Camping and caravanning options could be severely limited in Lewis and Harris, as business owners and community groups make their decisions on opening for the remainder of the 2020 season.
Some campsites will remain closed even if travel to the islands resumes, as expected, next week (Wednesday 15 July). Others will offer only limited facilities, meaning that those travelling with only tents and no built-in sanitary facilities are likely to find themselves shut out.
Among those sites which do not intend to open at all are community-run sites at Ardroil and Cnip grazings (Riof beach) in Lewis. North Harris Trust also says that the hook-ups and facilities at Huisinis gateway will remain closed ‘for the foreseeable future’.
Laxdale Holiday Park near Stornoway will re-open on 15 July, in accordance with Scottish Government guidance, but no shared or communal facilities, such as toilets and showers, will be available. This means that no tents, only self-contained units like motorhomes, will be accepted.
The managers said: “We have made this decision to support the local economy and protect our local environment by providing safe parking and waste disposal facilities. These restrictions are subject to change in accordance with further guidance from the Scottish Government and local authority.”
In Shawbost, the Eilean Fraoich campsite also intends to offer a limited re-opening from 15 July, without access to communal facilities. Like Laxdale, they will accept no tents or awnings and will arrange enquiries, check-in and payment by contactless technology.
Their website says: “We have made this decision bearing in mind the need for motor homes and caravans with their own facilities who travel to the island to have a safe place to park, within a controlled environment, and to avoid wild camping with the negatives it tends to generate on our island.”
In Harris, the 15-pitch Lickisto Blackhouse camping will open from 20 July with restrictions limiting use of their communal areas, including toilet and shower facilities.
The hook-ups for motorhomes at Talla na Mara in West Harris are open for booking now but only for visits or stays from August 1 but toilets and showers remain locked.
Lewis and Harris site managers are making their decisions against a background of Scottish Government ambition to revive tourism as a boost to the Scottish rural economy.
On Friday (3 July) rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing MSP blasted a trading arm of the Camping and Caravanning Club after they announced they would keep three mainland Scottish forest campsites closed for the remainder of the year.
Mr Ewing said that decision was “totally unacceptable” and would have a significant impact on local businesses and the environment.
Referring specifically to the decision by Camping in the Forest (CitF) to keep sites in the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond closed, Mr Ewing said: “With all the challenges we are facing due to COVID-19, this decision is robbing people of the opportunity to holiday in Scotland. Having access to these sites is important for people’s well-being.”
In Lewis and Harris, the well-being of local residents ranks alongside practical issues about cleaning to a standard that protects visitors.
Peter Macdonald, speaking on behalf of the grazings committee, who run Ardroil camping on a voluntary basis, said: “The committee simply didn’t feel comfortable opening the site this soon.
“The maintenance and cleaning of the toilet facilities concerns us. We didn’t feel confident, as a volunteer group, to get everything up and running to comply with increased hygiene standards and maintain that for the remainder of the season.”
The decision to keep community-run sites closed for 2020 will disappoint some island residents, who have become used to permanent summer sites for caravans offering an easy holiday getaway from Stornoway.
But Peter said all those affected by the closure of Ardroil had been notified and understood the decision.
He said: “We have 20 static sites which are allocated by drawing lots from applications and we have contacted all those who were successful in the 2020 draw to offer them first refusal on a site next year. Everyone has also had their money refunded.”
Pictures show campsites at Ardroil in Uig and at Cnip grazings in Valtos in previous years