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Showcasing Scotland's past

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A sight to behold Urquhart Castle
A sight to behold Urquhart Castle

How does Scotland manage to promote its heritage so well?

Abbeys such as Melrose and Iona that are steeped in serenity, castles such as Edinburgh and Urquhart that seem to echo with the sound of mailed feet, palaces such as Linlithgow and Holyrood that speak of splendour and intrigues.

Add to these the limpid sheets of its blue lochs, the beauty of its highlands and its fens. And you have a country that attracts tourists by the million.

Cheerful guides and neat information boards greet you everywhere. Have a doubt? You only have to step into the compact office on the site — and, before you can say “Nessie” (the tantalising Loch Ness monster), it is addressed.

Making the effort

This is a country that is proud of its 5,000-year-old history. It makes a considerable effort to conserve almost everything relating to the past, and also turn it into a profitable undertaking (remember they are the purse-conscious Scots!).

Historic Scotland, an agency of the Scottish Government, was created in 1991. “As well as being Scotland's leading heritage tourism operator, it has a statutory role in the planning process for historic buildings and scheduled monuments, and advises ministers on policy,” says Doreen Grove, Head of Understanding and Access, Historic Scotland, Properties in Care.

Through telephonic interview and e-mail, she explains the work of the organisation that can impart lessons on heritage maintenance. Incidentally, she is the only one in the organisation who has visited all the 345 monuments under its care, some of which are remotely located.

“We attract three million visitors a year,” says Grove. “Edinburgh Castle accounts for 1.2 million of these, with the busiest days attracting 7,000 to 8,000 visitors. The most popular destinations are Edinburgh, Stirling and Urquhart castles. A total of 25 million pounds is generated through tourism.”

Guides are chosen depending on their understanding, and interest in history and heritage. Voluntary rangers, and occasional student volunteers supplement the work force. Not surprisingly, summer is the main tourism season and seasonal staff is hired to deal with the influx.

How does it maintain the buildings so well, I ask? “We have a professional work force, including specialists in housework teams, who apply the conservation policies and philosophy of the Agency to our properties in care,” replies Grove.

Reaching out

The organisation makes efforts to involve the public in its activities by doing a “great deal of outreach with them. It tries increasingly to work with local initiatives, particularly in heritage tourism and education. “We work hard to pass on an understanding of Scottish history to a wide variety of audiences — both Scottish and International — and of all ages and levels of interests,” she explains. “This is done in a variety of ways: publications, site-based interpretation, education, craft skills training and outreach programmes for interest groups and specialist societies. Also by working with universities and sister organisations on projects that promote an understanding of Scottish history, including the media.” Seventy eight sites are operated as visitor attractions, with staff on site to interact with visitors.

Visitors' services

And, how much is spent on preservation and restoration? “We do very little restoration. But, we invest around five million pounds a year on improvements for our visitors. Much of this is in interpretation or visitors' services that do not have a direct impact on our properties but improves visitors' understanding of them,” she replies.

“At the moment we are working towards the completion of a multi-million-pound project to represent the 16th Century palace within Stirling Castle as it would have been in the time of its builder James V.”

The Government treats heritage maintenance as high priority. “We work hard to promote historic awareness — both private owners and big interest groups such as Historic Houses, National Trust for Scotland, Historic Scotland and local authorities are involved in the exercise. Members of our Friends of Historic Scotland in Scotland, England and elsewhere donate funds. And, they get free entry to our sites.”

And, does the organisation lend expertise to other countries? “Yes, we do give advice and expertise to other countries. Our technical conservation group is at present engaged in doing digital survey of world heritage sites, including in India,” concludes Grove.

Photo Courtesy: © Crown Copyright reproduced courtesy of Historic Scotland. www.historicscotlandimages.gov.uk

KAUSALYA SANTHANAM

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