Outrage as couple set up camp beside Ardvreck Castle in Sutherland
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A confrontation between local residents and a couple camping at a historic Sutherland ruin at the weekend is feared to be a foretaste of what is to come when lockdown is finally lifted.
Police were involved in the incident at the 16th century Ardvreck Castle, which stands on a rocky promontory jutting out into Loch Assynt. The ruins are close to the A837 – part of the North Coast 500 (NC500) road trip route.
Local people gave accounts of the unpleasant exchange on Facebook page NC500 The Land Weeps, which was set up last year by Kinlochbervie Community Council member Margaret Meek and local resident Paul MacLeod to highlight examples of irresponsible tourism.
According to posts, the couple, who had set up camp beside the scheduled ancient monument, were approached at 2pm on Saturday and asked to leave, but responded that they could "go anywhere under the right to roam".
The male camper said that he had ‘had a drink’ and could not move his van.
They finally departed four hours after being asked to, but left behind them food, vomit and a burning campfire. It is understood they later set up camp on the beach at Coldbackie, near Tongue.
One of the Facebook page’s 8000 members posted: “And so it begins… Why can’t people be respectful?”
A police spokesman said a report of people camping in the grounds of Ardvreck Castle had been received around 12.20pm on Saturday.
He said: "Officers attended and offered advice about the current Covid-19 regulations and the two people subsequently left the area."
In an online post, Margaret Meek said: "I am delighted that the police have been to Ardvreck Castle.
"In case anyone doesn’t know, this is private property and camping is NOT allowed by the owners.
“The campers were also wrong about their right to camp anywhere they wanted. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code does not apply to motorised vehicles and does not allow camping near historic buildings.
“Sadly, the people have apparently moved on to Coldbackie near Tongue where they are setting up on the beach.
"It makes me so sad to see the photo of a tent at Ardvreck Castle. This is an ancient monument and completely unacceptable.
"It needs to be reported to the police. I know many people have given up doing this because they’ve learned that it is not very effective (just a few officers who have to cover a huge area). But inform the police anyway. Or they will never know.
"I’ve also heard a few reliable reports of campervans in other locations arriving very late, staying overnight beside the road and leaving very early to avoid detection."
Dave McBain of Historic Assynt said: "The people concerned had travelled illegally for hundreds of miles, camped illegally inside the scheduled area – right next to the sign telling them exactly that, as it happens.
"The person who confronted them to explain legislation and the issues around what they were doing was verbally assaulted and they only departed when the police intervened.
"Other than express our disappointment at the disrespect for this land, the people that live here, our heritage and the laws of the country, what can we say?"
Liberal Democrat Jamie Stone, who represents Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, is calling for a campervan congestion charge on the NC500 with the money reinvested into improving the area's roads.
"I fully support our tourism industry - and I want tourists to enjoy the beauty of the Far North - but whilst most visitors treat our beautiful environment with the love and respect that we locals do, unfortunately, some do not," he has said.
Earlier this month Highland Council unveiled its plans to deal with tourism pressures with a £1.5m package of funding, designed to “create a good experience” for visitors.
Seasonal rangers, more parking enforcement, more toilets, more litter collection , more provision for motorhomes, are all promised as part of the council’s drive to manage visitor pressures looming once the season is able to start.
The funds will be spent over two years, tackling the long-standing issues around tourism infrastructure which became all too apparent last year when staycationers headed to the Highlands in droves.
In a report to councillors, tourism officer Colin Simpson and outdoor access officer Philip Waite describe how the sheer numbers of visitors in certain spots last year "overwhelmed a number of Highland communities and existing services and facilities".