Don’t mess with heritage

By | Category: Travel rumblings

The Palace at Stirling Castle

The announcement that the National Trust had reached four million members was the cause for much comment on TV and the newspapers. Most of that was based on wondering whether the organisation was still full of crusty do-gooders or whether its modern approach to allowing people to touch things was a bit too “popular” and trendy. The main significance was missed.
With four million members at the NT, it shows that visiting our heritage is a hugely popular form of tourism for in addition to its members, the National Trust for Scotland has about 310,000, English Heritage has 750,000 and CADW in Wales has a further 25,000 members. To top it off, Historic Scotland says that has 3.1 million visitors a year to its properties. The NT has 14 million paying visitors a year. And what of An Tanisce in Ireland, all the groups of friends of places like the British Museum, the National Museum of Wales, cathedrals, railway preservation groups and restored ships?
These are huge figures. Obviously you can’t just add the memberships together and say that is the total because some people will be members of more than one organisation but if you just take the NT figures, members exceed the population of Wales. The number of visitors is about the same as the populations of Scotland, Wales and the whole of Ireland.
So we have a strong – very strong – group of people who pay to see our past, our heritage and our gardens and open land. Were heritage members to be a political party, the sheer volume of its visitors would dwarf any political party. They would be our biggest union or the biggest media outlet.
So what am I saying? Merely that there is a strong feeling (in Welsh the word “hiraeth” might explain it) for us to visit our past and woe betide anyone that says it is a highbrow form of tourism and has declining appeal. The appeal is growing.

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