significant pinch point with cyclists and pedestrians having to use the same narrow walkway, and regularly having near misses on a blind corner.
10 Years in the Making
The project to improve bike access was first raised in 2013 during a joint site visit by bike with Highland Cycle Campaign, Transition Black Isle, The Highland Council, BEAR Scotland and Transport Scotland reps. We cycled alongside the A9 from the underpass to the Raigmore interchange identifying and noting 13 items of concern along the way and we highlighted them on a map. BEAR Scotland wrote a report; some other items have now also been addressed. The cycle site visit was organised after a rather grumpy lot of cyclists attended a public meeting about the works on the Kessock Bridge and were offered a meeting.
The Highland Council rep said that they were responsible for infrastructure which went over or under a trunk road but had no money to progress improvements. It was raised regularly with them particularly by Anne Thomas and eventually in late 2021 they applied to Sustrans and a grant of £20000 was awarded. This was transferred to the Community Council for project management. A site meeting with the residents association (RANK), Knockbain Community Council and Highland Council discussed how to proceed. Knockbain Community Council agreed to project manage and employed a local contractor.
Fit for Cycling
It is now much improved;
- with a concrete section replacing the muddy patch on the North side
- New concrete approach on the south side
- Wider turning areas at either end of the tunnel,
- A wider turning area at the top of the North side entry slope
- The ‘hump’ has also been taken out and concreted over.
- The broken barbed wire fence between the beginning of the paths has been replaced with a nice (not spiky) new fence.
- Art work adorns the tunnel
It was hoped that there was enough money left that the old A9 could be dug down to, leading to an additional route across a desire-line path to the ‘Walkers Car Park’ and new houses. Unfortunately this could not be found so a new shared use path was created. Unfortunately the landowner refused to have this taken round the corner to finish opposite the car park entrance, so it finished next to the road underpass on a blind corner, which was not ideal. A wooden chicane was therefore erected as the Community Council considered it dangerous otherwise, which was very frustrating to cyclists involved. The surface is also rather gravelly despite assurances that it would be suitable for cyclists but is being used by walkers, though some are still using the desire-line path diagonally across, but this land is in the process of being sold, so this may not be an option in future.
The underpass has attracted a lot of unsightly graffiti over the years. Marc, a local artist has completed 3 panels of a mural as a volunteer and it is hoped that further funding will be found to enable him to complete it with local young people helping with the project so that they have a sense of pride in it and are less likely to spoil it. The Residents Association (RANK) did apply to MFR cash for Kids but were told their structure was not eligible as it is a Community Company Ltd. Their literature says that Community Interest Companies cannot apply, but this is not the same structure. The Community Council is therefore applying to this funding source in the latest funding round and another fund.
RANK is hoping to do some community planting create an edible border along the path and has started planting some fruit bushes. It has already planted two community orchards in other parts of the village and one of the members has turned the roundabout into a wildflower meadow complete with cowslips, primroses and orchids. Poppies have sprung up on another part of the disturbed ground and are putting on a good show at the moment.
Let us know what you think!
Have you used the underpass since it’s upgrade? what did you think? let us know.