FROM glacial valleys to sweeping arcs of coastal dunes, it is a route that snakes its way through some of Scotland’s most breathtaking vistas.
The winding circuit that spans vast swathes of the nation’s Highland coastlines has been named the most spectacular drive in the UK.
The North Coast 500, a 516 mile journey across the northernmost stretches of the Scottish mainland, came top of a survey conducted by a US tourism body.
Billed as the Caledonian equivalent of Route 66, the famous US highway that connects Illinois to California, the picturesque route begins at Inverness Castle before heading north on the A862 through Dingwall and on to the Black Isle. From there, it skirts the coastlines of Sutherland and Caithness before coming down into Wester Ross and the Applecross peninsula before turning inland back towards the capital of the Highlands.
The brainchild of the North Highland Initiative, backed by Prince Charles, the touring route was only officially launched last June. In that time, however, it has helped raise awareness of the journey, particularly amongst visitors keen to explore Scotland’s wildernesses. Its latest accolade comes from the Illinois Office of Tourism, which conducted a survey of 2,000 Britons in March. A fifth of people who responded picked the North Coast 500, pipping the South West Coast Pass route in Cornwall to the top spot.
According to Jim Hinckley, a travel writer an author of The Route 66 Encyclopedia, the two roads in Scotland and the US heartlands share a great deal in common.
“The highway voted as Britain’s favourite on the north coast of Scotland has some real parallels with Route 66,” he said.
“There are tremendous views, but it’s also a living, breathing part of the country’s history – a throwback to how roads used to be.
“So many roads these days are almost generic. Drive the Scottish north coast or Route 66 and you move away from the generic world.
They’ve got colour and a vibrancy, a real sense of excitement.”
Britain’s Top Ten Drives
1. North Coast 500 Route, the 500-mile route across the Scottish Highlands - 20 per cent
2. The South West Coastal Pass, a route across Cornwall - 19 per cent
3. Great North Road (A1) from London to Edinburgh - 13 per cent
4. B4632 Cheltenham to Stratford, Cotswolds - 10 per cent
5. A519 Kendal to Keswick, Cumbria - 10 per cent
6. A30 and B3306 Lands’ End to St Ives, Cornwall - 8 per cent
7. Roman Road (A5) linking London to Dublin along Watling Street, and the Menai Suspension Bridge - 8 per cent
8. Humber Bridge, North Lincolnshire and Yorkshire - 5 per cent
9. A9 from Stirling to Inverness, Scotland - 5 per cent
10. Carter Bar to Edinburgh, Scotland - 2 per cent