Neolithic tomb in Orkney to close over safety fears

The neolithic chambered cairn Maeshowe is set to close later this month. Picture: Donald MacLeod

The neolithic chambered cairn Maeshowe is set to close later this month. Picture: Donald MacLeod

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One of Orkney’s most popular ancient landmarks is to be closed to the public due to concerns over safety.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has announced that Maeshowe, the biggest and most impressive of Orkney’s neolithic chambered cairns, will be shut down later this month.

Maeshowe, the biggest and most impressive of Orkney's prehistoric chambered cairns, attracts around 25,000 visitors annually. Picture: Donald MacLeod

Maeshowe, the biggest and most impressive of Orkney's prehistoric chambered cairns, attracts around 25,000 visitors annually. Picture: Donald MacLeod

The temporary closure has been ordered because of ­dangers in accessing the site, with visitors using its car park having to cross one of the Orkney mainland’s busiest roads.

HES has been monitoring safety issues relating to vehicle movements around the 5,000-year-old tomb and the neighbouring 19th century Tormiston Mill, and concluded there are significant risks to staff and visitors that cannot currently be overcome.

It has been decided that the two attractions will close from 26 September, with staff being redeployed to other roles. The site will not reopen until the issues have been addressed.

The organisation, which is responsible for Scotland’s historical buildings and monuments, said there will be no job losses and staff will receive full support during the closure.

Dr David Mitchell, acting chief executive and director of conservation at HES, said: “This is not a decision we take lightly, but our primary focus must be the safety of our staff and visitor.

“The HES board recently considered a development proposal which looked at the site infrastructure. They wish to discuss the project further with Orkney Islands Council.

“This was a catalyst for us to reassess the risks associated with the site, and in ­consequence we have decided to effect a temporary site closure until the identified risk can be mitigated to a satisfactory level.”

He added: “In the longer term, we are absolutely committed to finding a long-term solution for this site and working with our partners to conserve and share the wonderful heritage assets in Orkney.

“We will of course continue to conserve the site, and hope to see a positive resolution so we can continue to let visitors enjoy a special place.”

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