Further engagement pledge over Calanais charging plans

A £6.5m redevelopment of the visitor centre is part of the future plans.A £6.5m redevelopment of the visitor centre is part of the future plans.
A £6.5m redevelopment of the visitor centre is part of the future plans.
​Plans for managing the Calanais Stones site, which would include charging for admission, have received a generally positive response at “drop-in sessions” this week.

​Following two days of engagement events at Calanais Visitor Centre, Ian Fordham, Urras nan Tursachan Chair, said; “We are at a crucial stage in realising our ambitious plans for the redevelopment of the Centre. These two days have offered a valuable opportunity to continue our engagement with the local community.

“Plans for the project have been developed over several years and ensuring that they continue to reflect the aspirations of the community is very important to us. The process of collating written feedback gathered from those who attended is now under way and this will help inform the project as it moves forward.”

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Addressing the proposal to work with Historic Environment Scotland to charge for access to the Stones , Mr Fordham said: “The vast majority of concerns raised about charging are linked to local and out of hours access. We have received some useful feedback on practical methods for dealing with these concerns and look forward to further engagement as options are developed.”

Numbers visiting the stones are expected to increaseNumbers visiting the stones are expected to increase
Numbers visiting the stones are expected to increase

A milestone in the project was reached earlier this week when the invitation to tender for the capital work was posted on the Public Contract Scotland site. Prospective bidders are invited to submit tender returns by 17th November though progress will remain conditional on the full funding package being put together.

Both Urras nan Tursachan and Historic Environment Scotland have serious concerns that without control measures, the site will continue to be degraded through increasing footfall, which will include greatly increased numbers of cruise ship visitors.

The Stones currently attract around 150,000 people a year which is expected to rise to over 200,000. There are also advanced plans for a £6.5 million expansion of the visitor centre.

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As previously reported by the Gazette, it is not intended to charge local people for access to the site while the Trust has also committed to supporting other heritage venues in the islands from the proceeds of charging.

According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, the practicality of charging has been questioned by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids for whom Calanais is a site of significance. Philip Carr-Gomm, a former chief if the Order, was quoted as saying: “Calanais is particularly linked to the full moon, by pagans who need to visit at night throughout the year”.

ScotWays, formerly known as the Scottish Rights of Way Society, are also concerned on grounds that “HES is in danger of setting a precedent that could undermine Scotland’s hard-won access rights”, the organisation’s chief operating officer, Richard Barron, has confirmed. They will monitor developments.

However, on the Gazette’s Facebook page, a Calanais resident, Duncan Kerr posted: “The condition of the Stones is deteriorating. The peat layer was removed over 100 years and that exposure plus footfall is now actively damaging the foundations. So unfettered free access isn't an option as we humans are basically ruining the site for future generations”.