Since my trip in May to the North Coast 500 to find out what local people made of being on ‘possibly the best driving route in the world’ it’s had loads of attention. I’d like to pretend that’s because of my reportage for the Herald Magazine (enjoy that again here and here!), but you’ll know that the NC500 has a life of its own and is burgeoning like an alien bursting forth from the chest of a member of a beleaguered spaceship crew.
The P and J got its latest dose of NC500 with a story about how shifting nuclear waste would mean people might have to miss a nine-mile stretch of the route proper.The cynic in me says it would be the boring and slightly scary bit past Dounreay, it’s nine miles, the alternative B-road is probably prettier, and it ain’t a tale, but I’ve done plenty local news and I know a top-line is a top-line.
More interesting is the statement in a North Star story (other versions are available) from Fiona Hyslop on a recent trip to Inverness that the NC500 “needs strong co-ordinated support from the public sector to ensure its long-term sustainability.”
That could be good news for Tracy Urry, the Highland Council roads supremo who as we speak is preparing a bid for extra cash for the road’s upkeep, based on the economic benefits of the extra traffic: it is estimated that the new designation has brought 29,000 extra tourists and £9m to some of the most economically and socially fragile bits of the Highlands.
But it’s vital that Ms Hyslop puts her money where her mouth is. As my original piece points out, one of the problems of the road is that while it generates extra local income, the extra taxation from all that cash goes straight to central government, and there’s no benefit for local authorities direct, until people start building new hotels and restaurants and paying more business rates, which might be too late for Ms Urry’s roads to be saved from the beating they’re now getting.
We can’t turn back the clock, and even without promotion the NC 500 will be out there and attract travellers – they stopped promoting Route 66 back in the 70s and replaced it with a much better road but that didn’t stop you hearing about it and maybe even fancying a look at it.
So whatever you think of the NC500 – and it has been criticised among other things for encouraging polluting car-born travel – we have to make sure that the road itself, the magnet for all those folk, is maintained, if only for the sake of the locals who need it to get out, get to hospital, see their friends, and go to work, and the folk who do it the best way, by bike.
*If the title I stuck on this made you think back to the fabulous Canned Heat hit from 1967, then here it is to save you Googling … If you don’t know it already, you should.