Visitor figures at a historic landmark in Falkirk district soared last year.
And the Friends of Kinneil, set up in 2006 to promote Kinneil Estate and Nature Reserve in Bo’ness, couldn’t be more delighted.
This year, members have lined up a series of events to try to beat those figures.
Getting a chance to view new areas undoubtedly helped attract more visitors to the house, which dates back to the late 15th century and was once home to one of the most noble families in the country, the Hamiltons.
Maria Ford, from The Friends, explained: “Thanks to an investment by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), new areas of the House were opened to the public – extra rooms in the Palace section and a viewing platform in the oldest area, the original Tower House.
“Interest in the building grew substantially, with 2498 people visiting in just eight days in 2017. The same number of events in 2016 attracted 1763 people.”
The Friends will once again stage eight open days this year, the first of which was held on March 24 to tie in with the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival.
And this weekend, the house will throw open its doors as part of John Muir’s birthday celebrations.
A costumed interpreter will be on hand to entertain visitors on Sunday (April 22), with tours of Kinneil House from noon to 4pm (last admission 3.30pm).
Maria added: “Kinneil is a wonderful old building on the John Muir Way, with an amazing history to tell.
“Our open days aim to bring the site alive with a range of themed experiences, tying into local and national festivals.
“All of the tours are free and there’s no need to book in advance. We’ll allocate places on the day.
“So come along and we’ll show you inside!”
The Friends will run timed tours leaving from Kinneil Museum, in front of the house, every 15 minutes – up until the last tour 30 minutes before closing.
Further open days are being staged on May 20, June 24, August 26, September 15 and October 28, again from noon to 4pm.
In addition, there will be an evening event on Friday, May 18, when the house will be open from 6pm to 7.30pm (last admission 7pm) as part of the Scottish Festival of Museums and the UK’s Museums at Night celebrations.
As well as house tours, visitors will enjoy free goodie bags at Kinneil Museum next door and a bat hunt in the grounds.
A second Festival of Museums event will be held on Sunday, May 20, with Historic Environment Scotland’s Rangers taking visitors around the surrounding Kinneil Estate.
The house and its wider estate will also be the focus for Big Roman Week in September, a festival celebrating the district’s Roman roots.
A full programme of events will be revealed later this year but the Antonine Guard re-enactment group will be at Kinneil on September 15.
Friends Trustee Adrian Mahoney is delighted in renewed interest in the house locally.
He said: “We were delighted that HES invested in the building to open up several new areas.
“That definitely brought more people in last year, both visitors and locals, who were interested in seeing areas of the house they had never seen before.
“It certainly made an impact on the visitor figures.
“We were also pretty busy at our first open day in March this year, with around 230 visitors coming along.”
Any monies made by the Friends charity is ploughed back into the house, estate and nature reserve.
Funds help to pay for costumed interpreters, publicity and toilet hire for special events, such as Roman Week.
Friends have also invested in Kinneil Museum, paying for a new display, projector and screen.
The group would love to do even more in future – but needs more support to do so.
Adrian added: “People come from all over Scotland and further afield to our open days and the feedback we get is incredible.
“But they are a challenge in terms of the number of volunteers we have.
“Planning and organising takes quite a bit of work and we only have 60 Friends members and a group of volunteers who support us.
“We’d love to look at additional open days and if we had more volunteers we could explore that option.
“So we’d be delighted to hear from anyone who is interested in becoming a Friend or volunteer.”
Friends museum plan worked
The Friends of Kinneil was set up in 2006 to promote Kinneil Estate and Nature Reserve in Bo’ness. At that time, the neighbouring Kinneil Museum was threatened with closure and the Friends hoped to safeguard its future.
Happily, the plan worked and the museum remains open to this day. The Kinneil House open days, which started back in 2006, have also gone on to become a roaring success.
Such a hit, in fact, that there is extended opening hours this year to deal with growing visitor numbers.
The tours are organised by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) in conjunction with volunteers from the Friends of Kinneil charity.
Malcolm Brown, HES Linlithgow Hub’s district visitor operations manager, said: “We had a great response to opening new sections of the house last year and also improved the visitor experience with the addition of new lighting and interpretation within the building.
“This year, the Friends will take tours from Kinneil Museum.
“So if people do have to wait, they’ll be able to enjoy other attractions in the museum.
“Although people can tour the grounds of Kinneil House throughout the year, they can only see inside the building on these special open days.”
The Friends charity won a Scottish Heritage Angel Award in 2016.
Falkirk Community Trust, which manages Kinneil Museum on behalf of Falkirk Council, is opening the facility at additional times in 2018 to tie in with house open days.
For more information visit www.kinneil.org.uk or pick up a leaflet from libraries and local tourist attractions.
Or keep in touch at www.facebook.com/kinneil and www.twitter.com/kinneil.