State of historic Bealach na Bà mountain road to Applecross now at 'tipping point'

The condition of the historic Bealach na Bà mountain road to Applecross is now at "tipping point" given an influx of North Coast 500 motorists and a lack of basic road maintenance on the high-altitude route, it has been claimed.

The road, a critical route for those living on the Wester Ross peninsula, has always been a popular draw but its inclusion on the driving circuit through the north and west Highlands has led to congestion, breakdowns and damage to the road surface on an unprecedented scale, according to The Applecross Trust.

Archie MacLellan, executive administrator of Applecross Trust, said: "The state of the road is now at a tipping point given increased traffic on this historic route.

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"Applecross has always been a popular destination but what we have now are large number of tourists coming in now with the North Coast 500.

The condition of the historic, high-altitude road to Applecross is now at a 'tipping point' given the influx of motorists on the route, which is now included on the North Coast 500, and the need for more road maintenance. PIC: Contributed.

"What we need to do is work out the volume of people coming through so we can measure the direct impact on the condition of the road.

Car clubs drawn to the challenging but stunningly beautiful route, which features a series of hair pin bends that take drivers to an altitude of some 2,054 ft, posed a new set of problem for those using the narrow pass.

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"It is just a bad scene when you get a load of cars travelling one way when you are meeting another load of cars coming the other way."

The comments come as the Trust, along with other groups, start to develop a Tourism strategy for the peninsula.

He added there had been an increase in the holiday let occupation during the shoulder months of the holiday season, which he said was a positive feature of the increased visitor numbers.

But improvements to the condition of the Bealach na Bà are seen as essential to support the growth in those visiting the area.

He said: "Drivers tend to do this thing where they don't wait until a lay-by to pull over. If they see something coming, they simply make for the edge of the road. But with the road edges in a poor state, there are a lot of punctures happening and this is one of the main causes of breakdowns on the hill.

"It would seem that Highland Council resources are stretched to the point that basic road maintenance is difficult to accomplish and so it is more important than ever that suitable care and attention is taken in order to maintain the historic legacy."

Earlier this week, parts of the road around Applecross Bay broke away given the force of Storm Brendan.

The first block of the Applecross road was turned in May 1818 after a campaign to access parliamentary funds for the job, with the Mackenzie lairds paying a quarter of the total cost, which amounted to roughly £500,000 at today's prices.

A Highland Council spokesperson said road maintenance was ongoing on the Bealach na Bà with 150 metres of replacement barrier put in place in the past year as well as bridge repairs and road widening completed at Tornapress Bridge.A programme of patching, surface dressing and ad hoc pothole repairs is ongoing.

Five new laybys will also be build due to a £130,000 scheme from the Tourist Fund and Highland Council.

A statement added: "“The National Condition survey doesn’t pick up on the typical over-run damage caused due to excessive traffic volumes (large edge drops, damaged verges etc) on roads such as the Bealach where passing place infrastructure cannot cope with higher traffic volumes.

"This is exacerbated by visiting road users either failing to grasp the need to reverse or being unwilling or unable to do so. This situation is exaggerated where the topography is also challenging (on steep and blind corners). The Council’s available budget allocations are insufficient to address this type of road deterioration that is caused by drivers’ actions.

"“The Council is not aware of any particular incidents of Council vehicles damaging walls however it is a very narrow, steep and tortuous route; and one which requires a high degree of skill for our gritter drivers, particularly with blades fitted, to treat in winter. We are aware of incidents of private vehicles impacting walls for which the Council will follow up with the clear up.

“One of the biggest challenges to undertaking significant maintenance work is that the road essentially has to close as gridlock will occur if traffic is interrupted for short periods during the “extended” tourist season and North Coast 500. And obviously given the elevation of the summit, once the traffic dies down, weather then becomes the main constraint to road maintenance works.”