Visitor numbers for the top 10 sites in the care of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) suggest that the road to recovery will be a long one. These top 10 sites attracted 855,626 visits in 2021: in 2019 the same 10 sites attracted 4.3 million.
Historic Environment Scotland has issued Version 7 of its Covid-19 Operational Policy & Minimum Operating Standards for Property Management and Visitor Operations.
The open sharing of this evolving publication by the organisation has been great to see. The first version was showcased publicly by the HES Director of Conservation, David Mitchell, back in June 2020 as part of the Covid-19 Historic Environment Resilience Forum (CHERF) event on Re-opening Venues which I chaired.
The document has been an incredibly useful resource for considering operational issues and decision-making system design for the sector to use as a comparator resource to adapt to their own situation.
From a heritage management teaching point of view, it has also been an excellent live case study to enable students to consider the organisational requirements and ramifications of decisions/actions which aren’t always obvious at visitor sites and organisational hubs.
HES has just published an update on its work to embed equality and diversity across its operations and activities with data on 2019-2020 and a range of case studies highlighting progress. The main report is web-based with dynamic content (personally speaking I feel a PDF would also be helpful, but I may have missed the link).
The report is good to see, not least the recognition that the organisation is at the start of its journey in comparison to others: a phrase that jumps off the page for example admits that it is still currently a ‘white organisation’ and needs to work to represent Scotland’s society better internally. It usefully considers both the internal and external environments for the organisation.
The complexities of the issues are large and structural barriers to overcome are large, and the report charges its directorates with expectations to address these, and enable the historic environment to work for everyone, and enable all sections of society to engage with their heritage.
The response to the pandemic and the shift to new ways of working with enhanced digital service delivery add a further challenge and opportunity, and will need to be one of the ingredients to address the issues.
I’d argue that further articulation in future also needs to be made around equality and access in the context of chronic ill health disability (beyond typical disability classifications) and challenges of ageing society; financial exclusion and its ramifications for engagement with heritage; and also consideration of specific geographic issues (e.g. urban / rural / island / remote) as they impact on stakeholders in the historic environment.
The impact of lockdowns due to the pandemic is making itself clear on the visitor figures released by ALVA. Reduced visitor numbers will see a reduction in income from ticket sales as well as through retail outlets. We have yet to see the impact on those who pay annual memberships.
These figures use the numbers for the Top 10 properties for the National Trust (NT), the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), English Heritage (EH), and Historic Environment Scotland (HES). The number for Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) is based on three properties: the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, and Hampton Court.
The 44 properties represented in this histogram received over 20 million visitors in 2019; in 2020 it was just over 6 million. The Top 10 properties for HES dropped by nearly 4 million visitors.
This wonderful series of essays—journeys in the title—transports us from Mousa Broch on Shetland, to Abbotsford in the Borders; from Bell Rock Lighthouse off Angus, to Sweeney’s Bothy on Eigg.
Kathleen Jamie ignites our imagination with her reflection on Geldie Burn, and more specifically Mesolithic sites in their landscape. Her essay on Maggie’s Centre in Fife makes sense of contemporary therapeutic space by comparing this location with the prehistoric site at Links of Noltland on Westray.
Some of the locations are well-known and perhaps to be expected: Calanais (James Robertson), Iona Abbey (Alexander McCall Smith), and Edinburgh Castle (Alistair Moffat). But there are some unexpected gems here: James Robertson in Innerpeffray Library.
I was surproisingly gripped by Alistair Mofffat on Glenlivet Distillery and Inchmyre Prefabs, and James Crawford on Hampden Park and Sullom Voe. They were reminders of how society can leave its mark on the built environment.
James Robertson’s essay on Auld Alloway Kirk not only explores Tam O’ Shanter, but also rural parish churches, for example at Kiltearn and Croick. Alexander McCall Smith reflects on the Italian Chapel on Orkney.
This creative volume provides a range of insights and voices on Scotland’s history.
In 1385 the English army under King Richard II sacked three of the monasteries along the line of Dere Street: these included Dryburgh and Melrose. The western entrance to the abbey church was rebuilt in the 15th century in part due to the award of properties by Richard III.
A window would have been placed immediately above the doorway.
Canrasserie Castle lies to the north of Kilmartin village. In February 1559 the castle was awarded to John Carswell (c. 1522–1572) [ODNB], the minister of Kilmartin. (Note the alternative spelling on the site sign.) In 1567 he was presented as bishop of the Isles. One of his main contributions was his translation of the Book of Common Order (1564) into Gaelic, Foirm na n-urrnuidheadh (1567).
The present castle was constructed between 1565 and 1572, replacing an earlier building. The castle was destroyed in 1685 during the rebellion of the 9th Earl of Argyll.
The visitor numbers for Leading Visitor Attractions in 2019 are now available. Properties managed by Historic Environment Scotland attracted over 5 million visitors in 2019. Top of the list is Edinburgh Castle with 2.2 million visitors, followed by Stirling Castle (609,000), Urquhart Castle (547,000) and Glasgow Cathedral (537,000). Skara Brae on Orkney received over 115,000 visitors, no doubt reflecting the presence of cruise ships.
The top six sites attract over 4 million visitors in 2019.
Historic Environment Scotland has released details of its plans to re-open the heritage sites in its care during August and September. From 15 July this includes the grounds of Caerlaverock, Doune and Dundonald Castles.
The Commendator’s House at Melrose Abbey was constructed in the 15th century although its original function is not clear. It became the Commendator’s House in 1590 (recorded above the lintel of the house) after the Reformation.
It now house the site museum that includes finds from the nearby Roman fort at Newstead.