Highlands & Islands

North Coast 500 signs tell tourists to stay away

Car on NC500 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The North Coast 500 takes in 516 miles of roads in the north Highlands

Signs have been placed along the popular North Coast 500 route telling tourists to stay away to protect their communities from Covid-19.

The Easter weekend is usually one of the busiest periods of the year but the roads are quiet as most visitors obey lockdown rules.

Residents largely support measures to stop the spread of the virus but some are concerned businesses could fail.

Tourism businesses have warned they may not survive without financial support.

Image copyright Tiegan Johnston

People across the UK are being urged to "stay at home" over the Easter holiday.

Some villages in the Highlands were inundated with tourists and second home owners the weekend before the lockdown and have now erected their own signs warning visitors to stay away.

Image copyright Tiegan Johnston

The authorities have also closed car parks at many beauty spots to discourage people from stopping.

Jim Johnston, from Bettyhill Community Council, said the Sutherland village was alarmed by the surge of visitors a few weeks ago.

He told BBC Scotland: "It was surprisingly active right at the start of the lockdown here and that caused a degree of anxiety locally.

"People felt that maybe these people were fleeing from fear of the virus further south and intended to come up here and avoid it, but that would endanger those who do live here."

Image caption Some villages have erected signs telling tourists to go home

But residents say there is "real concern" for local tourism businesses that will not be able to rely on the thousands of cars and motorhomes which usually travel the North Coast 500 route, which was launched in 2015.

Joyce Campbell said the route was "absolutely silent" apart from a few essential workers.

She said: "Last year you could have sat here and every two minutes there would have been a car or a campervan past, many of them coming to spend their money in the local economy.

"So it's a real concern for the businesses that really rely upon that tourist income in such a fragile rural economy as ours."

Image copyright Tiegan Johnston

Research by Glasgow Caledonian University's Moffat Centre for Tourism found that the 516 mile-long (830km) touring route generated £22.8m for the north Highlands' economy in 2018.

The study also reported 180 new jobs were created in 2018 linked to the route.

David Whiteford, who is chairman of the North Highland Initiative, the group behind the North Coast 500, said businesses needed cashflow so they could prepare for the end of the lockdown.

"I just wonder if those in power could perhaps look at some system whereby they could get recovery of the funds they could have received by now," he said.

"They could all be accounted for, less their costs, and get those monies quickly. Because they otherwise will run out of cash and they won't be ready when the lockdown ceases."

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