Edinburgh’s Scott Monument brings in strict limit on visitors after overcrowding fears

From June, only 24 people an hour will be allowed to climb the 288 steps up the Scott Monument. Photograph: Neil Hanna
From June, only 24 people an hour will be allowed to climb the 288 steps up the Scott Monument. Photograph: Neil Hanna
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Strict crowd control measures are to be introduced at Edinburgh’s iconic Scott Monument for the first time in its history.

Only 24 people an hour will be allowed to climb the famous 174-year-old landmark in future – and must be led on a guided tour.

A major shake-up has been ordered by council officials in the wake of concerns about overcrowding on the cramped stairwells of the monument, which was built to recognise the literary contribution of the poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott.

The new measures, due to take effect in June, mean visitors will no longer need to squeeze past each other on their way up or down the 200 feet tall monument, the largest erected in honour of a writer anywhere in the world.

Visitors will be charged extra to climb the full monument, £8 rather than £5 currently, while anyone wishing to climb nearly 100 steps to the first floor only will have to pay £6.

The shake-up has been ordered after a review of the monument, described by the council as Edinburgh’s equivalent of the Eiffel Tower found it was “an under-used asset”. The council will be extending its opening hours in the summer and hiring up to 20 staff to work as guides. It will be hired out for weddings and other events for the first time, while more than £50,000 is being spent on a modern makeover of the museum on the first floor, including its first shop.

Online booking is being introduced to try to ease pressure on peak periods and limit the number of visitors who will be turned away from the monument under the new arrangements. The guides will lead visitors on a half-hour tour exploring the life and legacy of Scott, the key features of the monument, and the evolution of the city’s Old and New Towns.

The shake-up comes in the wake of what is believed to be the monument’s busiest ever year – with more than 80,000 visitors, a third more than the previous 12 months.

A council spokesman said: “The majority of reviews we receive are positive, but where we’ve experienced negative feedback it’s been about congestion in the upper levels. The biggest issue is meeting other visitors coming up and down the stairs, as there is very limited space to pass by.

“We’ll be restricting the number of visitors to the top of the monument by having maximum tour sizes of 12 visitors. And by conducting visitors from level one to the top, we will be ensuring that none pass by each other on the stairs in the upper levels.”

Donald Wilson, the council’s culture convener, said: “The Scott Monument is one of the most iconic structures in Edinburgh. A climb to the top rewards visitors with arguably the best vantage point in the whole city.

“Our plan is to provide a more engaging, interactive experience, including guided tours for the upper levels of the monument. These will allow visitors to understand the story of how the monument was built and the work of Sir Walter Scott, while also helping us manage numbers during peak times.

“The two-tiered approach will allow visitors to make a choice between climbing to the top on a guided tour, or staying on the museum floor.

“The Scott Monument is one of the few attractions we operate with an entry fee. The price of a visit is modest and will remain competitive.”

Nicholas Hotham, head of external relations at Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “We support the plan to improve the visitor experience at the Scott Monument.

“Sir Walter Scott remains a ‘towering’ figure in Scottish culture, and we applaud this plan to better explain his overall importance and contribution to the development of the nation.

“With steadily growing visitor numbers to the city each year, we believe further efforts like this will be required to ensure that the city’s incredible heritage is well cared for and that the visitor experience is an enjoyable and safe one.”