Visiting Scotland’s heritage

By | Category: Travel destinations
Urquhart castle ruins

part of the ruins of Urquhart Castle with Loch Ness behind it

Last year well over 4 million people visited the historic sites that are managed by Historic Environment Scotland.

This is the very first time that the four million figure has been achieved in one financial year. There was an increase  of over 470,000 visitors. The figure is just for the staffed sites that HES operates as, obviously, no figures are kept for the unstaffed ones.

HES looks after over 300 Historic Scotland visitor attractions of which just 77 cost to enter. It means that for most of them, you can walk around them when the fancy takes you.

Instinctively you would think that the property collection was composed of castles, abbeys and other ecclesiastical sites and generally that is true because they were the sort of buildings that survived.  But there others such as the Kinnaird House Lighthouse and The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, the Dallas Dhu Historic Distillery at Forres and the Bonawe Historic Iron Furnace in Argyll. There are Viking, Pict and early Christian settlements but can they vie with Skara Brae on Orkney for fascination and importance?

Many close for the winter but from April 1st – an unfortunate day to re-open I have always thought – you can start visiting again.

tapestry from Stirling castle Palace

 Stirling Castle Palace

It won’t surprise any reader to learn that Edinburgh Castle had the most visitors with 1,647,351 visitors. It means that 41% of all visits to HES sites visited Edinburgh Castle. The second placed attraction is a long way behind being Stirling Castle with 447,512 people (11% of all HES visitors) trooping up the hill to see it. Yet another iconic building – Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness– received 380,152 visitors. These were the only three places to attract more than 100,000 people.

Some, of course, like Skara Brae are geographically difficult to get to yet this attraction was fourth placed with just over 91,000 visitors and, with the recent television series covering excavations nearby, might generate even more visitors this year. The television effect cannot be underestimated. Doune Castle which is used for the Outlander series as Castle Leoch drew its highest ever visitor numbers last year and came fifth.

Last year was promoted by Visit Scotland as Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology which might have contributed to the higher visitor numbers. HES will be hoping the numbers continue to grow this year despite the lack of high profile support from the national tourist board.


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