America has Route 66. Australia has the Great Ocean Road. But Scotland is launching its own bid to create an iconic road trail for visitors.
North Coast 500 - to be known as NC500 - aims to open up a fresh tourist market in Caithness, promoting the best of the far north in a journey along the region’s coastlines.
The venture is the brainchild of the North Highland Initiative (NHI), set up by Prince Charles to showcase the area, and is targeting car and motorbike enthusiasts, as well as cyclists and walkers wanting to take in some of the most scenic parts of the country.
The route will link natural heritage and scenery, celebrate local food and drink, accommodation, retail, arts, crafts and attractions of the region.
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It will run from Inverness, to the Kyle of Lochalsh on the West Coast, via the rugged north coast to John O’ Groats, before heading down the east coast, completing the loop in Inverness.
NHI chairman David Whiteford said NC500 was the most exciting and innovative development in the north Highlands for years. He added: “Across the globe, touring routes have become famous and are often the very reason for visitors making the journey to that country.
“We have, in the north Highlands, an opportunity to create a globally significant route that captures the essence of the wonderful landscapes and seascapes, people, stories, culture, history, adventures, food and drink and much more.
“This is about bringing together for the first time the west, north and east coasts of the Highlands into an experience of 500 miles, with more than 500 things to do and secret places you could find on foot, on wheel or on the water.”
He said: “While it may be a coastal route, it is also about the wonderful diversions from it where you will experience the places, the personalities and the craic that make up this extraordinary journey.”
There has already been huge interest shown in the route from American travel journalists and publications.
Route 66 is one of the most popular journeys in America, the inspiration for numerous songs, while the Great Ocean Road in Australia takes in some of the countr’s most scenic landscapes. VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay said famous routes around the world attract tourists and generate millions for the economy. He believes NC500 could have a similar impact in the Highlands, adding: “From our enchanting wildlife and countless historic attractions to magnificent mountains, dramatic lochs and sandy beaches, the Highlands is a true touring paradise. There really is nothing quite like the open road. People travel from all over the world for Route 66, and with our scenery, there’s no reason NC500 can’t prove to be just as popular.”