IT has been hailed as Scotland’s answer to America’s Route 66, but a study has revealed wide- spread unhappiness over how hordes of tourists have changed the lives of local people – with some leaving the area.

The North Coast 500 (NC500) was launched by Prince Charles’ North Highland Initiative four years ago to breathe life into some of the remotest and most economically fragile areas.

But a study by Stirling University researcher Gary Woodcock says the 516-mile route in and out of Inverness has been more a highway to hell than a road paved with gold for many locals.

He says there has been an rise in “antagonistic encounters between residents and tourists” and more residents moving away from the area as a direct result of the negative impacts of tourism. Regular visitors are also being put off.

One-fifth of the road trip is on single track roads. It is especially along these sections that some communities have complained of slow moving convoys of vehicles, cars not knowing how to use passing places and long streams of caravans and motorcycles – disrupting the daily life of local people, especially those trying to work.

There have also been rows over speeders turning the NC500 into a racetrack.

For the study, an online survey was distributed to more than 250 participants, while interviews and observational data was collected during a research trip to the region.

“The study findings suggest most residents hold a negative perception towards the route despite acknowledging tourism has benefitted their community,” says Mr Woodcock’s paper.

“This was particularly clear when certain factors were analysed. Most importantly, location and age were marked indicators, with west coast communities and older residents most likely to hold negative perceptions of the NC500.

“Furthermore, the study indicates there have been a series of negative impacts as a result of the NC500. These are mostly defined as ‘disruptions,’ such as an increase in traffic congestion and other driving difficulties.

“However, some more significant social and environmental impacts are identified, and many residents reflect on a downturn in quality of life because of increased numbers of tourists.”

Since the route was launched in 2015 it has brought 29,000 more visitors to the Highlands and added £9 million to the region’s economy, according to Highlands and Islands Enterprise.