About Us

Conservation works happening at our sites

Caring for our heritage in Scotland’s changing climate

A man with a white beard, wearing a HES safety helmet and high visibility jacket stand on a high platform at the top of Linlithgow Palace. In the background we wee a lake and the local area.

1 Inspections Programme

In April 2022, we announced that we had started our nationwide programme to inspect around 70 of the historic properties we care for. Our specialist teams have been out and about at the affected sites all over Scotland, surveying the high areas of these monuments and checking the stonework by hand.

By the end of the first year of inspections, we had been able to restore access at more than 30 of the 70 sites involved in this programme.

The background

We care for over 300 historic properties across Scotland, each with their own unique characteristics and distinct set of conservation needs and pressures.

Our climate is changing, and with it bringing new challenges for the conservation of these landmarks we hold dear. We’ve seen an increase in deterioration of stonework and falling masonry at some of our sites, presenting potential risks for our visitors, staff, and the sites themselves.

While climate change isn’t the only reason for this, it has been a key factor in reassessing how we manage our properties. That’s why we’ve taken the proactive step to address this accelerated decay and manage the consequences of deterioration.

To do this, we’ve had to put safety restrictions in place at affected sites and limit visitor access. The restrictions that are in place our sites are precautionary in nature. They’re in place for the safety of our staff and visitors while we establish the condition of the sites.

Inspections are progressing well and on schedule. Some sites that we have inspected have needed relatively little work to make them accessible again, however, others will require a lot more work before we can restore access.

Male inspector wearing white safety helm and high-vis vest stands with Holyrood Abbey in the background on a sunny day

Inspections explained

Take a look behind the scenes at the biggest challenge facing Scotland's historic buildings

Find out more

2 Our Progress

Our high level masonry project has progressed well, and we have now completed the first phase of prioritised inspections. As a result, we’ve been able to reopen a number of sites including Dundonald Castle, Doune Castle and Inchcolm Abbey, and increase visitor access at others, such as St Andrews Cathedral. Across our estate, there is full or partial access to nearly 80 per cent of our year round properties.

We’re now inspecting the next group of prioritised sites. To ensure we are undertaking this work as quickly as possible, we scheduled inspections throughout the winter months in a change to our initial programme. Instead of anticipating poor weather and building in a break from the outdoor inspections, our team continued to work where they could and only stopped in the event of weather that made it unsafe to work.

While we continue to carry out inspections, we have looked at how we can find new and different ways of telling the stories of the sites where we’ve had to keep access restrictions in place for now. This includes creating more interpretative signage at sites, as well as exploring the use of innovative technology like 3D modelling and new audio tours, videos and trails to offer alternative visitor experiences.

A man with white hair and wearing black sunglasses and a light blue jumper holds his phone up to a QR code on a board of various images of Linlithgow Palace.

Fencing lessons

Take a behind-the-scenes look at our work to add interpretation to sites affected by our high level masonry inspections

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What happens next

Some inspections and associated repairs, for example repairs to slates and lightening conductors, de-vegetation to remove invasive weeds and bedding of high-level stones, have been completed where possible to enable sites to at least partially reopen.

Once we’ve carried out inspections at each of the affected sites, we’ll have a better idea of the extent of the challenge facing us and will be able to make informed decisions about which works to prioritise and the resources required to carry out more involved conservation works. 

It’s important to remember that Scotland isn’t alone in facing these threats to nationally important historic buildings – this is a global issue. We want our proactive response to the challenges of maintaining our historic monuments to be a source of learning and inspiration for heritage organisations worldwide.

On the next page, you will find a list of all sites involved with our inspections programme. If you'd like to learn more about about the inspections you can read our blog explaining the project linked below, along with our History Awaits! page, which has more information about what's open and what's on.

Progress update

Our Director of Operations, Craig Mearns, gives us an update on the progress of our high-level masonry inspections

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3 Sites involved

The following is a list of sites undergoing inspections and where full access restrictions are in place:

Find out more about our inspection programme

Last updated: 8 August 2023

Two children in the grounds of Elgin Cathedral with their arms in the air

Which sites can I visit?

Many of Scotland’s most-loved visitor attractions remain open, including Edinburgh Castle, Skara Brae, Stirling Castle, Fort George, Urquhart Castle and more.

Find out more

4 Sites with access restored

The following is a list of sites where access has been restored, either fully or partially, since undergoing inspections* and repairs where necessary. Work at these sites may also be ongoing. Please visit the site pages for more information on any restrictions that might remain in place.

Aberdour Castle Minor restrictions to west ruinous wall and bed chamber
Arbroath Abbey  Grounds and visitor centre (including exhibition) open only
Blackfriars Chapel Full access
Bonawe Historic Iron Furnace Grounds accessible
Burleigh Castle Interior access 1 Apr to 30 Sept only, minor restriction in North Tower
Caerlaverock Castle Some access restrictions still in place
Carsluith Castle Grounds accessible
Castle Campbell Full access
Castle Sween Full access
Craigmillar Castle  Some access restrictions still in place
Crichton Castle Grounds accessible
Cross Kirk, Peebles Some access restrictions still in place
Crossraguel Abbey Grounds accessible
Cubbie Roo's Castle & St Mary's Chapel, Wyre Cubbie Roo's Castle and some parts of the chapel graveyard are accessible
Dirleton Castle Some access restrictions still in place
Doune Castle Some access restrictions still in place
Dryburgh Abbey Full access
Dumbarton Castle Some restrictions in place, which excludes access to the main rock peaks - the White Tower Crag and The Beak
Dundonald Castle Some minor restrictions still in place
Dundrennan Abbey Some restrictions accessing the stone store
Dunfermline Abbey Abbey nave and shop are open only
Glenluce Abbey Museum and part of grounds opened only
Greenknowe Tower Grounds accessible
Hailes Castle Grounds accessible
Holyrood Abbey Full access
Inchcolm Abbey Some access restrictions still in place
Jedburgh Abbey Grounds, visitor centre and shop are open
Linlithgow Palace Some access restrictions still in place
Lochleven Castle Full access
Lochranza Castle Castle exterior accessible
MacLellan's Castle Grounds and shop opened only
Melrose Abbey Abbey grounds, cloister and museum are open
Midhowe Chambered Cairn Visitors can view the tomb via the raised walkways. Access restrictions for much of the ground level of the cairn
Pierowall Church Graveyard accessible only
St Andrews Castle No access to foretower
St Andrews Cathedral Access to museum, St Rules Tower and partial external access 
St Anthony's Chapel (Holyrood Park) Full access
St Bridget's Kirk Inglis Aisle opened on weekends by Keykeeper
St Magnus Church, Egilsay Graveyard accessible only
St Ninian's Chapel Full access
St Serf's Church Access restored
Stirling Old Bridge Some access restrictions still in place
Sweetheart Abbey Cloister open only
Tantallon Castle Some restrictions in place, which excludes access to the Great Hall, Pit Prison and Gun Room
Trinity House  Open for special events only
Westside Church, Tuquoy Graveyard accessible only
Whithorn Priory Temporary restrictions in place to the internal crypt and Lady Chapel areas
Explore all Historic Environment Scotland sites

* If you would like to know more about work already undertaken, we have published our high level masonry inspection reports that have been completed so far.

Last Updated: 8 August 2023