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Highland rangers make plea to tourists to be culturally aware while enjoying North Coast 500

By Mike Merritt

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Ardvreck Castle.
Ardvreck Castle.

Rangers aiming to help ease congestion and environmental abuse have warned visitors to the Highlands to be culturally aware.

In a strongly worded appeal, the Highland Council Access Rangers particularly singled out the North Coast 500 (NC500) route.

They claimed that "British people may not even appreciate the nuances involved in a rural environment" and the Scottish Highlands and Islands, "present some of the most different and subtle to be found".

Following issues last year with "dirty camping" in many Highland locations – where many communities and land managers were appalled at the behaviour of some of the visitors – Highland Council has partnered with a number of organisations to develop a 17-person seasonal access ranger team.

It will help deal with potential problems at tourist hotspots in the region this summer.

Rangers patrol sites and engage with visitors to ensure awareness of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, monitor use and report incidents to the relevant Council teams or emergency services.

"NC500 – it’s not just awesome scenery," said the Highland Council Access Rangers in a Facebook post.

"When visitors to the UK land at one of the major airports they are presented with an aerial view of a picture book patchwork countryside.

"Our little country has been invaded both forcefully and peacefully many times over the centuries, each time evolving and diversifying; shaping us into the compact and culturally rich country that we all enjoy.

"The countryside is stunning and changes drastically within a matter of miles, as do the cultures that have developed over time. Most noticeable to the visitor will be the rich breadth of regional accents encountered as they travel the country. Not so obvious perhaps are the cultural differences that exist between communities.

"British people may not even appreciate the nuances involved in a rural environment. Those that are encountered as the visitor reaches the far corners of the UK, especially the Scottish Highlands and Islands, present some of the most different and subtle to be found.

"The NC500 travels through these very communities, winding slowly through the world’s most beautiful vistas and (but not so obviously) touching the communities along the way.

"The Scottish Highlands and Islands has physical USP’s but it is easy to overlook the strong cultural ways of life that have survived the test of time, providing the communities that we experience today. You will all have heard of the famous warm Highland welcome and hospitality. You can read about it in the many folk tales and listen to the laments of the poets and song writers. You too will be welcomed when you visit and this is when our actions become oh so important.

"Take nothing but photos, memories and your rubbish, leave nothing but a great sense of positive and appreciative social impact. Not quite the usual saying that rolls so easily off the tongue but one that should be followed.

"The crofting communities in our northern regions present a fine example of just this and our role as honoured visitor and guest is not one to take lightly, as visitors we become stakeholders in the landscape and though our visit may be short, our presence has a hand in shaping the landscape.

"The crofter’s stewardship of the land and the livestock roaming freely to graze across the unfenced open landscape has sculpted the terrain into the countryside enjoyed by visitors today. Though it looks wild and untamed, the landscape has been shaped by mankind in the historic and on-going quest to grow food and sustain communities pitted against the challenges of remote locations, the UK’s longest winters and rocky soils. Traditional small scale farming techniques that sensitively co-exist with nature, often enhancing habitats are at the heart of crofting farming values. Local produce, low food miles, free range and organic is traditional and permanent here.

"As the crofters have shaped the landscape, the landscape has shaped the crofters into supportive communities and individuals who are resourceful and independent, all with a love and passion for the locations they share with visitors each summer.

"Crofting is a busy way of life and is usually combined with another job. You can help crofters to carry out their farming activity that maintains the beautiful scenery by keeping gates clear of vehicles, use campsites instead of the open grazing land and drive carefully to keep the livestock safe as they graze the open countryside. This landscape has seen many ancient inhabitants, invaders, owners and now visitors.

"We all have a hand in the stewardship of this land alongside the crofters to pass on a beautiful landscape to those who will follow us."

A fifth of the NC500 is single track and there have also been protests over indiscriminate parking and dirty camping.

The NC500 is a 516 mile loop in and out of Inverness around the Far North.

It has been hailed by various top travel publications, National Geographic and American broadcaster CNN as one of the world's greatest drives and highlighted on TV shows such as Top Gear.

The route is estimated to be worth more than £22m a year to the local economy.

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