£90K council spend on Whaligoe Steps car park – NC500 tourist facilities were described as a ‘chaotic nightmare’


A local resident who campaigned for better tourist facilities at an Ulbster-based tourist attraction has welcomed a newly announced Highland Council funding initiative.

On Thursday (August 25), the council announced that a Strategic Tourism Infrastructure Development Plan (STIDP) will see £90,000 of funding pumped into improving the Whaligoe Steps car park – a facility previously condemned by Ulbster resident Gary Clarke as a “chaotic nightmare” .

Image sent to the paper last year by local resident Gary Clarke shows the parking chaos at Whaligoe Steps.

Mr Clarke, an NHS worker, said: “This contribution from the Highland Council is welcome due to the evident lack of suitable infrastructure for visitors and residents alike.

“In the last few years, there’s been regular congestion, property damage, vehicle damage and other safety concerns. So extending the car park will allow residents to enjoy their homes again, and improve the visitors experience.”

Exactly a year ago, the newspaper published an article about the issue of parking at the North Coast 500 tourist hotspot and how it was causing problems for residents and visitors to the area. In the article, Mr Clarke – who lives in a small row of houses along a short, narrow road called The Haven – said he was getting fed up of the “unfolding and gradually escalating situation”.

The Whaligoe Steps attracts many tourists but nearby car parking facilities have been condemned.  Picture: DGS
The Whaligoe Steps attracts many tourists but nearby car parking facilities have been condemned. Picture: DGS

Tiring of 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 Aug 16, 2021.

Pictures he posted showed vehicles jam-packed into the car park with some utilizing 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.

Ulbster resident Gary Clarke posted images showing the parking problems on his website.
Ulbster resident Gary Clarke posted images showing the parking problems on his website.

Related article:

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

When questioned about the lack of infrastructure at the NC500 tourist hotspot, the council said last August that it had “no immediate plans to extend the car park at Ulbster” but was willing to work with communities where need is identified and funding can be found.

On Thursday, Highland Council’s economy and infrastructure committee chair, Cllr Ken Gowans said: “VisitScotland through Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF), awarded the Highland Council funding to produce a Strategic Tourism Infrastructure Development Plan (STIDP) to identify key tourism infrastructure priorities for future RTIF support over the next 2-5 years.”

The plan was endorsed by the council and its officers will now begin to focus on a program for delivering a “further 22 ambitious projects”.

Whaligoe is a major tourist attraction on the NC500 route.  Picture: DGS
Whaligoe is a major tourist attraction on the NC500 route. Picture: DGS

The purpose of the STIDP is to identify key priorities for tourism infrastructure in Highland over the medium term. The plan looks at publicly accessible infrastructure, either provided by the public sector or by third parties/commercial stakeholders.

The plan identifies two levels of tourism infrastructure related priorities:

  • Tier One – Identifies eight hotspot areas, where multiple sites experience multiple pressures across different types of infrastructure.
  • Tier Two – Identifies tourism infrastructure at individual sites outwith the main hotspot areas that face similar pressures or have ambitions to attract more visitors to elevate pressures from more popular areas.

The plan identifies twenty-two projects that the Highland Council and its partners plan to take forward over the next five years as priorities.

Apart from the £90K earmarked for the Whaligoe Steps car park some other areas that will benefit from funding across the Highland region include:

  • North West Highlands (Loch Broom to Durness) £2,873,871
  • Parking improvements across north west Sutherland £368,359
  • Smoo Cave parking and toilet upgrade £337,000
  • North west Sutherland public toilet upgrades £502,000
  • Achmelvich visitor facilities £826,512

Potential total costs of these and other proposed projects is £6,932,701 but this estimate may be subject to change.

The council is a member of the Highland Tourism Partnership, a strategic group that brings together representatives from the tourism industry with the main public sector organizations involved in tourism.


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