Covid in Scotland: 'Last stop' on A9 closes amid travel restrictions

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image copyrightM J Richardson/Geograph
image captionThe Ralia Café is a former tourist information centre on the A9 in the Highlands

A well-known rest stop on the A9 in the Highlands has closed temporarily after travel restrictions led to a marked fall in visitor numbers.

The Ralia Café near Newtonmore is in Highland, a level one area.

But much of its custom comes from people travelling to and from parts of Scotland placed under the tighter rules of levels three and four.

Since April, visitor numbers have fallen by 63% compared with the same time last year.

In a "normal" year the café owners expect about 150,000 customers, with an additional 100,000 just using its toilets.

The levels system and travel rules have been put in place to supress the spread of Covid-19.

The Ralia Café is located on the A9 close to Highland Council's boundary with Perth and Kinross - a level three area.

For travellers it is the road's last comfort break going south, after Newtonmore and its facilities, before leaving the Highland Council area, and the first heading north after leaving Perth and Kinross.

image copyrightRichard Webb/Geograph
image captionThe site near Newtonmore usually has about 250,000 visitors a year

The café opened in July 2005 on the site of a former tourist information centre and is run by Robin and Sheila Lambie who live in Kingussie.

Mr Lambie said: "We closed the café on Sunday until travel restrictions are lifted, and my team is furloughed yet again."

The toilets have also been closed.

'Legally restricting'

The café could open again before the end of the year when, for a short time over the Christmas break, rules on travel are due to be relaxed.

But Mr Lambie said: "It is really impossible to tell at this stage."

He said that despite the "fantastic location" for anyone travelling north or south, revenue for 2020 was currently down 63% against the same period last year.

"Going to levels three and four immediately halved our turnover and legally restricting travel halved it again."

Everyone living in level three or level four local authority areas must, by law, remain within their own council boundaries unless they have a "reasonable excuse" for doing so.

People in level four must also keep journeys within their own area to an absolute minimum.

Meanwhile, people in level one or level two areas must avoid any unnecessary travel to areas that are under level three or four restrictions and should minimise unnecessary journeys between areas in different levels.

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