Just outside Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, on the side of a steep cliff overlooking the North Sea, is Dunnottar Castle. Once a medieval fortress, the picturesque ruins are open to the public for days, but have had no overnight visitors since the likes of Mary, Queen of Scots and her son James VI in the 16th century. Now, with the new proposals to be debated at the Scottish national party conference next weekend, Dunnottar could become one of the Scottish castles to be transformed into high-end but affordable hotels.
The plan is based on the model of Spain hostelsGovernment-run, historically significant buildings such as churches, castles and manor houses, often in areas underserved by tourism. They have existed in Spain since 1928 and include emblematic sites such as Parador of Santiago de Compostela, which was born in 1499 as a hospital for pilgrims who traveled to Santiago and is considered the oldest hotel in the world. Currently, Spain has about 100 paradores, including fortresses, convents, monasteries and even a former prison and asylum. In 2019, they generated a billing of 261 million euros (230 million pounds) for the country’s economy.
Fergus Mutch, former head of research and press for the SNP in Holyrood and now the party’s MSP candidate in Aberdeenshire West, was among a group of members who wrote the proposals as part of a 24-point Rural Stimulus Plan drawn up on Zoom. during the first coronavirus lockdown.
“We were thinking about the needs of rural Scotland and what would help attract tourism and pump money into the local economy,” says Mutch. “Someone brought up the idea of paradors and it seemed like a really cool and fascinating way to make the most of our built heritage: monasteries, castles, ruins in the hills that could be turned into high-class hotels, that would generate income, would bring in tourists , create jobs and preserve that heritage for the nation ”.
Aberdeenshire alone has more castles per square mile than any other region in the UK.
It is also home to ancient buildings such as the 17th century country house Leith Hall, which Mutch says would be a good candidate for a hostel.
“It was handed over to the National Trust for Scotland and supported by a group of local friends and local volunteers, but there have been questions about its reopening after the pandemic and that seems like a real shame,” he explains. “This and other sites like it rely heavily on volunteers who run tours, run gift shops and tea rooms, and that’s great, but it won’t sustain them for another 100 years. We have to seriously analyze the options that exist ”.
The National Trust for Scotland announced in May that it faced a black hole in funding as a result of the pandemic, with the charity. predicting a £ 28 million shortfall this year. Scottish government support and an emergency appeal have since raising around £ 7 million But, says Mutch, the situation highlights the need for new ideas on how to sustainably protect the nation’s heritage and generate income.
Brian McGarrigle of the Scottish Castles Association (SCA) emphasizes that these are only proposals, but says the SCA “would appreciate [them] case by case”.
“We have always assumed the position that for a building to have a future it must have a use, there must be an economic return,” he adds. But the parador scheme would be an ambitious undertaking, requiring large-scale state backing to be successful, he says.
“If granted, the cost of meeting listed status could be prohibitive unless there is national funding, as there is in Spain,” says McGarrigle. “We may be looking for public-private partnerships, which can be controversial.”
For Mutch, who is confident the plan will be approved at the next SNP conference, the operational details can be worked out in the coming months. “There is immediate recovery from the coronavirus and an election to pass first, but it is something that I am eager to continue talking about and making a reality,” he says. “I think seeing the first of these inns in Scotland in the next few years is a reasonable goal.”
Scottish Labor spokesperson for culture, tourism and foreign affairs, Claire Baker MSP, has received the proposal with caution. “Too many of Scotland’s historic buildings have lacked the investment, care and attention they need to survive and thrive,” he says.
Although hotel closings during recent closings should remind us that the sources of income in this sector are by no means guaranteed, this proposal could create jobs and generate revenue for the public purse that could be used to maintain these sites for the public good. However, it is vital that we ensure affordable public access to our historic buildings. “
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