SOME of Scotland's most popular historic sites remain closed to the public over two years after access restrictions were put in place due to fears of falling masonry, it can be revealed.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) announced on 7 June 2021 that access would be closed or restricted at 19 properties due to "a potential safety risk to visitors and staff from unstable masonry at high level".

Sites pivotal to Scotland's history including Arbroath Abbey, Linlithgow Palace and Caerlaverock Castle were among iconic locations visitors were unable to visit or enjoy full access.

Others included historic Doune Castle in Perthshire and Culross Abbey in Fife, both popular with fans of hit TV series Outlander.

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Now, over two years on, it can be revealed that none of these sites has reopened to the public in its entirety.

Of the 19 sites listed in June 2021 as part of HES' "high-level masonry programme" four - Bothwell Castle, Kelso Abbey, Maybole Collegiate Church and Rothesay Castle - remain completely closed.

The Herald: Arbroath Abbey (pictured) is currently closed for repairsArbroath Abbey (pictured) is currently closed for repairs (Image: Newsquest)

Visitors to a further three can only access external grounds, while the remaining 12 have "increased access" in the past two years - including Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, which reopened at the weekend but still has some restricted access in place.

Announcing restrictions to the 19 sites in June 2021, HES said: "Planned inspections recently carried out at some of our properties identified a potential safety risk to visitors and staff from unstable masonry at high level.

"We have therefore taken the decision to close or partially close some sites as a precautionary measure until inspections can take place."

The list was later expanded to include several other historic locations.

Meanwhile, over 200 sites with masonry over 1.4m high were earmarked for a programme of tactile inspections due to the effects of climate change and other factors.

READ MORE: Visitors told to put down phones to appreciate sensory experience of historic sites

HES said that from over 300 properties in its care, a total of 37 currently have full access restrictions for a variety of reasons, nine of which are closed for "operational reasons" including routine conservation works, and 28 are part of the high-level masonry programme.

Of these 28 sites, 21 are awaiting their inspections.

At the remaining seven sites, inspections have been carried out and HES is either assessing the results or programming repairs.

The Herald: Dirleton Castle in North Berwick is due to re-open soonDirleton Castle in North Berwick is due to re-open soon (Image: Agency)

They said there are a further 41 sites with partial access restrictions in place.

At 16 of these sites, access is to the exterior only.

At the other sites, access varies and there are sites where there are only "very minor restrictions in place".

Two sites have partial restrictions due to requiring conservation work unrelated to the high-level masonry programme.

HES said there are plans to increase access at 13 further sites "in the coming weeks".

It is thought HES has suffered a substantial drop in revenue though lost admission charges due to closures, but a spokesman said: "Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is not possible to estimate loss of revenue due to restricted access for repair, conservation, or the high-level masonry programme.

"Sites have continued to operate with partial access whenever possible, and several of the sites with fully restricted access are not ticketed, meaning their closure did not have an impact on revenue."

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The spokesman also confirmed there have been no job losses as a result of closures, adding: "Staff who would normally work on sites which are closed have been re-deployed to other sites or areas and Historic Environment Scotland operate a no-compulsory redundancies policy."

The Herald: Linlithgow Palace finally opened again at the weekend, with minor restrictions on visitingLinlithgow Palace finally opened again at the weekend, with minor restrictions on visiting (Image: Newsquest)

Meanwhile, ongoing access restrictions have hit some local economies dependent on the tourists their historic sites attract.

Carol Anne Tweedie, of the Gullane and Dirleton Historical Society, in East Lothian, said there had been a sharp decline in visitor numbers due to access restrictions to Dirleton Castle.

She said: "It is a huge disappointment for the village. I absolutely despair if this is to be the fourth summer without a castle for Dirleton's residents."

Garry Clark, East of Scotland Development Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, warned the impact of recent closures had taken a "significant toll".