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.
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 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.
The two attractions will close from 26 September, with staff being redeployed to other duties on Orkney.
There will be no job losses, and staff will receive full support from the organisation during the closure period.
The site will not reopen until the safety issues have been addressed.
“This is not a decision we take lightly, but our primary focus must be the safety of our staff and visitor,” said Dr David Mitchell, director of conservation and acting chief executive of HES.
“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 re-assess 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: “Staff are being temporarily redeployed to other duties, and we are looking at routes to enhance our normal offer over the winter period.
“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.”