/ The NC500
having spent a long time away from the Highlands and recently asking about motorhome parking when I return at the end of the month, the NC500 has come up on my thread. I literally know nothing about it but it seems a touchy subject to some.
Is it a worthwhile topic to try and be objective about, or is it something that was/is simply not wanted and for what reasons?
Genuinly interested in the pro's and cons. if you care to indulge me :0)
There is no doubt that the economy of the NW Highlands needed a boost and tourism is an obvious asset to the area.
I think my beef with it is that it is the least sustainable form of tourism I can think of.its lead to the kind of click and go tourism that is blighting skye (have a look at the old man of Stoer on skye to see the effects) take picture, move on. The marketing is horrendous, chequered flags, tee shirts with racing bikers and hot rod wheels aflame. We have races regularly going past, numbers on the sports cars and all. Ots also emotional, the sounds of birds replaced by performance engines. On the summit in thevfannichs the other day it sounded like a grand prix. Driven past crashes bmws on the way to work. The littwr strewn on tbe roads, faeces in parking spots. Gives mee the vapours!
There's quite a few locals gladdbof the extra folk around some of the villages we're pretty quiet! Mind you most of the hotel bar and eateries still close for winter.
Guess this forum will be pretty negative as good many here after wildness and bit romantic?
BTW should fess up. I'm an incomer to Wester Ross
It has caused a massive seasonal increase in traffic on roads that can't support it, put enormous pressure on some local facilities (including but not limited to accommodation, toilets and parking), and resulted in a lot of mess (litter and excreta).
Some businesses have benefitted from it, which is great, but many of the campervanners in particular don't spend much locally, and lots of businesses don't see any direct benefit anyway; some locals have seen commute times along single track roads treble or worse at high season, which must be miserable.
In my opinion it could be a good thing if infrastructure was improved to deal with it, and if more ways of getting the money into the towns and businesses along the route could be found, but as it stands it's an unsustainable blight.
> .....have a look at the old man of Stoer on skye to see the effects
That's vandalism on a massive scale! I'd no idea things were that bad...
What are the best times of the year to avoid it, eg your experience in the Fannichs? Winter? Oct to April OK? Or is it year-round noise?
For the few thousand people who visited the far NW Highlands on a regular basis, it was, until even five years ago, a place that appeared wild, remote, beautiful and off the map. The place was for most visitors a beautiful secret.
The SMC for many years had a policy of not publishing climbing routes in the area so that the place retained an air of mystery to visitors. That did stop long ago now.
Unfortunately, and there are not too many upsides in my opinion, an increasing number of people have also discovered it. Like many wild beautiful places, e.g. the Spanish coasts before the 1950's, the Everest region before the 1970's it is being loved to death and dramatically changed by people.
The number of retired people with motorhomes from the UK and Europe, the increasing wealth and tourism from China and India, the incredible comfortable ease of travel and the spread of instant information means lots of people get everywhere.
It means, quiet places become busy, buildings get built, roads get widened, infrastructure developed and wild places and wild life diminishes.
I don't know what could be done in a fair and just manner. Maybe we should do nothing, does it really matter? It will just pass eventually. Maybe we should tax visitors to pay for the infrastructure and charge tourists to do the NC500.
My own solution is to avoid the honeypots and most dramatic places and seek out peace and solitude in other places.
But it does feel like a sad pity what has become of the coast road around the NW and north coast. Although, a visiting time-travelling Gael from the early19th century would say the place had become a desert anyway with no people...which is another way of looking at it.
October to May are better but it is a bit pot luck, myself and wife bivvied on top of a mhaighdean one fine October night and were serenaded by bikers on the road from Gairloch to Poolewe. I'm painting a grim picture but it's not all that. Anyone from Cornwall would probably laugh in my face, or skye for that matter
I think that's why I bang on about it so much, bit heartbreaking
> Ots also emotional, the sounds of birds replaced by performance engines
That is every summer evening and weekend on our road to Weardale.
Lapwing lapwing pointless revving and endless gear changes a mile away lapwing lapwing ambulances....
Smashed up bits of motorbike and the air ambulance are a regular feature of the summer roads here, along with some riding so deranged it’s hard to believe.
You have my sympathy.
I cycled the NC500 in July this year and I was surprised as to how quiet the route was for most of it. I’ve been climbing, walking, running and cycling all over the Far North for around the last 12 years and it’s always been a pretty magical place in my mind. I didn’t feel any different this summer. For every 100km of cycling, I saw perhaps no more than three or four other cyclists (or pairs of cyclists), which is not what I was led to believe! And the traffic was still really light apart from obviously busy stretches as you leave/near Inverness. So just some personal feedback, I can’t speak for the impact on infrastructure or the locals or anything like that.
Some photos here:
Interesting, every two weeks or so I have one of the more scenic commutes from Inverness to Portree. I have found that the traffic going via Achnasheen has grown exponentially in the summer months during the last 5 years or so (I have been doing the route for 20). My impression is we need better signposting on single track, more public toilets and some form of motor home control (assuming some provision of equipped sites) . The litter and human waste in some parking places is abominable.
