The North Coast 500 (NC500) came out of the Initiative's work with the tourism sector in the North Highlands and it has become a phenomenal success. While this is now an independent limited company, it still maintains close links with North Highlands Initiative. The North Coast 500 has become widely regarded as the number one touring route in the world, offering visitors a coastal touring route that covers the best the Highlands has to offer in a 516 mile round trip. The route begins in Inverness and flows in and around the stunning coastal edges of the North Highlands, taking in the sights, sounds, and experiences of this stunning and richly diverse country. Visit the NC 500 website at www.northcoast500.com
Tourism is a major driver of the economy in the North Highlands and is a key focus of activity for the North Highland Initiative. The NHI Tourism Project Board works closely with the industry and is a working collaboration with tourism businesses and local tourism groups in three main areas; development of the tourism offering of the North Highlands, collaborative marketing to help increase tourism income in the North Highlands and providing a strong voice for tourism businesses in the North Highlands. The collective experience of the board includes detailed knowledge of a wide cross - section of the industry, including hotel, accommodation, visitor attractions, and catering. Several of our projects are strongly connected with the tourism industry - The North Coast 500, Russian Arctic Convoy Museum, John o’Groats Mill, and the “Take it Slow” proposal. With our newly energised Tourism projects and Project Board, North Highlands Initiative will be looking to develop and expand our involvement in the industry.
Project Vision: After securing ownership of the Loch Clash pier the Kinlochbervie Community Company have successfully cleared the site of previous structures and installed 5 caravan bays with electronic hook ups. These are currently managed through the local Spar shop, where visitors pay for their night’s accommodation, generating revenue for the community company. It is proposed that an eco friendly heritage/bunkhouse/café building is erected in the remaining space on the pier, fulfilling the community’s desire of improved facilities and a new focal point in the community. This building will provide flexible accommodation options and social space for visitors to the village improving amenities for the increasing tourist market and generating increased revenue for Kinlochbervie Community Company to reinvest in the community. A robust business plan is being produced, demonstrating a financially viable bunkhouse that will provide both accommodation for visitors to the area, and a social space for local residents. This plan proposes the creation of one full time job and a number of seasonal positions.
Project Vision: The Russian Arctic Convoy Project looks to create a lasting legacy, preserving the history of the Russian Arctic Convoys in a sustainable and engaging manner for the public. The historically significant sites around Loch Ewe create an irreplaceable asset around which to tell the story, interpret artifact and encourage and stimulate information and history tourism in an already increasingly popular part of the world. With North Highlands Initiative support and assistance in sourcing funds, the provision of a specific visitor attraction for the Russian Arctic Convoy project is now allowing the group to realise the first phase of their vision. From this, the revenue generation and increase in awareness will allow the group to investigate the feasibility of further developments. These include conducting repairs to the gun buildings and improvements to the access paths and war memorial site. By increasing visitors numbers to the shores of Loch Ewe, there will also be a considerable benefit from additional spend in local shops, cafes and accommodation providers.
Project Vision: The John O’Groats Mill is the last of the great Caithness corn mills and was in operation just over a decade ago when Magnus Houston last worked the mill. The vision is to repair the mill buildings, machinery and water systems to full working order; to enable visitors to see a working Caithness mill and to demonstrate the transformation of locally grown grain. It is proposed that the facility will include a heritage and culture exhibition space, café and attractive retail space offering consumable and non- consumable goods with a clear focus on local provenance. It has also been proposed that further phases of the project may see additional buildings and development around the site, housing accommodation or further businesses geared towards providing products and services for passing visitors. It is estimated that 150,000 people visit John O’ Groats annually. This project will facilitate the regeneration and repair of the historically relevant building, whilst creating new opportunities for local residents and visitors. This project is hoped to stimulate further development in the area in following phases, increasing the overall quality of visitor experience to the area. The North Highland Initiative has helped to create a new Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation(SCIO).It is proposed that this group will be the funding applicant, and ultimate owner / operator of the project. The new charity are in discussions with the Scottish Land Fund to seek funding to purchase the Mill, 2 cottages and adjacent field.
Project Vision: In the mid 20th century geologist Don Shelley became the first warden at Knockan in the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve, which lies within the North West Highlands Geopark area. Here he collected rock specimens, which were later to form the geological section of the now world-renowned Shelley collection of rocks, minerals and fossils. Although many of the specimens on display are of outstanding quality and beauty the viewer experience is greatly compromised by the lack of space and the resultant cramped conditions of the display. The proposal is to create a Geocentre in Scourie that will safeguard and display the Shelley collection in a manner befitting a collection of such stature and geological significance. The proposed Geocentre will also provide a tourist hub for the Geopark area that will promote understanding and appreciation of its geological heritage and educational facilities for schools and universities studying the geology of the region.
Mey Selections is arguably one of our most successful ventures to date. Established in 2005 as part of HRH, The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesays commitment to fostering closer connections between farmers, producers and consumers. Mey Selections is the retail brand of the initiative which focuses on supplying the highest quality produce from within a 150 mile radius of the Castle of Mey. Mey Selections' current product portfolio includes; beef, lamb, Scottish Oatcakes, biscuits, and shortbread. It is not just about food and drink as the Mey Selections range now includes a new line of cashmere in Mey Selections tartan with Johnstons of Elgin along with other new products including salmon, cheese, gin and chocolates. Providing high quality beef and lamb is one of Mey Selections core values and working with Dunbia and ABP, we offer a premium to farmers who reach Mey Selections specifications in their livestock. In 2018 we had paid over £2.0m in premiums since 2005.
North Highlands Initiative has been at the forefront of a push to improve rural transport in this remote part of the Scottish Mainland. During 2018, we hosted an event in Inverness that examined some of the issues facing current transport provision, and considered the enhanced role that could be played by development of the railway service that connects Inverness and the Wick / Thurso areas. The meeting also looked at how existing train and bus sevices could become more integrated. Following on from this, a meeting was held with some of the aforementioned bus services for a closer examination of the practicalities of better integration - there are several organisations involved, (plus the rail network) and most of these have seperate ticketing systems and administrative procedures. Coming more up to date, a meeting between rail & bus operators subsequently took place in January 2019 and will be followed up during the year. That meeting showed support for better transport, a possibility of aligning ticketing systems, and the potential development of a practical online transport guide linking not only towns and villages (such as “Traveline” currently does) but also visitor destinations and attractions. (The image? A Stanier “Black 5” on the Achnasheen - Kyle line in 2017)
North Highland Initiative are currently in the early steps of developing a “Take it Slow” proposal for the region - the aim of this is threefold.
Slow visitors down, and encourage longer stays that offer a more memorable experience of all that we can offer here
Encourage greater exploration of the area
Focus on discovering more about the wildlife, culture, and “hidden secrets” of the region
This will take full advantage of the opportunities offered to visitors and local business through use of Social Media, and will encourage widespread use of blogs, video content, and a complete range of media. NHI will be working with a variety of other organisations on the project, including DMO’s, visitor attractions, accomodation and activity providers, and food and drink producers. The project will be developed over the coming months, and run for at least the next 12 months, if not longer.
So - “Take it Slow” with North Highland Initiative…….Slow Adventure, Creativity, Food and Drink, Heritage, Culture - and Exploration.