£90K council spend on Whaligoe Steps car park – NC500 tourist facilities were described as a ‘chaotic nightmare’

The John O’Groat Journal & Caithness Courier – David G Scott

A local resident who campaigned for better tourist facilities at an Ulbster-based tourist attraction has welcomed a newly announced Highland Council funding initiative.

On Thursday (August 25), the council announced that a Strategic Tourism Infrastructure Development Plan (STIDP) will see £90,000 of funding pumped into improving the Whaligoe Steps car park – a facility previously condemned by Ulbster resident Gary Clarke as a “chaotic nightmare”.

Mr Clarke, a NHS worker, said: “This contribution from the Highland Council is welcome due to the evident lack of suitable infrastructure for visitors and residents alike.

“In the last few years, there’s been regular congestion, property damage, vehicle damage and other safety concerns. So extending the car park will allow residents to enjoy their homes again, and improve the visitors experience.”

Exactly a year ago, the newspaper published an article about the issue of parking at the North Coast 500 tourist hotspot and how it was causing problems for residents and visitors to the area. In the article, Mr Clarke – who lives in a small row of houses along a short, narrow road called The Haven – said he was getting fed up of the “unfolding and gradually escalating situation”.

Tiring of the “chaotic scenes” outside his house, Mr Clarke started uploading images to his blog at www.whaligoeeye.co.uk and even made a video showing the congestion caused by tourists trying to visit Whaligoe Steps at different times of the day on August 16, 2021.

Pictures he posted showed vehicles jam-packed into the car park with some utilising the spaces reserved for residents and moving parking cones to access them. He pointed out the lack of facilities for tourists such as bins and toilets as well.

When questioned about the lack of infrastructure at the NC500 tourist hotspot, the council said last August that it had “no immediate plans to extend the car park at Ulbster” but was willing to work with communities where need is identified and funding can be found.

On Thursday, Highland Council’s economy and infrastructure committee chair, Cllr Ken Gowans said: “VisitScotland through Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF), awarded the Highland Council funding to produce a Strategic Tourism Infrastructure Development Plan (STIDP) to identify key tourism infrastructure priorities for future RTIF support over the next 2-5 years.”

The plan was endorsed by the council and its officers will now begin to focus on a programme for delivering a “further 22 ambitious projects”.