There is also a very distinct motor home rush hour in Glen Carron mid morning.
> My impression is we need some form of motor home control.
Bonnet mounted mortars?
The favourite at work is air support, but an enforced rule against convoys and pulling over after the queue behind reaches 10 (or 5) might do the trick in a less messy manner.
You would know better than me to be fair. I’ve always found the Garve - Achnasheen stretch to be pretty dead, which it was in July when I was cycling it (logging trucks aside), but I’m not there anywhere near as often as you must be. Funny you mention Glen Carron. Having started in Inverness, it was mid afternoon when I reached Glen Carron and there was hardly a vehicle all the way to Lochcarron! And I’m pretty sure I didn’t see a single other cyclist that whole day.
Can't agree more with this, I fell very lucky to have seen the last remnants as I assume it used to be - our first trip up to Torridon and being blown away by the beauty, but also by the entire lack of tourists. I guess the area's beauty was only going to stay a relative secret for so long, and it does make sense as a holiday in the UK, when the driving times from anywhere are compared to long haul flights.
I can't say I'm a fan of of the NC500 idea though, I was shocked how busy the Applecross road was last time we went back, and everyone coming the other way seemed very sure that they had the right of way, despite having just driven past a passing spot! There was a strange feeling in Ullpool too the last time we were there, a lot of people just stopping for half an hour or an hour and then moving on again. For me the attraction of the NW Highlands has always been going to one area for a good length of time and getting to know it.
There are very distinct rush hour effects in Glen Carron. I am not sure why.
As a Biker I used to love heading up to Scotland West Coast and wombling round for a week. Normally just 2 of us who would follow our noses and find a B&B (too many injuries to camp) around tea time.
Not any more though, everywhere is booked up well in advance and that takes all the freedom and fun out of things.
> I think my beef with it is that it is the least sustainable form of tourism I can think of.its lead to the kind of click and go tourism that is blighting skye
This is the part that breaks me. Most people don't even appear to be having a good time. They're just mooning around the prescribed attractions, passive, waiting for something to happen. Thinking they can tick off an 'experience' just by going there.
I overheard a conversation between two B&B owners in Applecross who said they were doing fine before (Applecross probably was) but with the NC500 they get lots of no-shows as people apparently book several places each night to give them options. Not sure about the mechanics of that but that's what they said.
I work all over the Highlands and stay in a fair few B&Bs. Many don't like the route and 2 of my regular hosts refuse to take people using the route.
On another note, I read a tourist brochure last night in my current B&B (working 7 days at week at the moment hence being a bit grumpy) the brochure was pushing Instagram tourism in a big way including the fairy pools! The message isn't getting through that places like the fps have gone beyond capacity
Running the S Shiel ridge on a clear day this year (not in school holidays) I was amazed to see slow moving convoys comprising of three motor homes, two artics then c10 cars stuck behind heading up the Glen roughly every 10-15 minutes. Tourism comes at a price. I know it’s not on the NC500 and can only imagine how bad that must be. Two colleagues headed off (from Derby) to do it in a weekend and spoke only of the driving challenge with not a mention of scenery even when prompted.
You could write all of the same stuff about the area I live in - NZ's Southern Lakes District. It seems like a few business interests have promoted it like crazy (along with things like Lord of the Rings) and it's suddenly moved onto everyone's must-do list. Once quiet spots now have queues of people waiting for their chance for a "solitude" photo on a hilltop. It's really sad to see an area burning off it's environmental capital at such an alarming rate. And the locals who aren't directly involved in tourism only lose quality of life and environment.
One thing I've become convinced of is that improving local infrastructure is not the answer - it's simply a green light to the marketers. Every quiet road, empty parking space or free hotel bed is just something to be filled and they get richer at the expense of the local rate payers who funded the new car park or toilet block.
Many of us have stopped (if we ever started) using place names in social media posts / hastags etc. to try to not be part of the free marketing that the tourist industry gets from the people that go to relatively quiet places. I'd love to hear if anyone has ideas about how to push back against the tide. Do we post photos of crowds of camper vans and piles of toilet paper with #nc500?
> 2 of my regular hosts refuse to take people using the route.
How do they know?
We did part of the NC500, along the far north coast, on our way back from Orkney this summer. Not because it was the NC500, but because we were actually travelling from the ferry terminal at Gills Bay, to Melvich - which has family connections. We didn't see any queues of vehicles, and little poor driving (and plenty of that which we did see seemed to involve cars with Scottish registrations rather than obvious tourists). There was a noticeable quantity of cyclists, the majority seeming to be doing it with a support van carrying their overnight gear, and providing refreshments en route (which latter arguably is taking custom from local businesses).
