Scottish castles featured in Outlander could be in dire need of repair due to soaring visitor numbers
Exposure to the elements over hundreds of years has taken a toll on some of the country’s most iconic structures.
They include Linlithgow Palace and castles at Doune, Craigmillar and Aberdour, which have also struggled to absorb the impact of a sharp rise in visitors since Outlander first aired in 2014.
More than 200 structures are thought to be at risk as Historic Environment Scotland (HES) prepares to begin a programme of “hands-on” surveys to determine the extent of damage within weeks.
The “Outlander effect” has seen tourists flocking to locations such as Doune Castle where visitors to the 14th-century stronghold in Perthshire soared from 38,081 in 2013 – the year before it first appeared as fictional Castle Leoch – to 142,091 in 2018.
Elsewhere, visitor attendance at Aberdour Castle in Fife increased from 12,518 to 27,507 during the same period, while numbers at Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian soared from 66,500 to 94,718.
VisitScotland figures show Craigmillar Castle, in Edinburgh, attracted 23,221 people in 2016 – the year before it first appeared in Outlander – rising to 35,473 in 2018.
The Outlander series, now in its sixth season, is based on the best-selling novels of US author Diana Gabaldon and stars Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe.
A HES spokesperson said: “The success of the Outlander books and television show has had many benefits for Scotland, but the increased level of visitation at Doune Castle in particular, pre lockdown, while of course was very welcome, was such that we saw some issues relating to ground erosion on the site. In addition, the increased congestion from visiting vehicles meant existing facilities struggled to cope."
HES, which cares for 336 historic buildings and sites across the country, has developed a new course, accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, to attract more people to gain the skills necessary to survey at-risk historic properties.
The Diploma in Planning, Surveying and Recording the Condition of Built Assets for Conservation will initially be offered to all relevant staff across HES and later to the wider sector.
Colin Tenant, the body’s head of technical education and training, said: “What we’ve been asked to do is develop a qualification and a training package to underpin it, to ensure that staff undertaking inspections have the skills and expertise to do that to the appropriate standard.
"There's an issue around the availability of skills to undertake this kind of survey work in the level of detail that's required, so this is where we see this qualification as filling a gap... specifically looking at the knowledge and expertise that's required around heritage assets."
The new course will be delivered by HES's own experts using a blended approach of in-person training on sites and at its centres in Stirling and Elgin, and also comprising digital content including 3D models that can be accessed anywhere in the country. It is hoped that SQA accreditation will encourage more people to sign up.
Mr Tenant added: “We are aiming to be able to deliver this training as soon as we possibly can … but there is that sense of urgency around the need to do the survey programme and we are cognisant of that.”
HES stressed that while the inspection programme takes place, many of Scotland’s best-loved historic properties remain open to the public.
There are currently no restrictions at Blackness Castle, Fort George, Urquhart Castle, Glasgow Cathedral and Clava Cairns, all of which have featured in Outlander.
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