They thought they were used to twists and turns in Applecross. At least they did until they came across Scotland’s roadworks bureaucracy.

For nearly two centuries the peninsula’s people have endured switchback after switchback to get to and from their homes over the precipitous Bealach na Bà, Britain’s steepest road.

But now they say they are facing an even more torturous challenge: to convince authorities not to shut the lifeline single track during their peak spring tourism period.

The 11-mile Beachach na Bà - which climbs 2000ft at gradients of up to 30 per cent - will close from nine in the morning to eight in the evening for some six weeks starting early next month.

The road - first opened in 1822 and a lifeline ever since - is being shut to lay a cable for an Ministry of Defence torpedo testing station and allow some council repairs to be carried out.

Local businesses and community leaders say this will be disastrous”. Bookings, in the core April, May and June, holiday season when cannier Scots holidaymakers, wise to the threat of midgies and fickle summer weather, head for Wester Ross.

Judith Fish, of Applecross Inn, one of the main draws on the peninsula, said: “We anticipate the closure, under this proposal, having a catastrophic effect on our early season trade at one of the busiest times of the year.

“This sentiment is echoed by the other 12 ‘tourist reliant’ businesses of Applecross. These businesses estimate a gross turnover impact of £400,000 being lost.

“Further, the widespread disruption this will create for all our residents (including travelling workers, schoolchildren and the elderly) and our many visitors is completely unacceptable. The closure of this road changes a 22 mile return journey to be an 80 mile return from Tornapress to Applecross! This is unacceptable. “

HeraldScotland: ON HIGH: The view to Skye from the high road to Applecross

The view from Applecross

Ms Fish says the short notice is “unbelievable and unfair”. Locals did manage to put the work off for a week or so, just to allow the core Easter holidays to be unaffected. But Ms Fish and her fellow business leaders dispute claims, by those closing the road, that spring is not Applecross’s peak tourist season.

Council sources stressed it’s too dark - and the weather too awful - for such work to be carried out in the winter. Applecross residents, however, still reckon contractors SSE Telecom could take advantage of the short summer nights to leave the Beachach na Bà open during the day.

Colin Sempill, Managing Director, SSE Enterprise Telecoms, acknowledged the closure would be difficult. “We are mindful of the concerns raised by businesses in Applecross area,” he said, “and we will continue to work closely with the local community to minimise disruption.

“That is why we agreed to delay the start of the works until after Easter, and we understand Highland Council will use the opportunity to improve the road too.”

HeraldScotland: The Bealach na Ba above Applecross grants a mouthwatering view of Skye and its iconic mountains. PHOTO by Keith Fergus

The road

The firm was eager to say the cable will also provide long-term benefits to Applecross. residents will also be able to tap in to improved broadband.”

Mr Sempill added: “We will spread the message that Applecross remains ‘Open for Business’ and ensure diversionary signage is clearly in place.

“We will also be making a £20,000 goodwill gesture to the local community in recognition of the short-term disruption the road closure will cause.”

Workers will, sources said, ensure emergency services and NHS staff can get across the pass. Holidaymakers will have to make sure they time their journey.

However, the road itself is one of the main attractions in Applecross, part of the North Coast 500 and a major cycling destination. It usually takes around half an hour to get across the pass - with inexperienced motorists advised not to even attempt the route. There is coast alternative. It takes more than twice as long.

Community leaders stress they do not want to fall out with the council or SSE. Jon Glover, who chairs the local community council, said: “SSE may have a statutory right to undertake these works but it is absolutely clear that they also have a moral and legal duty of care in the broadest sense to carry out works with due respect and regard to local communities. It is fundamentally unfair that we should pay the price for this work with no adequate material gain, only losses on a large and unnecessary scale.”

Analysis: Why Scotland's 'half-islands' needs to be treated like full islands

It is Scotland's islands, logically enough, which are supposed to be isolated. But sometimes peninsulas, our half-islands, are even more so.

Take Applecross. It has a road - tarmacked in the 1950s - to link it to the rest of the country. So its residents and visitors do not have to depend on vagaries of ferries or planes, not least in poor weather.

But their road, Britain's steepest and Scotland's third highest, is a lifeline just as much as any air or sea route to an island. An alternative exists, true, but it is long and slow.


The Bealach road

A decision to close the road, the Bealach, at least in daylight hours, to lay a cable, has been taken. This is like cancelling most ferries to an island. Its consequences, for Applecross, say residents, will be  "catastrophic". Businesses reckon they will lose £400,000 in six weeks. In a peninsula with 500 or so souls that represents a huge extraction of income.

Would authorities have allowed this to happen on Mull, on Colonsay, or Islay? Do we treat peninsulas with the same care as islands? Alison Macleod of the Applecross Community Company, a volunteer-led local firm, reckons the closures represent "a complete lack of understanding of the dependence of our local economy on tourism and of the huge numbers of vehicles travelling on both the Bealach and the Coast roads from Easter onwards.

She adds: "This is a fragile community, with over 40 per cent of the population over retirement age, where our essential services are already affected by cuts and threatened with more as austerity kicks in."

Has the fragility of this community been factored in to decisions to close the road during the day? Ms MacLeod wants work done at night and at a slightly different time of year. That might mean higher costs. How much extra are we prepared to pay?

People like to live in a place as beautiful as Applecross. Many more want to visit. But these communities - and the huge added value they represent to Scottish tourism and life as a whole - need that bit extra to remain viable. 

Things are not easy in rural, remote or island Scotland. Forget those puff pieces on life amid lochs and glens. Do we want to keep them alive? That comes at a cost. And it is means being ready to listen to what islanders - and half-islanders - have to say and understanding closing a road in Applecross is not the same as in Inverness.