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NC500 Thoughts

Blog Date - 22 July 2017

Let us make one thing clear. The North Coast 500 route is amazing. There's beauty and there's wonder and there's remoteness and and and... Speaking as a tourist I enjoyed my journey a lot. But.

My first point is about the effect the NC500 and its burgeoning popularity is having on the locals. Being on holiday my schedule is relaxed and flexible. For myself being stuck behind a campervan struggling to negotiate tight bends on a single track road is an inconvenient hindrance. For a local trying to get to work, collect the shopping or get to an appointment it is damn vexatious. If this happened once in a while they could probably live with it but every day throughout the summer months? 

Then there's the cars and motorcycles. We tourists may want to slow down and revel in the wonder of nature and this is a good thing. But if we find there's another vehicle behind us wishing to pass then we ought to find a safe place to pull in and let them by. My experience suggests that many drivers and riders do so but there are those who seem completely oblivious to other road users in spite of the numerous signs. As a tourist who has to deal with this one week a year I can bite my tongue. It would be different if I were local I'm sure.

Several cars, a motorhome and motorcycles at a layby on the NC500 route
It's getting busy in the middle of nowhere.

A lady from Clashnessie suggested during the tourist season her trip to Ullapool takes twice as long as it ought to. So if you're riding the NC500 be sure to check your mirrors and be kind enough to let vehicles pass as soon as it is safe to do so. This applies to both single track and twin track roads.

The next point is almost the antitheses of the previous. There seems to be a trend of people hiring supercars and attempting to "do" the NC500 as fast as possible. With many many miles of single track road, much of which is not exactly billiard table smooth, I can't think of a more unsuitable vehicle type with which to attempt this utterly ridiculous challenge. The NC500 is definitely not a racetrack. In fact reading news snippets the locals say they're more likely to get stuck behind a McLaren than a caravan because it's got a flat tyre or stuck in the verges.

Anyone trying to complete the NC500 route in the shortest time is in my opinion a total utter arse. I do understand rugged mountains and hidden coves are not everyone's cup of tea and that's fine. I also understand the thrill of taking a fast vehicle around a circuit. The public roads aren't the place for such antics and The North Coast 500's roads are particularly unsuitable. I expect my opinions will fall upon deaf ears.

BrianC emailed me regarding the NC500 as well as other places in Scotland's remote areas. He pointed out that noise, particularly noisy motorcycles, are causing problems. While your sporty pipes make you think you're a motorcycling speed demon for everyone else they're an annoying racket. 

Of course the North Coast 500 was created to encourage tourism in the area. Speaking to a shopkeeper in Durness he supports the NC500 but with some caution. For example I asked if he'd support turning all the single track sections into twin track, this would allow for more traffic. His response was a definite "NO!" 

He, and I'm guessing many others local to the route, are hoping to strike a balance. Yes, the communities are remote and small. There is little to support these communities work wise and tourism is a boon to the economy. However these communities probably don't want to see little villages like Durness transformed into a northern Skegness or Blackpool. 

If the NC500 becomes too popular, if roads are expanded, if villages grow into towns and towns into cities then the NC500 will have been ruined for everyone. The locals will have lost their peaceful existence and tourists like myself will no longer enjoy the space, the wilderness and that feeling of being away from it all. It is a delicate balance.

The Highlands face a problem, which the NC500 is becoming a part of. As you can see from the images in my report (North Coast 500 2017) it is arguably one of the UK's and perhaps even the world's most beautiful areas. It's beauty is greatly due to it being remote, quiet, uncrowded and sparsely populated. This could all become a thing of the past if we tourists keep on going in ever greater numbers. 

Catch 22?

My thanks to BrianC and Borsuk for helping me with information and ideas for this post.

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Reader's Comments

Ian Soady said :-
" The public roads aren't the place for such antics and The North Coast 500's roads are particularly unsuitable."

Many years before the 500 became a "thing" I was talking to a nurse colleague about my plans to ride round the north coast. She told me that her sister, who was also a nurse but in Aberdeen, braced herself every year for the crop of (mostly German) motorcyclists who'd come to grief up there. I don't know if this still happens.....

Have a look at the crash map for the north of Scotland (link below) and ponder....... ...
25/07/2017 11:07:43 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
That is one fascinating and yet somewhat morbid link Ian. Where do you find such things?

There is perchance an argument to be made that the additional traffic slows the roads down therefore improving overall safety. Contrary to that idea is the additional traffic increases the chances of a collision and the slower traffic - much like in Lincolnshire - increases the level of stupidity in the overtakes attempted.

Only sound statistics could make or break the argument either which way. Finding and interpreting such statistics is another thing entirely. All I know is that racetracks are probably the best place to go racing.
25/07/2017 13:56:01 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I can't remember where I first came across it. Sadly, you have to pay to get detailed information about the crashes.

What is interesting about the ones in northern Scotland is that so many of them are single vehicle crashes - which implies to me loss of control rather than that old standby "Volvo driver pulled out on me without looking". You can refine it by type of vehicle so look at bikes only if you wish.

I think you are right to a point that more traffic slows everything down. But of course there are some amongst us who see it as their right to overtake anything in front regardless of risk as you suggest.
25/07/2017 16:09:42 UTC
Tony W said :-
I did the NC500 in September. What a wonderful route! It was busy in places but hey just take your time and look at the view :)

The thought of making those lovely single tracks wider to accommodate more tourists is a very sad thought. The remoteness of the area is in itself the attraction of going. Wide roads and large volumes of fast traffic? Noooooo!

As for people racing around the route, they are everywhere. Just look at the problems of the EVO Triangle here in North Wales.

They should be prosecuted and banned for life when caught. No second chance. They spoil things for everyone.

I will be going back to the NC500. It really is one of the best areas to ride a bike.
28/10/2017 16:00:44 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I can't help but feel like I'm part of the problem Tony W. By the very act of publishing our own NC500 experience I'm promoting it to other people, therefore making the problem worse. I know I'm a tiny drop in a large ocean but whenever anyone states the NC500 is wonderful it just makes more people go!

We should be telling everyone it's awful. It always rains, the scenery is bland if you can see it through the mist and the roads are dull, slow and boring.

As for the EVO Triangle - that video is just another (perhaps justifiable) reason for the powers that be to push for the self driving car.
29/10/2017 16:13:58 UTC
Tony W said :-
The first couple of days of my rained like it would never stop :)

I was speaking with a car enthusiast last week who was extolling the route "But now the bikers are using it and spoiling things"

You can imaging the heated debate that followed !

It would be a shame if the area was spoiled by tourism, but then I suppose locals rely on the income. Progress has its downside.

Did you do the pass over to Applecross? It blew my mind and I still smile about it every day :) but lets keep that our little secret !
31/10/2017 17:42:08 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Yes Scotland is a green a pleasant land for good reason - rain. Sharon and I have experienced a few deluges up there, that said we've also experienced some glorious sunshine too. All you can do is take whatever's there when you're there.

We rode over the Applecross pass. You can read all about it and our whole trip in the link below - you might want to make a brew though there's 19 pages in total :-) ...
01/11/2017 10:36:42 UTC

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