HERITAGE attractions across Stirling and Central Scotland are celebrating a surge in footfall as Historic Environment Scotland (HES) announces visitor figures for the 2017/18 financial year.

Stirling Castle – one of Scotland’s most iconic castles and among the top 10 paid-for Historic Scotland attractions in the care of HES – recorded a visitor number increase of 18 per cent on the same period last year.

The figures also show Doune Castle continuing to celebrate the “Outlander effect”, as it recorded a 36 per cent increase in footfall.

The remarkably near-complete castle set in the Stirlingshire countryside stars in the hit television series as the fictional Castle Leoch.

Other sites in the region have also had an impressive showing.

Dunblane Cathedral and Inchmahome Priory recorded 3 per cent and 7 per cent increases in footfall respectively, while Castle Campbell saw a dramatic 25 per cent surge in visitor numbers.

More than 5 million people visited HES managed Historic Scotland attractions across the country during the 2017-18 period, a significant 17 per cent uplift from 2016-17.

The surge in numbers at sites across the length and breadth of the country is being attributed to growth in UK, European and overseas visitors, with a significant increase in Scots visiting sites partly due to a strong membership base of over 194,000.

Stephen Duncan, director of commercial and tourism at HES, said: “Our record breaking visitor figures, including across all of our top ten sites, is a tremendous achievement for Scotland’s heritage tourism sector, reflecting the continued interest shown by tourists and home-grown visitors to learn more about our rich Scottish heritage.

"The exchange rate, as well as strong airport numbers, have both contributed to the growing figures.

“It is an incredible achievement to celebrate record-breaking figures across our sites.

"This growing interest in Scotland’s historic environment with visitors enjoying our rich cultural country looks set to continue.

“Thank you to all our dedicated staff who help to bring to life Scotland’s past to every single one of our five million visitors.”

Cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said: "These figures are very encouraging and suggest that 2018 is set to be another excellent, record-breaking year for our world-class attractions and Historic Scotland sites.

“From Orkney to the Borders, Scotland’s diverse landscapes and iconic sites are of great importance to communities throughout the country, stimulating economic growth and further promoting our cultural heritage both in Scotland and internationally.”

The announcement follows the recent publication of HES’s Investment Plan, which sets out an investment programme to enhance the condition of sites and improve the experience of visitors, scheduled to run until 2021/22.

Significant investment in 2017/18 has seen the upgrade of visitor facilities such as heating, toilets and lighting systems at a number of properties across the HES estate.

As part of Year of Young People 2018, HES will also be widening access to its properties with a special entry offer for Young Scot card-holders.

In partnership with Young Scot, alongside National Trust for Scotland and Historic Houses Association, HES will be offering the historically low discount entry of £1 to young people who want to explore Scotland’s historic sites.