Skirting the far reaches of the British Isles, Scotland’s new tourist route, the North Coast 500 (NC500), is hoping to become the country’s answer to Route 66.
The 516-mile journey offers visitors ‘fairytale castles, beaches and ruins’ linked by fantastic, world-class driving roads. And just as America’s historic Route 66 attracts car and motorcycle enthusiasts from all over the world, Scotland hopes the NC500 will boost the Highlands economy by millions.
“From our enchanting wildlife and countless historic attractions to magnificent mountains, dramatic lochs and sandy beaches, the Highlands is a true touring paradise,” said VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay when the route was launched in 2014.
Since then, the NC500 has become one of the most talked about driving routes on earth, gaining global media coverage and praise. Behind the venture is the North Highland Initiative (NHI), an organisation founded by Prince Charles to promote some of Scotland’s finest coastal scenery. And what scenery it is. Rugged, remote and sparsely populated, its never-ending back roads wind through view after staggering view and snow-capped mountain ranges revealing a catalogue of dramatic cliffs, beautiful lochs and miles of empty white sandy beaches.
And it’s not just the scenery that’s spectacular. Weather conditions are subject to change from moment to moment, switching suddenly from glorious sun to brooding cloud, lashing rain or even snow and ice.
In every sense, this is a long, long way from normal city driving. To get the most out of the NC500 requires a capable, agile vehicle that’s enjoyable to drive. It also needs a good range. On the route’s wild, windswept northernmost sections, petrol stations are few and far between and drivers are warned to carry extra fuel cans if necessary.
Fortunately for us, we are driving the Toyota Prius. As well as a striking new look, upgrades for 2016 include fourth-generation Toyota hybrid technology which has improved the car’s range and drivability.