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Tourists forced to stop by ‘useless’ Gaelic road signs

By Catriona Metcalf

The large bilingual road sign approaching the Tore roundabout from the west.
The large bilingual road sign approaching the Tore roundabout from the west.

GAELIC road signs are confusing and could pose an accident risk for visitors and tourists, according to a report from transport research company TRL.

The report, done on behalf of Transport Scotland, interviewed motorists and compared the responses from those using nine bilingual road sign routes with those on 11 routes that have only English signs.

Half of the tourists questioned could not find what they were looking for on bilingual signs; 40 per cent said bilingual signs distracted them; and 20 per cent said they had taken a wrong turn or even had to stop to be able to read the Gaelic and English signs.

Six per cent of the tourists said they had been involved in “near misses” because of the bilingual signs.

The SNP government has committed £2 million towards bilingual signs as part of its drive to promote the Gaelic language.

The TRL report has been welcomed by Landward Caithness Highland Councillor Willie Mackay.

He said: “I totally agree and let’s hope we don’t see a proliferation of them across Caithness in the latest SNP government’s £2 million spending spree aimed at increasing the number of Gaelic speakers and enhancing the visitor experience in Scotland.

“I’ve come across quite a few of these bilingual signs in Sutherland, Ross-shire and the Inverness area and I can quite obviously see where the danger lies for tourists being distracted at road junctions and roundabouts.

“It’s scary in fast-moving traffic and a remedy for road rage.”

However, Caithness council colleague Alex MacLeod, himself a fluent Gaelic speaker, rubbishes the findings and maintains tourists are attracted to bilingual signs.

“I do not accept the findings in this report,” he said. “The methods used by TRL are pretty shaky at best and it’s not very clear where the information has come from.

“All of the evidence I have seen shows there’s no danger to motorists, which is the widely held view supported by policy makers across the Highlands.

“It shows they pose no substantial danger to drivers and actually attract tourists, who are impressed by them. They give a sense of identity and a sense of pride to the local people in the Highland region.”

Mr MacLeod said the £2 million budget for the Gaelic road signs is allocated specifically for road signs and only as new ones are needed will the council replace them with bilingual ones.

He said: “If any councillors are unhappy about the way the money is spent, then they should take more of a part in the budget decision-making process.

“I have no safety worries at all. We need to enhance our tourism sector and keep people coming.”

Thurso Highland councillor John Rosie has argued in the past that, as fewer people are speaking the language, the bilingual signs are no use to the average person or to visitors.

In 2008, eight Caithness councillors put forward a motion that bilingual signs in the far north should be restricted to the Ord of Caithness, the towns of Thurso and Wick and John O’Groats. The move was defeated by 50 votes to 12 in favour of reaffirming a commitment to the Gaelic language plan.

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