Castles remaining closed in Aberdeenshire until next year could spell disaster for the struggling tourism industry, a former council boss has argued.
Mike Barron, who was chief executive of the former Gordon District Council until it became part of Aberdeenshire Council in the 90s, championed the idea of promoting the north-east as “Castle Country” for attracting visitors from across the globe.
Mr Barron believes the move by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) to keep Fraser, Cragievar and Fyvie castles, as well as Haddo House and Pitmedden Garden, shut until early 2021 will have a major impact on the local hotel and tourist trade at a time when it is trying to scrape in as much cash as it can.
The 78-year-old said: “Our castles are so important for tourists, locals, and kids that can learn all about history by visiting these fantastic sites.
“Tourists just won’t come if they look up the region to see that castles A, B and C are closed, and then the real worry is that they just won’t come back in the future.
“A great deal of NTS properties across Scotland will be opening again in 2020, but so many in our area are going to remain shut according to the NTS.
“These castles are so important for tourism, so it will be a big blow.”
A spokesman for the NTS said: “We note Mr Barron’s comments and understand his concerns, but we must emphasise that difficult choices have been forced upon us in this extraordinary year.
“Our charity is in trouble through no fault of our own and facing the most difficult situation experienced in our 90 years.”
He added: “In the case of our Aberdeenshire properties as with all others, we’ve assessed the ease of imposing physical distancing and other protective measures for visitors and staff, the timing of the peak season for each property and the resources we have available.
“We are able to open the grounds and gardens of most of the properties from July 6 and expect to re-open Crathes and Drum Castles in August.
“Unfortunately, we don’t think we can open Castle Fraser, Craigievar and Fyvie Castles, along with Haddo House and Pitmedden Garden, until next Easter, but if we can find a way to do so, we will.”