Sat, Aug 12, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Popularized Scottish island struggles with number of tourists

By Severin Carrell  /  The Guardian

Residents on the Scottish island of Skye are calling for urgent help to deal with overcrowding after a surge in tourism led to too many visitors at some of the island’s most famous beauty spots.

Islanders complain that their narrow, single-track roads are being choked with camper vans, tour buses and cars, that litter is strewn around stopping places and that visitors are going to the toilet in the open.

The problem is most acute at Skye’s most famous spots, particularly at the fairy pools — a series of vivid green and blue pools and waterfalls in Glen Brittle — the Neist Point lighthouse with views over to the Uist islands, and the island’s remarkable ridges and stone outcrops at the Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr.

“Skye is buckling under the weight of increased tourism this year,” said Rob Ware, who rents a self-catering cottage on the south of the island. “It’s not everywhere on the island; the reality is that there are lots of places that aren’t suffering too much, but it’s the key iconic destinations, like the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing.”

After decades of relative isolation and depopulation, Skye has recently become a must-see destination for hundreds of thousands of overseas visitors, particularly from the US, most of whom visit for a day or 48 hours and converge on only four or five of its most famous sites.

Its popularity has been driven by Hollywood, pop stars, commercials and social media, which in turn have been promoted heavily by the tourism agency VisitScotland and Scottish ministers, who are anxious to attract high-spending foreign visitors.

That has been accelerated by TV shows such as the Highland fantasy epic “Outlander,” which opens with an adaptation of the “Skye Boat Song,” a recent advertisement for a new Volvo that featured its dramatic seascapes and the Quiraing, and even Harry Styles, the former One Direction star: the video for Sign of the Times features him appearing to fly over Skye.

Ware said those tensions erupted earlier this week after a tour bus, which was trying to park, disturbed a family funeral at a church in Glen Brittle, a secluded glen on the west side of Skye’s famous Cuillin mountains. One mourner wrote to the tour company, urging them to stay off Skye.

Locals routinely find it impossible to drive through the cars, coaches and camper vans clogging the single-track road. Fears are raised, too, that the traffic jams could prevent mountain rescue teams from reaching Skye’s mountain rescue headquarters in Glen Brittle.

Ware also points to the pressure on affordable housing for locals. The surge in visitors is economically vital, but has raised housing costs and squeezed out local families and workers. The number of Airbnb rentals on Skye — from established self-catering cottages such as his to yurts, spare rooms and sheds — has jumped, he said, from 54 in 2015 to 360 this summer.

The Highland council has been under fire for closing down public toilets, adding to the pressure on local hotels and bars, or leading visitors to relieve themselves outdoors. The council said it was reviewing the availability of public toilets and car parks across the region, but had no cash left for emergency projects.

Shirley Spear, who runs the Three Chimneys restaurant near Dunvegan castle, one of two Michelin-starred restaurants on Skye, and is coordinating a new campaign with Ware to win emergency funding to help and devise a long-term tourism strategy, says there has been decades of under-investment in basic infrastructure.

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