NC500 factor helps Caithness tourist season get off to a positive start
John O’Groats is a key destination for many, and the recent spell of good weather has been a bonus.
Fred Fermor, of John O’Groats Ferries, said: “We’ve had a promising start to the season and are hoping this trend will continue.
“Without doubt, though, the NC500 has been good for the area. We just have to keep the visitors in Caithness a bit longer – slow them down a bit to enhance their experience of our little corner of the world.”
John O’Groats businessman Walter Mowat said there had been a lot of tourists in May, helped by fine weather, with people doing the NC500 route and the ferry starting up again. June was a bit slower, he said, but now that the school holidays have started it is picking up again.
Mr Mowat said of the NC500: “Anything that’s beneficial to tourism is beneficial to John O’Groats. We get people from all over the world anyway – we have amazing scenery.”
Mr Mowat said that just on Wednesday an Italian couple came asking how to get to the Duncansby Stacks, which is what they had travelled to Scotland to see.
Shirley Farquhar, managing director of the Castle of Mey, said: “There has been a very good start to the 2018 season so far with an increase in visitor numbers. The NC500 continues to have a very positive impact on both us and many attractions in Caithness.”
The volunteers who run Wick Heritage Museum have also noticed an increase in tourist numbers since the NC500 was established.
There were some 5000 visitors to the museum last year and 2018 is shaping up to be at least equal to that, according to Ian Leith, chairman of the Wick Society.
“The North Coast 500 has had a positive impact, drawing people into the area,” he said.
The museum hosts several displays of different aspects of Wick’s history, from the herring industry to women’s fashion.
The museum has also had a lot of people coming to trace their genealogical roots. Recently there was a visit by a family from Connecticut tracing the woman’s grandfather back to Wick.
Mr Leith explained that the museum welcomes a lot of American and Australian tourists in who have a strong interest in heritage and history, and the volunteers try to help as much as they can. Many tourists come from Canada and New Zealand as well.
Everything inside the museum is donated by the people of Wick, or those who have local connections. “There’s a good community spirit,” Mr Leith said.
“We are simply custodians – this is the people of Wick’s heritage and we encourage more people to come in and visit. They are more than welcome.”
The volunteers at the museum have had very positive comments, and visitors tend to be “amazed by the size and extent of the place”, Mr Leith said.
The visitors’ book includes comments from Australia, the USA, Norway and France among others, including: “Brilliant. Great photographs. Great work ethic.” “Wonderful heritage” and “Very welcoming.”
Visitors say they hear about the museum from a variety of sources, ranging from the NC500 website to pubs.
One has said that they have seen an “uptick of bookings” as a direct result of the NC500” with an increase in tourists coming from across Europe, North America and Australia.
At least 50 per cent of bookings are now made six months or more in advance by guests keen to guarantee they get their preferred dates.
This year it has been noticeable that some guests are coming for a return visit, “eager to explore the NC500 at a slower pace than their first whizz around” as one accommodation provider put it.
Andrew Mowat, manager of the Seaview Hotel in John O’Groats, also said that NC500 has been positive for the tourist industry. This season, the hotel was relatively slow to get going but has become much busier from May onwards.
The NC500 is a 516-mile road trip launched in 2015 covering the coastal edges of the north Highlands. Beginning and ending at Inverness Castle, road-trippers take in Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Black Isle and Inverness-shire.
Among many other accolades, the route has a five-star rating on TripAdvisor and was named number two out of Ten Best Drives in the World by The Telegraph in April 2017.
Tourist attractions across the county have credited an increase in visitors to the route passing through Thurso, Castletown, Dunnet, John O’Groats, Wick, Lybster and Dunbeath. Tourists are encouraged to stay, explore and immerse themselves in the local communities and venture off the main route shown on the NC500 map.