The hotel at Melvich felt as if it was stuck in the late 1970s. There wasn't any promotional material about the NC500 visibly on display - they seemed to be trying to make more of a 'thing' of the surfing available on Melvich's (rather lovely) beach. Or perhaps that was just a hangover from 40 years ago as well. Whatever the reason, a business offering overnight accommodation right smack bang on the NC500 seemed to have zero interest in taking any advantage of it, either in terms of investment in the premises, or linked promotions.
I suspect that could be because most people "doing" the route try to get the far north coast bit done and out of the way as quickly as possible, before or after doing the "challenging"/more obviously scenic bits further west. But the place we stayed in certainly didn't give the impression of doing much to attract that kind of passing custom - whether deliberately through choice, or just couldnae be bothered wasn't clear.
> the brochure was pushing Instagram tourism in a big way including the fairy pools
"Instagram tourism" is a good phrase, and sums it up all too well. Mind you, having as the goal of a trip getting a photo taken of yourself standing in front of some "must see" attraction isn't that new a 'thing'. I can remember visiting Abu Simbel about 20 years ago and being extremely frustrated at the difficulty I found in taking decent photographs of the stunning 3,000+ year old rock temples without having at least one overweight, sweaty oaf plonked intrusively in the shot as they had their photo taken. It's just that the likes of Facebook and now Instagram have made it so much easier to 'share' your 'experiences' (of having your photo taken, again) with your 'followers', turning tourism in to yet another round in the one-upmanship contest that so many seem to believe that their lives ought to be.
At least when the toffs did the Grand Tour back in the nineteenth century they actually had to buy stuff from the locals (a lot of it tat, it has to be said) to show off to their friends back home. Simply swanning up, grabbing a photo - primarily of yourself - and then whizzing off to the next "must see" does call to mind depressing echoes of the reluctance of aboriginal and native tribesmen to be photographed because it would steal their soul.
As for improving the infrastructure to cope: the "infrastructure" that most of the Instagram tourists want is a big car park within easy (for which read: lazy) walking distance of the thing they want to have their photo taken standing in front of. Said car park still being carefully landscaped/disguised so as not to damage the "remoteness" and "natural beauty" of the thing that they want partially to obscure by standing in front of it. Which is precisely what has been proposed in the case of the Fairy Pools that you mentioned. Without a car park close by they just park on the road or, in Glen Brittle (or on the A855 passing the Storr) on the soft peat verge. Which doesn't do much for the "natural beauty" of the place...
I'm not sure how they tell, it may be something to do with them being on air B&B which possibly involves more interaction than normal ones.
The problems are sporadic and seem to involve events. After listening to one very noisy race when working on an teallach I passed a crashed BMW and heard if a serious crash outside of Achnasheen the same day. There is a very straight road east of dundonnel that has seen driver clocked at over 160mph that in autumn and winter has a lot of deer on the road. Shudder to think...
I hope I'm not giving the impression of looking down on anyone touring, we're all tourists at one time or another. There seems to be an unseemly rush to promote the Highland with no thought to consequences.
You'd certainly be forgiven for not noticing in many places the hype.
I moaned a bit on your other thread and like I said, the minicamper will be going before too long, unlikely to be replaced by another. I have found though that once you get (actually not too far from the road), even popular spots like Skye are pretty peaceful. I assume many visitors (luckily I guess) are just too lazy to stray more than a few minutes from the car.
If you're still heading up north though, you'll probably be fine at this time of year. June/July/August are pretty bad in my experience.
An interesting thread.
I'm always a little wary of voicing my views about the NC500 because I'm English and therefore why should I have any sort of valid opinion about something that has an impact only on those who live on/near the route?
Also am I just expressing the views of a daft old fart who remembers the NW of Scotland as it was and doesn't want it to change?
It it interesting here that so many are not keen on this 'new' great road route.
To a certain extent I am the daft old fart but I also think, as suggested by posts above, I feel there is an unfortunate move towards homogenisation.
Perish the thought there might be somewhere that is a a bit different, where things don't work the way you expect them, where you might have to drive differently and have regard to something that is outside your usual experience -- my God they should do something about!
Some of the roads that make up the NC500 aren't the best but oddly enough they get repaired now and again and people have been driving along them for years in everything from small cars up to articulated lorries and have survived, and in a small way the single track, somewhat more challenging, roads are a part of what makes this area great.
Sorry, curmudgeonly old bloke leaving now.
I don't think you moaned mate, just a different opinion! I'm definatly becoming more objective as I get older :0)
Talk to NHS Highland Transport department and their contractors or to similar providers of infrastructure and services in the area and you would find that something like the NC500 is what some people do for a days work. It is also what is necessary to provide the modern European standards of service and safety for people living in a large area with a low population density. Somebody came up with a figure for the NC500 adding £22million to the local economy. That's maybe on the same scale as the Loch Ness monster figure. Chickenfeed. Is that the best we can do? How about building a proper economy? And maybe one that doesn't involve the milk and papers and ambulances and chemotherapy products not arriving on time.
During summer 2019, more than 200 ascents of Corbetts were made by around 70 volunteers in aid of hillwalkers' charity Mountain Aid.