As Scotland prepares for its Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology in 2017, Debbie Ward finds out what visitors can expect.
Scotland will be showcasing its history, heritage and archaeology in 2017 as it continues with a series of themed years.
It’s a way of “rallying Scotland around a common theme and shining a spotlight on some of its greatest assets and hidden gems”, says VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead.
The innovation started with an ancestory-themed homecoming year in 2009, which saw an additional £136 million generated for Scotland over the course of the year. Last year’s theme of food and drink saw almost £1 billion spent in this sector across the country – the highest amount ever recorded.
Many businesses developed new product to tie in with 2016’s theme of innovation, architecture and design. There have been branded promotions and competitions and coverage in the likes of Vogue, The New York Times and Conde Nast Traveller.
Looking to next year, the 2017 heritage theme will not only cover Scotland’s familiar tangible tourist draws such as its ancient castles, Neolithic monuments and standing stones, but will also embrace myths and storytelling, Scottish clans and whisky.
While these aspects of the destination are already well known around the world, Roughead says the themed year will add a new spin: “Iconic landmarks, sites, attractions and events will continue to be essential to capturing the attention of visitors and locals, but we will seek to engage Scots and visitors alike in taking in new and less well-known experiences and the odd hidden gem along the way too.”
History, heritage and archaeology year won’t formally launch until December, when announcements will be made about tie-in occasions, including eight to 12 new signature events.
“Scotland already hosts an exciting annual events programme which showcases our history and heritage – from Celtic Connections to the Royal Highland Show, The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival to the Scottish International Storytelling Festival,” points out Roughead.
The themed year also ties in neatly with several 2017 anniversaries. It will be the 250th anniversary of Edinburgh’s town plan, which created the city’s New Town – now Unesco-listed – and the 20th anniversary of Scotland’s Crannog Centre, which reconstructs the lives of ancient loch dwellers in Perthshire. Next year also marks 70 years of the Edinburgh Festival – the largest arts festival in Europe.
In terms of attractions, archaeological sites, stately homes, religious sites and ancient history trails will be highlighted, although the tourist board hopes to push visitors beyond the key honeypots of Edinburgh and the Highlands.
Scotland’s biggest overseas markets are France, Germany, North America and Canada, and closer to home the north of England. Though no single market is being prioritised, it is expected that the interest in genealogy in North America may mean the year prompts more US citizens to make a trip tracing their ancestral heritage.
Visit Scotland stresses the themed years are not only about boosting arrivals figures but also improving the perception of the destination and gaining media coverage that will have a longer effect.
“We focus our evaluation on five main objectives for the year, including promotion, celebration, collaboration, participation and business engagement,” explains Roughead.
“These are measured through a variety of methods, including attendance at events, reach of the promotional message and number of partners engaged in the year.”
Attractions and events to be spotlighted during the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology include:
Scotland’s Castle Trail
This suggested touring route through Aberdeenshire links some of the region’s 300 castles, stately homes and historic ruins, including some that have been converted into luxury hotels. Other noteworthy landmarks include Dunvegan – the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland – on the Isle of Skye.
Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition, June 23 – November 12, 2017
Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland will host this major new exhibition, which depicts the real story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the rise and fall of the Jacobites, with historic treasures from across the UK and France.
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, August 2017
This annual event with parades of international massed bands playing drums and bagpipes has a colourful theme for 2017 – Splash of Tartan. It takes place at Edinburgh castle – perched on an extinct volcano above the city – and ends with a firework display.
Festival of Museums, May 19-21 2017, across Scotland
A packed programme of activities for children and adults takes place at museums across Scotland over one big weekend.
The Forth Bridge
This spectacular cantilever railway bridge (above) over the Firth of Forth is an icon of Scotland. It was opened in 1890 and is Unesco-listed. Another bridge, Queensferry Crossing, will open near the site in May 2017. Whisky distilleries The first written mention of Scotch whisky was in 1495 and commercial distilleries have been producing it since the late 18th century. Many distilleries are open for tours and tastings, including the oldest continuously operating one, Strathisla, in the Highlands. The tipple is also celebrated at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.
Dig it! 2017, across Scotland
Throughout the year, this celebration of archaeology offers hands-on digging activities, artefact handling, open days, walks, seminars, performances, and even ghost tours. Among permanent geological attractions, the Northwest Highlands Geopark contains some of the oldest rocks in Britain in a beautiful setting.
Celtic Connections, January 19 – February 5, 2017, Glasgow
This is the largest annual winter music festival of its kind, with 2,100 artists and 300 events at more than 20 venues in the city. Visitors can watch performances and learn to play instruments themselves at workshops. Smaller music events include the Hebridean Celtic Festival on the islands and the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival in the Highlands.
Burns Night, January 25, and Burns an’ a’ that! Festival, May
The legacy of Scotland’s poet Robert Burns is celebrated throughout the country on the annual Burns Night (January 25) with feasting and an “address” in his words to the national dish of haggis. The Burns Big Birthday Bash festival takes place at his birthplace in Alloway, Ayrshire, and there’s more large-scale fun at the Big Burns Supper in Dumfries. Traditional and contemporary culture from music to theatre is showcased at the Burns an’ a’ that! Festival during May.