TAKING centre stage over the dizzy heights of Princes Street, Edinburgh Castle looks just as it always has. An iconic building – one of the world’s finest – with a history and presence treasured by locals and tourists alike.
But over the last year, goings-on inside the attraction have been far from standing still.
In fact, there has been something of an overhaul to rid the Castle of the “dry and dusty” image many associate with it – a place of pomp and circumstance thought only truly relevant to foreign visitors and high-up military personnel.
“People are proud of it and like having it, but many will say they have never been inside since they were at school,” says Nick Finnigan, the Castle’s executive manager.
“Some people also see it just as a tourist attraction, or only for the military.”
One year into his role, Nick has spearheaded many of the recent changes at the Castle, helping to bring big names to the attraction – including the likes of former Oasis star Noel Gallagher and X Factor pin-up Olly Murs, who will both perform this summer – and inject a little oomph into its appeal.
The results? They speak for themselves, with visitor numbers higher than ever and optimism growing steadily – but cautiously – among Nick and his team of Historic Scotland employees, who believe they have only just scratched the surface of what could be achieved.
So what has Nick been up to? Apart from continuing to turn the Castle into an established outdoor music venue – with a 9000-seat capacity – he has helped to bring its history alive through performances and re-enactments featuring key figures from the Castle’s past.
Instead of a family merely plodding around the Castle, learning solely about its history through maps or guides, visitors can now expect to see the likes of Mary, Queen of Scots springing up, talking about what life was like when she was a resident there, including what make-up she wore.
“The living history performances are very popular,” says Edinburgh-raised Nick, 57, from Barntongate. “People tend to want to read up more about the topics when they get home and then they want to come back.
“Quite often, parents will tell us the events have made their children’s holiday. If I had seen some of the performances I see now as a child, I would have been more interested.”
But nobody could deny his interest in the Castle now. Nick brims with enthusiasm as he talks about welcoming visitors – tourists and locals – to his workplace, explaining he feels simply “ecstatic” to have been given the opportunity to boost and alter its profile.
“I had been a bit concerned that we had a little bit of a dry and dusty image,” he says.
He too has concerned himself that some local people do not fully understand what goes on behind the doors of the Castle, much of which they could be enjoying, and is working to change that.
“The Edinburgh citizen has a very important role in the Castle and my view has not changed on that,” he says. “Many people look up and say they’re proud of it, but they’re not sure what its relevance is for them.”
The answer lies not only in discovering more about the history of their city but the present, by enjoying it as an everyday venue for weddings, afternoon tea and Christenings. “Many people are surprised to know they can Christen their child here,” he says.
“They can also propose here, get married here, have afternoon tea here and watch a show here.
“Our wedding business is actually very strong, but there is a misconception about that too. It can be more affordable than people think and can also be for weddings for fewer than ten people.”
Money has long been a sticking point with locals when it comes to the Castle. At peak season – June to September – adult tickets will set adults back £15, with children charged £8.50 and concessions £12. For some, it is simply too much.
“I have been told that tickets are quite expensive,” says Nick. “I believe it is about value for money, though, and therefore suggest people take out membership with Historic Scotland for only £7 a month.”
The membership allows people access to a host of attractions across the country, with Nick stressing that even if only one visit to the Castle was made in a year, the membership fee would be worth it.
“I’m not any different to anyone else,” he says. “I am married and have a family and look for value for money. I honestly believe there is no better value than this.”
He strongly believes that what he and his team are doing is right for the Castle and Edinburgh, helping to complement recent changes in its many attractions, including the revamp of the National Museum in Chambers Street.
Even bringing the lively reality TV stars Jedward to the Castle recently to film a CBBC show, due for broadcast soon, causes him no concern.
“I accept there was a conservative arm of the organisation who felt we should not go down this road, but I think the Castle is still an iconic place and we will not dilute that.”