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Ulbster resident talks of 'nightmare' parking problems at Whaligoe Steps on NC500 route


By David G Scott

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'Nightmare parking' at a North Coast 500 tourist hotspot in Caithness is causing problems for residents and visitors to the area.

An Ulbster man living close to the Whaligoe Steps has been highlighting the chaos outside his front door this summer as an influx of staycations brings more visitors to the far north.

NHS worker Gary Clarke, who lives in a small row of houses along a short, narrow road called The Haven, said the he was getting fed up of the "unfolding and gradually escalating situation".

Gary Clarke's wall was knocked down by a campervan on September 6, 2020.
Gary Clarke's wall was knocked down by a campervan on September 6, 2020.

"In September last year, our outer wall was knocked down by a tourist in a campervan," said Mr Clarke.

Fed up with 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.

Pictures he posted show cars 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.

The scenic Whaligoe Steps is highlighted on official lists of places to visit on the NC500 but residents and tourists alike criticise the lack of amenities and infrastructure.
The scenic Whaligoe Steps is highlighted on official lists of places to visit on the NC500 but residents and tourists alike criticise the lack of amenities and infrastructure.

In 2011, Mr Clarke had contacted Lord Thurso about the "chaos in the local residents' unmarked car park" which is located directly next to the house he has lived in for the last 20 years. Thanks to his intervention, painted lines and labels outlining specific parking spaces for each house, along with a section for visitors, were introduced to the car park.

"Tourism was on the increase at this time," said Mr Clarke. "Ten years later and thanks to tourist-driven websites like the North Coast 500 the tourism sector has never looked so healthy, except for situations like [this]."

Mr Clarke also believes that the access road for visitors from the A99 is unsatisfactory and has become an accident blackspot and says there have been several reported road incidents at and around the junction leading to the Whaligoe Steps car park from the main road.

"This is emotionally stressful," he said. "I even have to park my car a quarter-mile away now. Financially, we've had to invest in a gate and a fence, for privacy purposes, and also traffic cones to stop them using our parking space and as a deterrent to stop them parking right up against our newly rebuilt wall."

Willie Taylor, who promotes the NC500 as "Scotland's Route 66" and directs tourists to sites like Whaligoe Steps, says there are similar issues across the whole route.

"Since the conception of the NC500, which has been a huge success story for the northern Highlands, the biggest issue is lack of infrastructure," he said.

"I have been to Whaligoe myself and the first thing that strikes you is the car park, its size and how useless it is for the current visitor trend – if it is the responsibility of the council they should have acted long before, as these issues have been baring down on councils in the Highlands for the last few years.

Tight parking right next to Mr Clarke's newly built wall. He fears it could be knocked over again.
Tight parking right next to Mr Clarke's newly built wall. He fears it could be knocked over again.

"I understand the anger of the locals, but also am well aware of the lack of infrastructure [that] infuriates the traveller. The plus is that things are improving, albeit it at a slow pace."

Mr Taylor says the issues are not just at Whaligoe, or Caithness, or the NC500 but at "every tourist attraction" and brought about by the huge increase in staycations.

"For those who live next to the Steps I have full sympathy as they are the ones who have to live with the daily problem of tourism and its effects right on their doorstep."

This image shows how tight the parking can be at the Whaligoe Steps car park.
This image shows how tight the parking can be at the Whaligoe Steps car park.

Local councillors brought up the issues of lack of infrastructure on the NC500 at a meeting in Wick back in March and highlighted Whaligoe Steps as a "horrendous" example of the pressures put on rural communities.

Whaligoe is a major tourist draw. Picture: DGS
Whaligoe is a major tourist draw. Picture: DGS

When asked to comment on the issues at Whaligoe Steps car park, a Highland Council spokesperson said: “Obstruction is a police matter. Residents experiencing obstruction or damage to their property/vehicles should contact the police on 101.

"The council has no immediate plans to extend the car park at Ulbster but is willing to work with communities where need is identified and funding can be found.”

Related article:

Wick community councillors' fears over infrastructure on NC500 route


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