The Northern and Northwest Highlands of Scotland are wonderful places; for most of us remote, for all of us wild and full of spectacular scenery. Large sections of the roads are single track, winding and hilly, with low levels of traffic commensurate with the low population of the area.
Into this rare environment, the initiative of the North Coast 500 (NC500) has intruded (https://www.northcoast500.com/), inviting us to bring our cars, our motor homes and our motorcycles. Yes the route is wonderful, yes the NC500 visitors (arguably) benefit the local economy, but as the realities of climate change become increasingly apparent, is encouraging more polluting vehicles onto these narrow roads what we should be advertising? Indeed, the increased presence of vehicles actually spoils the very essence of what the visitors are coming to see.
As an exercise, I decided to investigate using my bus pass to follow the NC500 route. I found that whilst one can easily complete the sections between the main towns such as Inverness-Thurso and Inverness-Lochinver, the far northwest section is very difficult. This had me thinking. What we need is for a summer bus service to traverse the entire loop of the NC500 route, ideally with buses in both directions. Passengers would be free to get off and on wherever they pleased, stopping at hotels, campsites or places of interest as the mood or weather dictated. What could be a nicer of travelling than to sit back and enjoy the scenery? I envisage the possibility of purchasing a ticket covering a complete one-way circumnavigation, hop-on, hop-off, plus the ability to buy single tickets for specific sections. Such a scheme was operated around the coast of Iceland in the 1980’s and wonderful way to travel it was. The bus was full of people, stopping off to walk, camp, to sight-see and to enjoy nature, unencumbered by a car.
Thus, while while a Bus Pass 500 is currently not practical (as far as I know), I would encourage the Highland Council to work with bus operators and local businesses associated with tourism to get an uninterrupted NC500 bus route set up. If this were done, the North/West could have its cake and eat it: it could have the tourists and their spending money without their cars, and importantly, with much less consequent harm to the local environment and to the global atmosphere.