St Andrew's Day Marked With Heritage Grants And Free Entry

By Caroline Lewis | 29 November 2007
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photo of a rundown part of a garden with an arched grotto type structure in it

The Benmore Fernery has seen better days, but will soon be brimming with unusual and beautiful species. Courtesy HLF

Scotland is set to mark St Andrew’s Day (November 30) this year by celebrating the country’s heritage in a big way.

Historic Scotland will be welcoming visitors to 45 of its properties for free, while the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has announced nearly £750,000 to be put towards two historic Scottish sites. Portencross Castle and Benmore Fernery will be opened up to the public for the first time thanks to the money.

“Although our heritage stems from the past, heritage projects are about the future, using the past to create new tourist attractions, new jobs, new investment, new source of learning, new experiences, new friendships, and a new sense of pride,” said Colin McLean, HLF’s Manager for Scotland.

“What better way to celebrate St Andrew’s Day than to save two very different aspects of our Scottish heritage so that generations to come have access to learn from and enjoy these links to the lives of our ancestors.”

Portencross Castle, on a rock promontory overlooking the Clyde, is a 14th century stronghold linked to the Scottish royal family, the House of Stewart. A grant of £510,000 has been allocated to bring the building back from the brink of collapse and open it to the public, who voted in their thousands for its preservation in the 2004 BBC series Restoration.

It is though the castle was originally constructed as a hall house, and although not a permanent royal residence it did have an important place in the life of Robert Stewart (Robert II). Robert, nephew of David II and the first Stewart king, played a crucial role in the recovery of the castles on the Clyde coast and in South Scotland (from supporters of English rule) before becoming king in 1371 when David died childless.

He frequented Portencross often, and it is likely that the 15 Acts he made during his reign (until 1390) were signed there.

photo of a coastline with a neolithic barrows and stone tombs

Skara Brae © Historic Scotland

Over three centuries later, the roof of the building blew off in a violent storm and it was abandoned in 1739. In the 21st century, the HLF grant will enable the Friends of Portencross Castle to install a roof on the main hall and wing where vaulted ceilings are still intact, and repair existing stonework. After access paths are made safe and electricity installed, visitors will be able to return to Portencross, and two apprentices will be trained on the 18-month conservation job.

In addition, the castle’s historical and archaeological connections to the Spanish Armada will be researched. In 1740, a cannon was retrieved from a wreck somewhere close to Portencross and remains at the castle. The vessel is thought to have been a member of the 16th century fleet that attempted to invade England.

The Benmore Fernery at Benmore Botanic Garden near Dunoon, was built at the height of the Victorian craze for fern collecting by the then estate owner James Duncan, a Greenock sugar refiner. It is one of only two in Scotland, the other being at Ascog on the Isle of Bute.

The huge fern garden, measuring over 142 metres square, will be restored by staff from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh thanks to the HLF’s grant of £236,500. Nested in a shaded cleft in the hillside, it will be landscaped inside and out with a range of native and exotic ferns, including the rare and protected British Killarney fern.

Once open to the general public, the fernery will host a range of educational activities and offer training opportunities.

Already open to the public are castles, cathedrals and abbeys, forts and prehistoric sites in the care of Historic Scotland. On November 30 2007, those where entrance fees will be waived include Bronze Age sites Skara Brae and Maeshowe in Orkney, stunning Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness and Melrose Abbey, burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart.

For a full list of Historic Scotland properties you can visit for free on November 30, see www.historic-scotland.gov.uk.

“Scotland is a nation which is rich in culture and outstanding beauty,” said First Minister Alex Salmond, “with an outstanding array of attractions. I am delighted that admission charges will be removed on Historic Scotland properties across Scotland on our national day so that we can all make the most of St Andrew’s Day by celebrating and enjoying Scotland’s wonderful culture and heritage.”

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