West Link opens up active travel routes

John on a visit to the Holm Mills Bridge ahead of the opening last week.

So it’s finally open, and people have been crossing the fourth road bridge over the River Ness since Monday, judging for themselves what difference it will make to traffic in Inverness.

The Holm Mills Bridge is one of the biggest infrastructure projects to have been completed in the Highlands in recent decades, and there’s more to come with phase two of the scheme involving a second swing bridge over the Caledonian Canal – allowing traffic on the A82 to continue flowing even when boats are passing through.

But what I was interested in was what the new bridge means for active travel in the city. At the end of last week, before the bridge was opened, I was given a site tour to see what opportunities the new crossing has opened up for those walking, running and cycling around the city.

The immediate benefits are clear, with those on the south of the Inverness now able to access the Bught area, including the leisure centre and canal, without having to travel through the city centre or via the sometimes flooded Ness Islands. Likewise, those to the west of the river can now cross to access supermarkets and other facilities on the south side of the city by bike or on foot.

I was pleased to see that all previous routes and links have been maintained or enhanced, as well as new connections from the shared-use paths that continue along the new stretch of the southern distributor road from Holm to Tomnahurich.

There are several accesses from the paths onto the canal towpath – though the towpath remains closed due to separate works by Scottish Canals to repair the Ness Weir. It is due to open again before Christmas, when the route to Dochgarroch via the Holm Mills Bridge will make for a fine cycle or run for those in the south of the city.

Once it is back in operation, you will be able to reach the towpath from several points along the new road, including immediately west of the bridge and from a series of underpasses which allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross under the new roundabout beside the rugby club.

These underpasses are wide and lighting is installed, while the paths connecting the roadside cycle paths with the canal path are also surfaced – though the inclusion of chicane barriers at the end of many of these may make it awkward for larger bikes or cycles with trailers to negotiate.

The underpasses – at the point where the second swing bridge will be constructed – allow a continuation of the link to Tomnahurich Bridge and the canal paths from what is left of Bught Road. A separate surfaced path from Whin Park behind the new rugby pitches also gives access to the road near the Holm Mills Bridge, while the old steps that lead up to the canal beyond the weir are still in place.

All in all, I think the new bridge and the links it provides will greatly increase access to the canal and other active travel routes in the city. If, as suggested by traffic flow models, it also reduces the number of vehicles in the city centre and on the Ness Bridge, it could contribute to making Inverness an even better place to walk and cycle.

Some route ideas using the new bridge:

1 Ness Bridge to Loch Ness
Follow Ness Walk to join the path beside the rugby pitches at Whin Park, turning right to meet the shared-use path along the new road and cross the Holm Mills Bridge. Follow the path to the Holm roundabout to join cycle route 78 to Dores, which continues up to the Essich roundabout before turning right, then follows the 78 signs out past Scaniport and Cullaird to Dores on quiet country roads and surfaced cycle paths.

2 Cycle city explorer
Starting at the Bught, join the shared-use path on the new stretch of road and cross the Holm Mills Bridge. Continue on the southern distributor road past the Essich roundabout then fork left onto the cycle road that joins Culduthel Avenue behind the new Inverness Royal Academy. Turn left onto Culduthel Road, left at the lights then right at the mini-roundabout. An on-road clearly marked cycle lane continues to Castle Street, where care is needed descending to the Town House and left onto Bridge Street. Cross the Ness Bridge and go left onto Ness Walk to return to the Bught.

3 Riverside loop
Take a walk over the new bridge from Whin Park, going left to the dead-end road at the first roundabout after the crossing. You can continue on the path up to Dores Road, then turn left, continuing onto Island Bank Road and turning left down the steps onto the Ness Islands to return over the river to Whin Park.

4 Waterways route
From the Ness Bridge, follow Huntly Street to pass under the Friars’ Bridge onto Gilbert Street. Cross Grant Street in Merkinch and follow Anderson Street to merge onto Kessock Road and reach the old ferry terminus. From the turning point, follow a path left along the sea wall – with views over the Beauly Firth – over the railway and then go left onto the canal towpath along the Muirtown basin. Continue along the canal all the way to Tomnahurich, crossing the A82 to follow the shared-use path along the new road and over the Holm Mills Bridge. Turn left at the first roundabout over the river then follow the path up to Dores Road, going left to head back into the city centre.

5 Dochgarroch loop
This classic loop from Tomnahurich to Dochgarroch will become easily accessible to those on the south side of Inverness, who will be able to access the canal towpath by crossing the Holm Mills Bridge then forking left up the link path onto the towpath once it reopens. Turning left will lead the three miles or so to Dochgarroch, returning on the opposite towpath to Tomnahurich Bridge then coming back down the southern towpath to meet the underpass and connect with the new stretch of road back to the Holm Mills Bridge.

* To help plan your routes, take a look at the Inverness Active Travel Map, available at hitrans.org.uk/hitravel

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