Heritage: Historic Scotland versus National Trust for Scotland

When I think of Scotland, I have visions of ancient castles and historic battlefields set against a background of picturesque lochs and mountains. I make a point of visiting Scotland at least once a year, being drawn back by its great heritage and scenery.

Caerlaverock Castle
Historic Scotland – Caerlaverock Castle

Heritage is very important for Scotland, both culturally and with respect to its economy – tourism generates about £10 billion per annum. Hence the importance of maintaining Scotland’s many and varied heritage sites.

The two organisations tasked with this are Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland. These are the Scottish equivalents of, respectively, English Heritage and the National Trust in England, with many aspects in common.

A previous post on this website English Heritage versus National Trust – Which to Join? considered the pros and cons of joining one or the other of these organisations, and many of the same points apply to their Scottish equivalents.

New Abbey Corn Mill
Historic Scotland – New Abbey Corn Mill

Historic Scotland

Historic Scotland (or Historic Environment Scotland as it is now known) is a Scottish government agency that manages about 360 sites, with a quarter having entry charges. As is the case with English Heritage, many of the properties are ruins, monuments or tracts of land.

However, Historic Scotland does have some very notable properties that are intact, including Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle.

Historic Scotland has over 100 castles in its inventory, but relatively few gardens.

Most Historic Scotland properties are open throughout the year, unlike the National Trust for Scotland or English heritage properties, many of which are closed between November and March.

Linlithgow Palace
Historic Scotland – Linlithgow Palace

Seniors 60+ get about 20% discount on entry charges and a similar discount on annual membership. Paying by direct debit reduces annual membership costs by 5%.  Unlike English Heritage, children 5-15 do not ‘go free’, but are charged at concessionary rates.

My Favourite Historic Scotland Properties

• The medieval Caerlaverock Castle, with its imposing battlements surrounded by a moat, is a good place to start in the south-west of Scotland, near Dumfries.

• Just a few miles west, the fully restored water-powered New Abbey Corn Mill is one of the more unusual Historic Scotland properties. It is operated in the summer months to produce oatmeal.

• The romantic Sweetheart Abbey is in walking distance from the Corn Mill. It was built by Lady Dervorgilla in remembrance of her husband, John Balliol, the founder of the Oxford college with his name.

Urqhuart Castle and Loch Ness
Historic Scotland – Urquhart Castle

• The massive size of roofless Linlithgow Palace just 20 miles west of Edinburgh is impressive, with panoramic views from the ramparts over the nearby loch and parkland.

Urquhart Castle, with its tower house giving wide views over the upper reaches of Loch Ness, is the perfect place to try a bit of Nessie spotting.

National Trust for Scotland

The National Trust for Scotland manages around 130 properties and tracts of land including Glen Coe, Ben Lomond and 16 small islands. Many of its properties are large stately homes and castles, some with extensive gardens. Over twenty of Scotland’s finest gardens are under the Trust’s umbrella.

Threave House
NTS – Threave Garden

The National Trust for Scotland gives discounts on entry charges for seniors 60+ of about 20%, with a similar discount on annual membership. Single senior annual membership is just £54 per year, with joint senior membership at £84 per year.

My Favourite National Trust for Scotland Properties

• Starting again in the south-west corner of Scotland, Threave Garden and Estate has a series of spectacular gardens set against the backdrop of an imposing Baronial style house.

• Further north on the Ayrshire coast, the clifftop Culzean Castle and Country Park has much to offer, from parkland and beach walks to tours of the castle, where Eisenhower had a top-floor apartment after the Second World War.

• The House of Binns is not a department store, but a beautifully furnished 17th Century laird’s house in parklands overlooking the River Forth, about 20 miles west of Edinburgh. I was fascinated to learn about the Dalyell family history up to the current Sir Thomas Dallyell of the Binns, commonly known as Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP.

Culzean Castle
NTS – Culzean Castle

Pitmedden Garden, ten miles to the north of Aberdeen, has one of the finest gardens in the country with over five miles of box hedging in intricate designs.

• Just five miles to the east of Inverness, Culloden Battlefield is one of the most emotive places in Britain. When I visited there, a strong wind was blowing across the open site, adding to the chilling atmosphere. The Exhibition Centre has been very well designed.

Which to Join?

If you live in Scotland and are interested in heritage, then how do you decide which of the two heritage organisations to join? Annual membership for seniors costs about the same for both, so that is not a factor. The answer is that it depends very much on your heritage interests.

Pitmedden Garden
NTS – Pitmedden Garden on a stormy day

If you enjoy visiting gardens and castles that are still intact, then the National Trust for Scotland comes out on top.

On the other hand, if castles and ancient ruins are your forte, then Historic Scotland is the better choice. Historic Scotland is also the number one choice if you intend to make visits throughout the year rather than just in the summer months.

You could of course change between the two every few years or so, or if you are a heritage fanatic, you could join both!

If you are an English Heritage member, then during your first year of membership entrance to Historic Scotland sites is at half price and subsequently free of charge, and vice versa. National Trust membership gives you free entry to all the National Trust for Scotland from the day you join, and again vice versa.

See also Historic Houses which has about 40 free-to-view properties in Scotland including some of its most impressive stately homes and castles. Enter our unique code STEW05 and get £5 discount new membership and gift membership.

Posted 29th March 2015 by Steve Hanson