Calanais Standing Stones: Heritage chiefs consult on charging entrance fee on Scottish island

Proposals to charge for entry to Neolithic wonder are being resisted by pagans and land access campaigners.

Heritage chiefs are heading to Lewis to discuss their controversial proposals to charge an entry fee at Calanais Standing Stones.

The proposal has been met with resistance by pagans, land access campaigners and some locals. But a surge in visitors – not least given the expanding cruise ship market on the island – has led to the plan to raise money for the care of the monument and its surroundings.

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Calanais Stones, which are managed by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), are free to access at present, with visitors charged on entry to the visitor centre, which is run by a separate trust.

The sun rises behind the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle Of Lewis. PIC:  ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)The sun rises behind the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle Of Lewis. PIC:  ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)
The sun rises behind the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle Of Lewis. PIC: ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)
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HES is proposing a single entry fee to visit the stones and the centre, but islanders would be excluded from the costs under existing plans.

Final proposals have yet to be published by HES and any introduction of a fee would need to win the approval of Scottish ministers. Two meetings are now being held in Lewis to discuss and develop the future arrangements for the stones.

Sian Evans, regional visitor and community manager for North Region at HES, said: “Calanais Standing Stones hold a special place in the heart of the community, showcasing the rich cultural heritage and natural beauty of the Outer Hebrides. As custodians of this important site, it is our responsibility to help ensure its sustainable management for generations to come.

"To achieve this, we are considering adjustments to access and charging arrangements. These changes aim to strike a balance between preserving the integrity of the site, supporting local business and jobs, and working closely with the community.”

The Calanais Standing Stones date from around 2900BC and were likely used as a type of astronomical observatory where people gathered for rituals. They now attract some 150,000 visitors a year – up from 45,000 in 2019.

The number is set to rise to 200,000 by 2025, with a further anticipated increase due to the arrival of large cruise ships to the new £60million deep water terminal at Stornoway, which is due to open later this year.

In Orkney, the cruise ship market and changing weather patterns have put added strain on the Neolithic site of Ring of Brodgar, with erosion an ongoing issue. Erosion has also been a problem at Calanais, where the trust that runs the visitor centre is in the midst of a £6 million upgrade in anticipation of the increased demand.

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According to reports, the prospect of an entrance fee to Calanais has raised concern among pagan and land access groups.

Philip Carr-Gomm, a former chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, reportedly said paying for access to a religious site was questionable and that Calanais had particular links to the moon, meaning pagans needed to visit at night throughout the year.

Introducing an access fee could also meet legal resistance given it is unlawful to impose an admission charge for non-motorised access to land that is currently free to cross, under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

Sessions to discuss the proposals will be held at Breasclete Community Centre on Monday, May 13 from 3.30pm-7pm and Stornoway Town Hall on Tuesday, May 14 from 2pm-5pm.



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