St Andrews: Fears historic cathedral and castle could be closed as tourists flock to town for 150th Open

Fears have been raised that two of Scotland’s most visited tourist attractions could remain closed to the public this summer.

By Craig Smith, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Wednesday, 2nd March 2022, 4:00 pm

St Andrews Cathedral and St Andrews Castle are currently no go areas while Historic Environment Scotland (HES) carry out high level masonry inspections for public safety reasons.

But with hundreds of thousands of people due to descend on the Fife town over the coming months, many of whom will expect to be able to visit St Andrews’ historic landmarks, there are real concerns that the ongoing work could ruin their visitor experience.

With the Old Course playing host to the 150th Open Championship in July, local councillor Brian Thomson has written to HES chief executive Alex Paterson seeking clarity on whether or not the sites will re-open in time.

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“Both properties are extremely significant historic locations and attract thousands of visitors from around the world to St Andrews, and expenditure by visitors to both locations is hugely significant for the economies of St Andrews, Fife and Scotland as a whole,” he said.

“Historic Environment Scotland's (HES) website emphasises the importance of St Andrews Cathedral.

“But the ongoing and indefinite closure of both properties – apart from the visitor centre at St Andrews Castle - is causing concern amongst some residents and businesses, and may result in a drop in visitor numbers to the local area.

St Andrews Cathedral

“A large amount of gravestones are within the property, with access for families currently by arrangement only, which is inconvenient.

“Also, with the graves of many famous golfers within the property, including Tom Morris Senior and Young Tom Morris, it's another reason why many golf tourists normally visit the Cathedral.”

Concerns were expressed at the most recent meeting of St Andrews Community Council, while BID St Andrews are also worried.

“I fully appreciate that the health and safety of staff and visitors has to be absolutely paramount, however, the indefinite nature of the closure of the properties, with a lack of updates provided by HES, is unsatisfactory,” he continued.

“The closure is presenting a very poor image of St Andrews.

“Even if it's not feasible to reopen the properties any time soon, a clear timescale, and confirmation of the availability of funding to fully reopen them in due course, would be an improvement on the current slightly vague commitment to open up as much access as possible as the work progresses.”

The closures are part of HES’ programme of ‘tactile condition surveys’ on over 200 properties.

A spokesperson for HES confirmed that Mr Paterson will respond to Mr Thomson directly, but could give no further definitive answers as to if or when the historic sites will re-open.

“We will be starting surveys on the affected properties this spring on a national basis and the inspections will be prioritised according to a number of factors,” the spokesperson said.

“Once they are completed on site, we will evaluate the position and what options are open to us, and then prioritise according to the resources available.

“We are hopeful that conservation and repair will be the primary response, but we anticipate some properties will pose more significant challenges.

“Until we have a fuller picture it's hard to give a timescale.

“At St Andrews Castle, the visitor centre, toilets and exhibition remain open and free to visit.”

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