SCOTLAND’S newest long distance motoring route has had an “absolutely incredible” impact on tourism and business in the Highlands, a study has revealed.

The first in-depth survey of people who have embarked on the spectacular North Coast 500 road trip has underlined its growing importance to the local economy.

Interviews with more than 800 users of the 516-mile route found 87 per centsaid they were “very satisfied” with the experience and 92 per cent would recommend the NC500 to others.

The study also revealed two-thirds of those who made the trip spent five days or more travelling along the route, which starts and ends in Inverness and heads up the west along the north and then back down the east coast.

Meanwhile, key tourist attractions and businesses also confirmed the “excitement and buzz” growing in the north as a result of the NC500’s popularity.

Dunrobin Castle in Golspie reported this year it had “smashed” its two decade-old record for visitors, and attributed the rise to the NC500.

Visitor numbers to the Dunnet Bay Distillers have increased five-fold in the last year, prompting the Rock Rose Gin producers to open up on Saturdays and accelerate plans to build a shop at the site.

The NC500 was officially launched in March last year by the North Highland Initiative – a non-profit organisation that was established by Prince Charles in an effort to develop sustainable economic growth across the north Highlands.

Highlighted on TV shows such as Top Gear, the loop around the north of the region was quickly dubbed as Scotland’s answer to the famous “Route 66” in the US.

David Whiteford, chairman of North Highland Initiative, said: “We’re delighted so many people who have already completed the route would definitely do it again and, most importantly, recommend it to others.”