Scotland is filled with great historical sites. Many of these have been seen in countless films and television series. In the summer of 2016 I visited one of these famous sites just outside Stirling, Scotland, Doune Castle. The site was featured in one of my favorite Monty Python films, The Holy Grail, and recently has represented the fictional Castle Leoch in the Outlander series on Starz.
The castle is mostly intact and has a great view of the surrounding area, as is the purpose of such a stronghold. At least it wasn’t built in a swamp. The grounds are very nice and the facilities are very informative. Great narration at points of interest by both Terry Jones and Sam Heughan are featured. It’s a short bus trip from Stirling if you are doing public transit.
Stephan Duncan at Commercial and Tourism at Historic Environment Scotland agreed to an interview on the site.
Interview With Stephen Duncan, Director of Commercial and Tourism at Historic Environment Scotland.
How long has this historic site been in operation and how did it get its start?
Dating back to the 1300s, Doune Castle near Stirling has a long history as a fortification. It was taken into our care in 1984 and has been managed as a popular visitor attraction since.
Due to some recent film work and television series, some of the historic sites have seen a huge increase in visits. How has this been beneficial and challenging to the heritage site?
Doune Castle has starred in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Game of Thrones, however, it’s most famed for its role as the fictional Castle Leoch in the hit historical time-travelling TV series Outlander. The centuries old stronghold is still feeling the ‘Outlander effect’; last year alone 90,279 people explored the 1300s castle and filming location for themselves. An increase of 32% compared with the same period in 2015.
Blackness Castle has also benefited from its cameo in the series as the stand in for Fort William. Visitor numbers at the 15th century, Firth of Forth fortress are also up by 39% to 30,053. The coastal attraction is often referred to as ‘the ship that never sailed’ due to its boat like shape.
As well as providing a real insight into the country’s shared past and history, Scotland’s cultural heritage assets have a key role and hold significant potential in helping to support and drive economic development. This potential is illustrated in the contemporary relevance that Scotland’s historic places, such as Doune Castle, have today and how they continue to engage new and larger audiences.
With revenue increase, will you be able to expand upon some projects for the site?
Revenue generated across our estate by commercially-led activity is reinvested in Scotland’s wider historic environment. At Doune Castle we’re strengthening the overall visitor experience, with continued investment that will bring added benefits to our individual visitor and group markets, whilst our plans to expand our retail space and offering will also see the creation of new local job opportunities.
The castle is also amongst a number of heritage sites within our care throughout Scotland that is set to benefit from a £6.6 million Scottish Government investment to support conservation work and repairs.
What is the biggest challenge that you have in running a site like this?
By their nature historic buildings can often present challenges and require specialist expertise to ensure their safeguarding for the benefit of future generations. As one of our top ten ticketed visitor attractions in our portfolio of properties, Doune Castle has seen a significant surge in visitor numbers over a relatively short period of time. This growing popularity brings with it new challenges that we factor in to our day-to-day running of the site such as our visitor management infrastructure and how we can work to enhance the overall experience of our visitors that they’d expect from a top attraction.
Do you have interpreters and reenactments at your site and what is involved in running some of these programs?
Whilst the site is not staffed with period costume performers and historic re-enactors, we continually assess and evaluate our visitor experience at all of our staffed sites. At Doune Castle our refreshed and improved audio guides which feature commentary from the famous faces behind Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Outlander, offer visitors an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of those associated with castle’s story throughout the centuries.
Does your site have exhibits or host special exhibits on occasion?
Interpretation at the site allows visitors to gain a real understanding of the story of Doune Castle and its past. It is amongst 25 historic sites spread across the length and breadth of the country to be included in the recently launched joint campaign with National Museums Scotland, Royal Collection Trust and The National Trust for Scotland, with match-funding from VisitScotland. Primed to capitalise on a surge in interest around Bonnie Prince Charlie, catalysed by Outlander, On the Trail of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, a digital-led campaign which focusses on highlighting sites that share links with this iconic character from Scotland’s past.
If you get hired by a film company, how do you manage the site and what gets changed around? Because it is heritage, things must be maintained and safe, how do the film companies work around it?
We manage over 300 historic sites across the country, which together represent 5,000 years of history. Centuries old castles, abbeys, palaces and other historic sites provide unique filming locations throughout Scotland. Filming companies are required to adhere to our requirements surrounding the protection of the monument first. If this is achievable we work closely with filming and production companies to ensure we can meet their requirements whilst taking into account the considerations of working within a historic building and a scheduled monument, and at times a busy visitor attraction depending on the type of filming.