Filmmaker turns iconic North Coast 500 route into movie

Highway A837 along Loch Assynt in the scottish highlands near Ardvreck Castle
Highway A837 along Loch Assynt in the scottish highlands near Ardvreck Castle
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Scotland’s North Coast 500 – the driving route that has transformed tourism numbers to some of the most remote parts of the Highlands in recent years – is to be turned into a movie.

A young Skye filmmaker will launch his 90-minute documentary feature, which is said to take audiences on a “breathtaking adventure” along the 516-mile route, at Scotland’s leading creative industries festival in July.

Sean Grieve’s film, which is set to a soundtrack by leading traditional music acts Manran and Kathleen MacInnes, was shot over 12 days last September.

The documentary, which follows Perthshire-born actor Malcolm Jamieson as he explores the best-known attractions and most far-flung destinations along the route, will be shown in a pop-up cinema in Inverness as part of the XpoNorth event in the city.

Organisers say the film, Discover Scotland: North Coast 500, will explore the “culture, history and opportunity for adventure around the route”.

Mr Grieve, 23, who graduate from the Edinburgh-based Screen Academy Scotland last year, started developing the film after deciding to properly explore the Highlands.

He ended up making five trips around the route during the research and filming what he has described as “an inspiring, uplifting, informative feel-good documentary”.

Mr Grieve said: “When I was growing up on Skye, my main focus was on moving away to study film. When I was living in Edinburgh I realised how much I’d taken things for granted. You don’t appreciate things like climbing mountains, going fishing and sleeping in bothies until you’re away from them.

“I felt I didn’t really know anything about the Highlands. This felt like a good way to teach myself more about filming and learn a lot more about Scotland, but also teach other people about its history.

“It was non-stop filming it last September. We were up at 6am every day and fell into bed just before midnight.”

Launched in 2015, the North Coast 500 campaign set to promote the route, which takes in Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Black Isle and Inverness-shire, as Scotland’s answer to “Route 66”, the famous road trip across America from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The Scottish campaign was credited with boosting visitor numbers to these areas by 26 per cent and generating an economic spin-off of more than £9 million by 2017. However, critics say its success has led to growing congestion problems on the roads, a decline in the condition of some stretches, an increase in drivers taking risks and increased problems with litter.

Mr Grieve said: “I actually felt the condition of the roads on the North Coast 500 route were absolutely incredible compared to Skye. People were also a lot more spread out.

“There may be mixed feelings about the film, but this part of Scotland is the most reliant on tourism in the UK. Ultimately, it can only benefit local businesses.”

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “It’s great to see Discover Scotland: North Coast 500 as part of XpoNorth. Anyone who has visited the area will know its scenery and landscapes are breathtaking and well worth a visit.

“We hope the screening will inspire others to visit this and other routes across Scotland.”