Locals call it the "wee mad road": a looping ribbon of asphalt that hugs the coastline between the fishing hamlets of Inverkirkaig, Coigach and Achiltibuie in the northwestern Scottish Highlands.
"These single-track roads can take you to some wild places," said Lesley Crosfield, the proprietor of nearby boutique hotel and restaurant The Albannach. "That's why it's always worth taking the slower road: there's so much to learn around here."
Crosfield runs Britain's northernmost Michelin-starred restaurant, 85 miles northwest of Inverness. It's exactly where she wanted to be. She first fell in love with Scotland's northwest coast in the 1980s - and is now gearing up for more changes in the next year than she has seen in the past 25.
The road that runs right past her front door now forms part of the North Coast 500, launched last summer by the North Highland Initiative. Taking its cue from one of Scotland's unofficial national anthems, (I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles by The Proclaimers, the 516-mile itinerary climbs north from Inverness into the wild counties of Caithness and Sutherland, skirts the northern edge of the country, then drops south along the mountainous western coast.
It runs past a sort of greatest hits of Scottish icons: spooky ruins, fairytale glens, toothy castles, rugged fairways and shingle-sand beaches. Not to mention whisky distilleries.
At first, the road winds through lands of corn, sheep farms and grain distilleries: quiet places where puffy sheep and cattle grids bring traffic to a standstill.
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