North Coast 500

A circular tourist route around the north coast of Scotland, which is driven by most but cycled by a few, the North Coast 500 was devised in 2015 as a venture to bring tourists to less-visited parts of the country. Described as one of the top five coastal routes in the world, it extends for 516 miles (830 km) around Inverness-shire, Sutherland and Caithness.

The North Coast 500 was developed by the North Highland Initiative, with support from Visit Scotland and Highlands & Islands Enterprise, and a private company was created to promote participating local businesses. In its first two years, the route brought an increase in visitor numbers of 26%, boosted business by up to 20% and led to a 10% increase in traffic. It has been criticised for encouraging short-term tourism, where visitors pass quickly through villages and rural areas, rarely stopping to appreciate these nor putting significant money into the local economy. Further criticism has been levelled at the increase in accidents, on a route including substantial sections of single-track road, which are unfamiliar to many and not designed for heavy traffic. Speeding is also a problem, with some drivers feeling the necessity to complete the route in the shortest possible time. Local people have complained of a "race track mentality."

The North Coast 500 is seen as a challenge for cyclists, with Mark Beaumont (b.1983) completing the route non-stop it in 37 hours and 58 minutes within months of it being established. The following year James McCallum took just 31 hours, including brief breaks, while raising a substantial sum for charity.

The route begins in Inverness, and follows the A862 road to Beauly and then Muir of Ord, where the circuit begins. Proceeding anti-clockwise, the route takes the A9 Trunk Road to Maryburgh, Dingwall, Evanton, Tain, Golspie, Brora, Helmsdale, Dunbeath and Latheron. It then follows the A99 to Wick and John o' Groats, where the route turns west, and takes the A836 road to Thurso, Bettyhill and Tongue. The route continues along the A838 to Durness, which is substantially single-track, and proceeds southwest to Laxford Bridge. It then follows the A894 to Kylesku and takes a loop along the B869 towards the Stoer Peninsula, returning to Loch Assynt and Inchnadamph, before proceeding south on the A835 to Ullapool. At the Corrieshalloch Gorge, the route takes the A832 northwest to Little Loch Broom and onwards to Aultbea at the base of Rubha Mor, then to Poolewe and Gairloch. The route then extends down the southwestern shore of Loch Maree to Kinlochewe, taking the single-track A896 through Glen Torridon to Shieldaig, around the Applecross Peninsula, travelling down the remarkable Bealach na Ba to Loch Kishorn, then taking the A896 and A890 northeast through Glen Carron to Achnasheen, the A832 east through Strath Bran to join the A835 at Garve. The route then proceeds southeast via Tarvie and Contin, turning to cross the Moy Bridge on the A832 to return to Muir of Ord via Marybank, completing the circuit. It then follows the same route as at the start to return to Inverness.


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