Community considers ‘opting out’ of North Coast 500 trail

Applecross in Wester Ross may hold a ballot to decide whether to opt out of the popular tourist route.

Community considers ‘opting out’ of North Coast 500 trail iStockEmail

A Highland community is considering a ballot on whether it should “opt out” of the North Coast 500 tourist trail.

Patience is running thin among some of the population of Applecross in Wester Ross.

The area has enjoyed a massive windfall from lifeline tourism but its soaring popularity has caused mounting traffic problems on narrow and fragile roads.

It has also had its share of so-called “dirty tourism” courtesy of a minority of inconsiderate visitors littering and fouling the surrounding countryside.

The peninsula’s stunning scenery has made Applecross and the dramatic and twisty Bealach na Ba mountain pass must-see places along the 516-mile NC500 route.

The Bealach na Ba mountain pass near Applecross is popular with North Coast 500 tourists. iStock

But it has added a vast volume of vehicles since the project was launched six years ago – and the response to desperate pleas for improved infrastructure has been slow.

Moat-like ditches were dug at some spots earlier this year in an attempt to deter motorhomes from parking in environmentally sensitive places. Signs were erected warning of “dirty camping”.

Social networks are buzzing with local messages about the possibility of a poll of residents on whether Applecross should “seek to be removed from the NC500 official route”.

The community council website acknowledges how tourism “is undoubtedly a large generator of wealth and employment,” but also brings “significant impacts in areas such as waste management, traffic volumes, littering and pollution.”

It says the NC500 “has, perhaps, exacerbated some of these problems.”

Local councillors also acknowledge that the limited resources of the emergency services and Highland Council make it impossible to address the problems overnight.

Applecross Community Council chairman John Glover said: “Referendums don’t necessarily solve anything. We need to come to a balanced view as to the positive and negative aspects of the thing.

“It’s not that we don’t want the NC500, it’s just that the infrastructure isn’t here to cope.”

Referencing the talked about proposition of “opting out” of the NC500, Judy Fish, at the village’s Applecross Inn, said: “The stable door is open and the horse has bolted.”

She agreed that the area’s basic infrastructure urgently requires an upgrade.

Tom Campbell, chairman of North Coast 500 Ltd – a privately funded company growing the brand – said: “We’re pleased that the community council have begun a discussion on tourism and visitor management, as it’s important that communities engage with residents, businesses, visitors and stakeholders.

“One of the key stakeholders responsible for infrastructure is Highland Council and we’re very encouraged that it agreed a visitor management plan for 2021.

“It looks strategically to the next five years as well as having a complementary tourism infrastructure plan which aims to identify the longer term tourism infrastructure requirements of the region.”

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