North Highlands set for 114-mile tourist trail

SCOTLAND'S rugged far north coastline is being earmarked for a spectacular new long-distance walk.

Proposals are being discussed to develop the 114 miles between John o' Groats in the east to Cape Wrath in the west as a walking route called the North Highland Way.

The idea has the backing of John Thurso, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP, and financial support is being sought from a number of public agencies.

It is hoped it could eventually lead to a link hundreds of miles long to the West Highland Way in Fort William and ultimately to a round-Scotland coastal route.

Earlier this month The Scotsman also learned of plans for a long-distance walk through central Scotland.

The North Highland Way would start at the tourism mecca of John o' Groats, looking out over the Pentland Firth to Orkney.

The landmarks walkers would pass include the Castle of Mey and Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the British mainland.

Tina Irving, secretary of the Dunnet Head Educational Trust in Caithness, said a North Highland Way would be a welcome addition to the network of walks around Scotland.

She said the idea stemmed from an expedition last year by Gilbert Campbell who walked the 2,300 miles of Scottish mainland coast.

"It is such a great idea," she said. "A lot of what could become a North Highland Way is already in place in Caithness.

"I'm sure it would be very popular. People are always looking for somewhere different to walk and this would be a spectacular route.

"They love this kind of thing, getting out into the real, wild Scotland. It would be fantastic."

Mr Thurso said: "I have long thought that the coastal landscape is one of the outstanding features of Caithness and would make a fabulous walk that could be enjoyed by locals and also become a tourist attraction."

He added: "The problem is whether in these straitened times people are prepared to put money into it.

"But if you look at the value that it could deliver in terms of tourism you would see a return into the local economy quite quickly."

Walking is a huge economic generator for Scotland. The latest figures showed that visitors whose main purpose in coming here is walking contributed 244 million in 2007.

A survey by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and VisitScotland showed that 86 per cent of visitors took a walk as part of their holiday, while 11 per cent of visitors came to Highland specifically to walk.

The West Highland Way, a 96-mile route linking Milngavie, on the northern outskirts of Glasgow, with the foot of Ben Nevis at Fort William, attracts about 50,000 people every year, many from overseas.

The Great Glen Way, which runs for 73 miles between Inverness and Fort William, also attracts thousands of people annually and contributes an estimated 2m a year to the local economy.