Continental-style stopovers planned for campervans in Highlands

image copyrightNeil Fuller
image captionDurness in Sutherland was "swamped" by post-lockdown visitors in the summer

A network of continental Europe-style stopovers for campervans and caravans could be created in the Highlands.

Known as Aires, the facilities are not campsites but offer basic essential services such as a place to stay overnight and waste disposal.

Highland Council hopes they could be a "safe place" for some of the thousands of vehicles which arrive every year.

The sites could also help tackle anti-social behaviour, such as waste being disposed of in lay-bys and streams.

Those problems were particularly acute this year because campsites and other visitor facilities, such as public toilets, were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There were issues with "dirty camping" in the Cairngorms, while Durness on the Sutherland coast was "swamped" by post-lockdown visitors in the summer.

Highland Council has been working with organisations like the Campervan and Motorhome Professional Association, VisitScotland and the Scottish government to find ways of better accommodating the region's many visitors.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionHighland Council hopes to be able to better cater for the region's visitors next year

Continental Europe has a long-established Aires network. Many of the sites are provided free of charge, while others can be used for a small fee.

Highland Council has proposed creating a site which would accommodate up to 30 vehicles in North Kessock on the Black Isle, near Inverness. It has also sought feedback from communities and landowners across the region about setting up other small-scale sites.

Communities in Lochinver, Helmsdale, Bonar Bridge and Cromarty have plans to develop overnight parking sites for motorhomes along the lines of similar ones already provided at Kinlochbervie and Keiss.

Black Isle councillor Gordon Adam said he understood the appeal of campervans and caravans during the pandemic.

He told BBC Scotland's The Nine: "It's a very safe way to travel in this Covid era. You are kind of insulated."

image captionFarmer Willie Findlay and his family offer stopovers at their farm in Caithness

But he added: "Just now we don't have sufficient numbers of places really where they can safely stay.

"If they don't have a place where they can safely stay it is more likely they will park illegally and they might even dispose of their waste illegally as well."

He said it was hoped that an Aires system could be in place for next year's tourist season.

Maxine Smith, chairwoman of Highland Council's tourism committee, said landowners might be interested in providing the "simple short-stay facilities".

'We need the right infrastructure'

She said: "It may be that you are a farmer with a spare field or someone with an extra-large garden, but we need to start thinking more commercially as well as trying to alleviate any issues caused by motorhomes.

"We welcome tourists in the Highlands, but we need to make sure we have the right infrastructure in place for them."

Caithness farmer Willie Findlay offers a small stopover for campervans on his farm near Thurso.

He said: "We saw the opportunity for a couple of sites with all the motorhomes on the road.

"We thought without spending too much money we would be able to set up the site, and it has worked very well."

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