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Summer sees record breaking visitor numbers for Scotland’s heritage sites

Posted: 24th September 2015

Record breaking summer visitor figures have been reported by Scotland’s largest operator of visitor attractions, Historic Scotland.

Over the three month period – from June to August – 1,826,047 visitors were welcomed to heritage attractions throughout the country; an increase of more than 34,000 on the same period last year.

Summer 2015 also witnessed several new records being set for many of Historic Scotland’s 77 ticketed attractions, including five castles and prehistoric village.

Scotland’s number one paid for visitor attraction, Edinburgh Castle, was amongst the record breaking sites, welcoming 666,348 visitors an increase of 7% on the same period in 2014. July alone saw 249,923 visitors pass over its famous drawbridge, a rise of 12% when compared to the same month last year. On a single day in August the castle exceeded 10,600 visitors and recently welcomed its one millionth visitor through the gates – the earliest in the year that this milestone has ever been reached.

Another top performer during the summer season included Doune Castle, which rose to international fame following its starring role as the fictional Castle Leoch in the first season of the Outlander TV series.  Enjoying the ‘Outlander effect’, the Stirlingshire castle has reported three back-to-back record breaking months and enjoyed an overall surge of 44% in visitors, rising to 32,540 for this period in 2015.

Meanwhile, Skara Brae, one of Europe’s best-preserved prehistoric settlements, benefited from two consecutive record breaking months. The site, which dates back around 5,000 years, saw an increase of 8% in June and 13% in July on the previous year and welcomed a total of 55,078 visitors during the three month summer period.

Commenting on the figures, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said: “This record-breaking year for visits to Historic Scotland properties demonstrates the value, significance and growing appeal of Scotland’s heritage to visitors.

“From Orkney to the Borders, Scotland’s history and heritage filled landscapes are a truly unique resource, not just in terms of the wider benefits that they offer for all in terms of cultural enrichment – providing an insight into different aspects of our nation’s past, but also for their role and potential in supporting and driving economic growth. This potential is illustrated in sites such as Doune Castle, which features in the highly successful TV series Outlander, which now attracts visitors on both a UK and international level.”

The summer season also saw Stirling Castle achieve a milestone, as it welcomed the completion of the Stirling Castle Tapestry Project – a 15 year-long project to recreate the Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries. The castle itself experienced growth on   last year’s June and July figures and in total welcomed 216,132 visitors throughout the three months.

More than 34,000 people made their way to the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, Linlithgow Palace, while Urquhart and St Andrews Castles welcomed 190,083 and 34,957 visitors, respectively.

Next month will see the bringing together of Historic Scotland and The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) to form a new lead public body Historic Environment Scotland (HES). Chair, Jane Ryder, OBE, said: “As we approach this exciting milestone for  Scotland’s heritage sector, it’s wonderful to see the enduring draw and important role that these historic landmarks play in modern Scotland today.

“These latest figures highlight the important and diverse contribution made by the sector as we form a new lead heritage body for Scotland. HES will champion and celebrate Scotland’s past whilst making an important contribution to its present and future.”

Stephen Duncan, Director of Commercial and Tourism at Historic Scotland, added: “With records broken and new ones set, summer 2015 has proven to be a memorable season.

“Heritage attractions are a vital element of Scotland’s wider tourism offering. We’ve recorded high levels of footfall at our properties including castles, abbeys, a palace, a 5,000 year old village and a military fort. Edinburgh Castle had a particularly strong summer with three consecutive record breaking months. Whilst Doune Castle – famed for its role in Outlander – also enjoyed a treble in record breaking terms and recorded it’s best June in nine years, helping to highlight our diverse heritage on the international stage.”

Summer (June-August 2015) visitor figures for Historic Scotland’s Top Ten paid for attractions

  1. Edinburgh Castle – 666,348
  2. Stirling Castle – 216,132
  3. Urquhart Castle – 190,083
  4. Skara Brae – 55,078
  5. St Andrews Castle – 34,957
  6. Linlithgow Palace – 34,477
  7. Iona Abbey – 33,751
  8. Fort George – 33,324
  9. Doune Castle – 32,540
  10. Melrose Abbey – 25,856

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