North Coast 500: Mix of fear and hope as holidaymakers hit the road once again

A mix of fear and hope is being felt in the communities on the famous North Coast 500 driving route as holidaymakers get set to hit the road once again.

Stac Pollaidh in Assynt, which sits close to the North Coast 500. Some in the communties surrounding the famous driving route are concerned about the arrival of visitors in the area given the easing of restrictions on some holiday accommodation this weekend. PIC: Steven Gourlay Photography Ltd/North Highland Initiative.

With some types of self-catering accommodation now allowed to open up to guests, residents who have become used to the near empty roads of the NC500 over lockdown remain split over the prospect of visitors arriving in the area as lockdown eases.Some want to open up for business with Scottish Government guidance on issues such as housekeeping and cleaning allowing for such a move in the safest way possible.Others want their rural communities, where Covid-19 has broadly failed to take hold, to stay isolated for now.Susan Malone, who owns Bettyhill General Merchants and Post Office in Sutherland with her husband Pete, said: “We are all nervous, very nervous about it. Some of the holiday accommodation people are not sure that they want to open and welcome strangers in and not knowing what they might be carrying.“We have been in our little isolation here for months. We have already seen some visitors, even with the five-mile rule in place, but we are assuming that we will see more people come in soon.”Earlier, as lockdown set in, signs had been placed around the village urging tourists to stay away.Over in Golspie, Kendra Ballantyne, owner of Thistle Holiday Lets, manages 10 properties on the North Coast 500 route with visitors due to take up bookings from next weekend with a stringent hygiene regime now in place.Her housekeepers, now wearing PPE of facemasks and gloves with their Crocs shoes disinfected between properties, are in the process of “stripping bare” accommodation for deep cleaning.Hairdryers, pumps for soap and moisturiser and ornaments have now been removed to help keep surfaces to a minimum.Properties, where minimum stays are now four days rather than three, are left for a day between bookings for further cleaning. Pillows are now on a 72-hour rotation.And those visiting cottages will find their self-catering experience a little different. Residents will bag up their own bedding and towels, which will then be left sealed for three days before going to laundry, and asked to take anything they brought – from books to bottles of ketchup – away with them.Ms Ballantyne said: “We are doing everything we can, and more, to make sure people feel safe.“Nobody wants to be known as the person who opened their business and exposed the Highlands to Covid.”

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Kendra Ballantyne, who owns a holiday lets company in Sutherland (left) and David Whiteford, chair of North Highland Initiative, who says the Scottish Government and tourism chiefs must help alleviate anxiety about the opening up of tourism in the Highlands post-lockdown.

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