Visitor numbers to Scottish castles booming due to '˜Outlander effect'

ON the small screen, it plays the part of the imposing Ardsmuir prison, where Jamie Fraser is held with his Highland Jacobite counterparts by the British Army, under the control of the dastardly Lord John Grey.

Friday, 6th October 2017, 1:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:38 pm
Craigmillar Castle. Picture: TSPL

But now, the “Outlander effect” means Craigmillar Castle is offering an escape for thousands of visitors to the city as heritage bosses revealed a 42-per-cent increase in footfall over the past year as part of a record-breaking summer for historical sites across the Lothians.

The 14th century fortress - which can count Mary Queen of Scots among its past guests - welcomed more than 20,000 visitors between April and September this year, up more than 6,000 on the same period in 2016.

The increase marked a hugely successful summer season for Historic Environment Scotland (HES), with August 2017 becoming the busiest individual month ever recorded as 870,000 people flocked to Scotland’s iconic sites.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Filming Outlander at Craigmillar Castle. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Edinburgh Castle retained its position as the top site under HES control, celebrating a similarly record-breaking year by welcoming more than 1.4m visitors in the six month period between April and September, a rise of more than 200,000.

Crichton Castle in Midlothian has also recorded its busiest ever season, welcoming 4,076 visitors over the course of the summer.

Heritage chiefs revealed they were delighted with the figures, hailing the summer season as “spectacular”.

Alex Paterson, chief executive of HES, said: “This year’s summer season has surpassed our previous visitor records, as we welcomed over 3.8 million visitors to our historic sites across the country – an excellent 20-per-cent increase on last season’s showing.”

Filming Outlander at Craigmillar Castle. Picture: Ian Georgeson

“It is fitting that we celebrate this success on Heritage Awareness Day, the first-ever national celebration of heritage and the contribution it makes to communities across the country.”

He continued: “We’ve responded to the increasing interest in Scotland’s historic environment by extending opening at seasonal sites across the country throughout October, giving people further opportunity to explore the wealth of history that Scotland has to offer and to uncover the hidden historical gems on their doorstep during the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

“From Edinburgh Castle to Skara Brae, historic sites across Scotland are continuing to draw record numbers of visitors, which is further demonstration of the value of Scotland’s historic places within the country’s wider tourism offering.”

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, paid tribute to HES for its banner year, adding: “Congratulations to Historic Environment Scotland. As today’s numbers confirm, Scotland’s historic environment is acting more and more as a magnet for tourists, attracting millions of people from far and wide each year to our world class attractions.

“I am particularly pleased to be announcing this success as we celebrate the first-ever Heritage Awareness Day and as we approach the end of this Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

“The year has contributed to further enhancing the international profile of Scotland’s intriguing history, impressive cultural heritage and fascinating archaeology.”

Across Scotland, other locations making a cameo appearance in Outlander found their visitor numbers experiencing a rapid rise.

Doune Castle, near Stirling, welcomed a 50-per-cent increase in footfall after appearing in the series as the fictional “Castle Leoch,” and was also used as the frontage for the Northern fortress of Winterfell in Game of Thrones.

Similarly, Glasgow Cathedral – which served as the backdrop for the fictional L’Hôpital des Anges – saw a 39-per-cent increase, while the 12th century Aberdour Castle – seen in Outlander as a monastery – hit a 43-per-cent increase.

Season three of the series hit UK screens in early September, with viewers able to tune in for the season finale on October 22.