Kirkham Priory and Pickering Castle visitor numbers rocket as people flock to local hidden gems during pandemic
From the imposing castle that sits above Richmond, in North Yorkshire, to the glorious setting of Roche Abbey, in a South Yorkshire valley, landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in the 18th century, they are some of English Heritage’s lesser-known sites.
But that is changing after the heritage organisation recorded a dramatic rise in visitor numbers to some of its smaller sites during last year.
Figures released today have revealed that visitor numbers in 2021 rocketed 82 per cent in comparison to 2019 before Covid-19, in a clear indication the public took advantage of the “stay at home” mandate to rediscover the heritage on their doorstep.
English Heritage’s chief executive Kate Mavor said: “At English Heritage, we look after over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites across the country – many of which attract visitors from far and wide.
“In the past, those lesser known, more intimate local sites in our care have often been overlooked in favour of our more iconic ones, despite having just as rich and important a history.
“This has been a long and hard pandemic, but one silver lining appears to be that with people staying closer to home, they have discovered historic places nearby.”
Lesser-known historic sites in North Yorkshire recorded their highest visitor numbers in more than a decade, including Kirkham Priory, in Whitwell on the Hill, Malton, which saw a rise of 75 per cent on 2019, and Pickering Castle, in the North Yorkshire town, recording an increase of 30 per cent.
Also in North Yorkshire, the Roman site at Aldborough saw a two per cent rise in visitor numbers compared to 2019, with 2021 its best year since 2007.
Aldborough was the capital of the Romanised Brigantes, Britain’s largest tribe in the early Roman period. Its treasures include a section of the original town wall and mosaic pavements.
Roche Abbey, in Maltby, Rotherham, recorded a two per cent rise in visitor numbers last year compared to 2019, with 2021 its best year since 2005. The 12th century abbey has one of the most complete ground plans of any English monastery and the Gothic transepts still remain to their original height.
Perhaps due to its high media profile during the past 18 months after the controversial visit by Dominic Cummings during the first lockdown, Barnard Castle had its best ever year in 2021.
Visitor numbers to the picturesque fortress in County Durham were up by almost 20 per cent in comparison to 2019.
Boscobel House, where Charles II famously hid from Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers in an oak tree, also recorded its best ever year.
Visitor numbers rose by 82 per cent in comparison to 2019 following a relaunch of the historic site in Shropshire.