A SCENIC route has helped bring more tourists to Scotland’s north west mainland coast, according to VisitScotland.

The North Coast 500 route, also known as the NC500, stretches for 500 miles and features roads in the Black Isle, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross.

North Highland Initiative promotes the NC500 to holidaymakers seeking scenic road trips. Project manager Kenneth McElroy is also chairman of the Caithness Broch Project, backed by The National as media partner, which is aiming to build a world heritage Iron Age roundhouse site and visitor attraction. VisitScotland said visitor numbers at its information centres (iCentres) had increased by 30 per cent in Ullapool, 27 per cent in Durness and 25 per cent in Thurso from April 1 to October 31 this year compared to those from the same period last year.

Scott Armstrong, VisitScotland’s regional partnerships director, said: “I think it is safe to say that the NC500 has definitely brought additional visitors who wouldn’t otherwise have come to the region.

“As a result, there have been increases in visitor numbers at our iCentres in Ullapool, Durness and Thurso which are all on the NC500, proof I would say that the NC500 is indeed bringing extra visitors to the area.”

The NC500 is also regarded as a challenge for endurance cyclists and in May seven women cyclists set a time of 36 hours to complete the route in a non-stop team time trial. Scottish endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont previously completed the NC500 solo in 37 hours 58 minutes.McElroy said: “The North Coast 500 only launched in 2015, and it’s fast becoming a ‘must visit’ route for both domestic and international tourists. We’re delighted with the feedback that we’ve had from businesses across the North Highlands, many of whom have said it’s been their best ever year.

“Visitors have been impressed by the route’s beautiful scenery, but also by the warmth and quality of the hospitality they’ve experienced along the way. We’re sure that this success will only continue to grow in 2017 and beyond.”