Bales are put in place to block off John O’Groats car park
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THE end-of-the-road car park at John O’Groats has been blocked with hay bales in a bid to deter visitors during the coronavirus lockdown.
John O’Groats Development Trust took action to close off the car park – on the North Coast 500 route – amid concerns that some people may be tempted to ignore government guidance and travel during the Easter weekend.
It will stay shut until further notice.
The move came after Highland Council closed 15 of its car parks at beauty spots across the north Highlands – a third of them in Caithness – to help limit the spread of Covid-19.
Andrew Mowat, treasurer of John O’Groats Development Trust, said: "We thought it would be the right thing to do, to send out the message that people should be staying at home.
"There’s not very many people here anyway, but we’re trying to stand in solidarity with Highland Council and other communities to say that we don’t want people to be here just now in order to stop the virus."
Andrew’s son Michael and his friend William Steven positioned the plastic-clad bales – donated by local businessman and part-time crofter Walter Mowat – across the car park entrance, then painted the word "closed" on them to remove any doubt.
The bales were part of the winter feed for Walter's one remaining cow, 26-year-old Greedy. "As she has become older her appetite has diminished somewhat so the bales were surplus to requirements," Walter explained.
The parking area has more than 100 car spaces with 10 bus bays and, in normal times, provides a popular stopping point on the North Coast 500 road trip.
Andrew, who owns the nearby Seaview Hotel, said that although most people had cancelled their holidays he had still seen some motorhomes touring.
The landmark signpost at John O’Groats was taken away in mid-February to be sandblasted and painted but the restrictions have delayed its return.
Andrew added: "We will be delighted to welcome everyone back once the current situation subsides and we can get back to normal business."
The car park is owned by Highland Council but operated on a lease which includes the development trust and Allan Leech, CEO of Heritage Great Britain. The company has offered to "help and support the John O’Groats community where possible during this lockdown".
Parking charges at John O’Groats were introduced last summer and raised more than £21,000 within the first three months. It involves a £2 charge for visitors to the area, with Caithness residents exempt from paying the fee if they display a permit.
The money is to help fund projects to enhance the village, boosting its appeal to tourists and making it more attractive for local people.