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Farmer spends thousands of his own cash to repair north road ravaged by potholes

Durness farmer James Mather who is trying to maintain the road to the Cape Wrath peninsula from his own pocket.
Durness farmer James Mather who is trying to maintain the road to the Cape Wrath peninsula from his own pocket.

A north farmer has spent thousands of pounds trying to repair a council road which he describes as “miles of potholes held together with some vague spots of tar”.

James Mather, of Durness, runs a tourism business taking visitors to the Cape Wrath lighthouse during the summer months.

The Cape Wrath peninsula can only be accessed by a passenger ferry, and onwards by minibus.

The road’s crumbling condition has become an increasing problem for Mr Mather, who has gone to great lengths to maintain it.

He collected more than 16 tonnes of tar last year from the local council yard using a tractor and trailer, loaded it onto his own boat, took it across the Kyle of Durness, and unloaded it onto a tractor and trailer he keeps at the other end.

After that, he spent countless hours shovelling the tar by hand into the potholes.

Last year he also hired a digger for five weeks at £400 per week, driven by the ferryman, and together they drained as much of the road as they could.

Farmer James Mather is using his own money to repair an 11-mile stretch of road across the Cape Wrath peninsula. Sandy McCook

Mr Mather said: “I haven’t put a bottom line on how much it all cost, but it’s frightening, running into thousands.

“You have your choice, you can either mend minibuses or you can mend the road.

“We’re having to do both.”

Mr Mather runs two minibuses on the 11-mile road, which crosses a 25,000 acre estate owned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and used as a bombing range.

Highland Council says that, due to overall pressures on the roads budget, it has been unable to prioritise it.

The authority also mentioned the isolated location where, apart from the presence of the MoD and seasonal tourists, there is only a single household on the peninsula.

A council spokeswoman said: “The council has previously considered de-adopting the road.

“The current roads management understands that in the past, materials have been provided for the MoD to use to undertake repairs on an ad-hoc basis, which was mutually beneficial and this arrangement could be looked at again.”

Mr Mather said:  “Because it is unconnected to the mainland, the council sees this as an excuse not to maintain the road – coupled with the fact that it has very little usage.

“You can understand some of that. But the road generates a lot of money for the village because the spin-off from passengers to Cape Wrath is phenomenal.”

The MoD says it has no responsibility to maintain the road as it is publicly owned, and responsibility for its maintenance lies with the council.

A spokeswoman said: “Defence has no requirement for the road to be upgraded or enhanced beyond its current state.

“While there is no agreement in place, MoD contractors have occasionally undertaken work, including filling in potholes and clearing ditches and drains.”

The issue has reached the highest levels of government, with defence procurement minister Jeremy Quin holding out a glimmer of hope in response to a question by local MP Jamie Stone.

He said: “Whilst the MoD do not have responsibility for maintaining this road which has limited defence use, we always wish to maintain good local relations.”

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