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 spring 2024, we have been able to reopen or increase access at over 50 sites involved in this programme. Now, over 90% of the sites we care for around our estate have visitor access.

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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

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2 Our Progress

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Our high level masonry project has progressed well and the initial inspections are nearing completion, but the work continues. Now, our team is moving on to inspect all structures above 1.4 meters at our properties in care. The good news is that in the future, most sites won’t need to be closed for inspections. Since beginning the programme, we’ve inspected 67 sites and reopened 51, with more to reopen in summer 2024. Take a look at a list of sites with restored access.

We’re now inspecting the final group of prioritised sites. To ensure we are undertaking this work as quickly as possible, we have scheduled inspections throughout the winter months. Instead of anticipating poor weather and building in a break from the outdoor inspections, our team will continue to work where they can and only stop in the event of weather that makes 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 at sites where access restrictions remain in place. 

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 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.

A worker in orange overalls and a hard hat inspects a rooftop at Edinburgh Castle using ropes and a harness.

Moving Forward

Our High-Level Masonry Engagement Coordinator, Chloe Woodsford, takes a look behind the scenes at the work taking place to get sites ready for visitors in 2024.

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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: 14 May 2024

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.

Abbot's House, Arbroath Grounds access only
Aberdour Castle Full access
Arbroath Abbey  Grounds and visitor centre (including exhibition) open only
Blackfriars Chapel Full access
Bonawe Historic Iron Furnace Some access restrictions still in place
Bothwell Castle Some access restricitons remain in place to the Donjon Tower and Great Hall
Burleigh Castle Full access
Caerlaverock Castle No visitor access to the West range, outer stair, North West and East towers
Carsluith Castle Grounds accessible
Castle Campbell Full access
Castle Sween Full access
Craigmillar Castle  Some minor access restrictions still in place
Crichton Castle Grounds accessible
Cross Kirk, Peebles Access restrictions around the tower
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
Culross Abbey No access to the upper gallery
Dirleton Castle Access restrictions to the Guard House, South entrance, De Vaux Tower and Ruthven Range
Doune Castle One minor access restrictions in place (non-HLM)
Dryburgh Abbey Full access
Dumbarton Castle Minor restrictions in place (non-HLM related)
Dundonald Castle Some restrictions still in place
Dundrennan Abbey Some restrictions still in place
Dunfermline Abbey Nether Yett Full access
Elcho Castle Full access
Glenluce Abbey Museum and part of grounds opened only
Greenknowe Tower Grounds accessible
Hailes Castle Grounds accessible
Holyrood Abbey Full access
Inchcolm Abbey One minor restriction to the South Transept remains in place
Inchmahome Priory Full access
Inverlochy Castle Some of the grounds are accessible, but no access to the castle.
Jedburgh Abbey Grounds, visitor centre and shop are open
Linlithgow Palace No access to the King's Bed Chamber, Court Kitchen or the North Range
Loch Doon Castle Full access
Lochleven Castle Full access
Lochranza Castle Full access
MacLellan's Castle Grounds and shop opened only
Maison Dieu Chapel, Brechin Full access
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
Morton Castle Full access
Pierowall Church Full access
Rothesay Castle Full access
St Andrews Castle No access to foretower 
St Andrews Cathedral Access to museum, St Rules Tower and partial external access 
St Anthony's Chapel Full access
St Bridget's Kirk Inglis Aisle opened on weekends by Keykeeper
St Magnus Church, Egilsay One restriction to the interior of the tower
St Ninian's Chapel Full access
Stirling Old Bridge Some minor access restrictions still in place
Sweetheart Abbey Cloister open only
Tantallon Castle Some minor restrictions in place at the doocot and the east tower.
Trinity House  Open for special events only
Westside Church, Tuquoy Full access
Whithorn Priory Temporary restrictions in place to the internal crypt and Lady Chapel areas (non-HLM)
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: 14 May 2024