Dunfermline Abbey ‘not doing enough for tourists’

The interior of Dunfermline Abbey. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The interior of Dunfermline Abbey. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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IT IS the resting place of ­Robert the Bruce and has been dubbed “little Westminster ­Abbey” due to its status as the burial spot for as many as 25 kings and queens of Scotland.

But a prominent local historian has warned that tourists are missing out on the history surrounding Dunfermline Abbey due to a lack of information and signage at the site and has spearheaded a campaign to raise it to the same prominence as its London cousin, where members of the British Royal Family lie.

Robert the Bruce

Robert the Bruce

Sheila Pitcairn, who has worked as a town tour guide in Dunfermline for around 30 years, said plaques should be erected to mark the spots where 25 members of Scots royalty – including King Malcolm III, who ruled from 1058 to 1093 and appears in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth – are buried.

King Malcolm’s sons, Edgar, Alexander and David, who all went on to become king of Scotland, were also laid to rest at the Abbey – which was Scotland’s Royal Sepulture after Iona – as well as Annabella Drummond, wife of Robert III.

Pitcairn, 81, who founded a history and genealogy business in Dunfermline, now run by her son, Lloyd, wants to raise money to promote the Abbey’s historical links.

She said: “It’s not fair that the people of Scotland do not know that all these royals are lying under the floor in ­Dunfermline, there in Dunfermline Abbey. The only marker is for Robert the Bruce, but we need brass plaques for all of them.”

All these royals are lying under the floor in Dunfermline

Pitcairn has met representatives from Historic Scotland, which manages the site, but has been told no decision on any changes can be made until after October, when it merges with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

Just 30,000 people visit the Abbey every year – the same number as attended weekend-long outdoor living show ­Gardening Scotland or the Gordon Castle Highland Games in Moray last year – ­despite it lying just across the Forth Road Bridge from Edinburgh, which attracts millions of tourists annually.

Meanwhile, Westminster Abbey welcomes more than one million visitors every year who want to see the burial places of monarchs from the time of ­Edward the Confessor until the death of George II in 1760 – including Mary Queen of Scots.

Visitors have to pay to enter the nave of the Abbey where the historic tombs are laid.

The abbey's exterior and graveyard. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The abbey's exterior and graveyard. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Pitcairn added: “It was when such a fuss was made about the bones of Richard III being found in a car park. Everyone knew about that and there were plaques put up where he was reburied earlier this year. It made me realise how little information there is to tell people about what we have here in Dumfermline. People pay to go in but they have no idea what they are looking at.”

After the Reformation in the 1500s, Dunfermline ceased to be an abbey, but as the nave of the church continued to be used as the local parish church, much of the building has survived. The current parish church, next to the site, was built in the 19th century.

A spokesman for Historic Scotland said a new guidebook for the Abbey would be published next year. “Dunfermline Abbey and Palace is an important heritage attraction that sits within our portfolio of properties in care across the country,” he said.

“As part of our efforts to enhance a great visitor experience, we installed a series of new interpretation panels at Dunfermline this year to help communicate and engage visitors with the Abbey’s fascinating history and story.”

Malcolm III. Picture: Getty

Malcolm III. Picture: Getty