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14 Museums – 14 Artefacts of the Highlands & Islands

Posted by True Highlands in Kit and Caboodle | 0 comments

You could tell the history of a nation, through songs, paintings, books or monuments, but the Highlands are blessed with some of the finest and unusual museums you can find anywhere. So here are our suggestions for 14 objects to see that tell a part of our story. It’s not a definitive list, more a chance to highlight the more curious and out of the ordinary things, that can be found in almost every corner of the Highlands.

Caithness NE Sutherland, Orkney & Shetland

A U-Boat radio at the Orkney Wireless Museum

This fascinating collection is primarily focussed on telling the story of Orkney’s wartime history. Most of the exhibits have seen active military service and come with incredible back stories. It’s a touch and feel experience where children can actually play with seemingly ancient technology that is still in perfect working order.

Moray

An Illicit still at the Whisky Museum

The history of whisky in Scotland is as much about illicit production and smuggling as it is about famous malts. Exhibits here were provided by HM Customs and Excise and tell the fascinating true story of the area’s often dubious whisky-making past.

Wester Ross & Outer Hebrides

A bier at Applecross Heritage Centre

The coffin road from Shieldaig was used by burial parties going to Clachan Church at Applecross. The coffin would have been transported along the considerable distance using a bier. It is possible to walk or cycle the track today and you can still see cairns along the route that indicate where the procession would have rested and drank to the deceased.

Inverness & Nairn

The Cumberland Stone at Culloden

This massive boulder standing over 5 foot high is supposedly where the Duke of Cumberland ate breakfast and then surveyed the fighting at the battle of Culloden. The battle itself would prove to be a pivotal moment in the development of the nation and the duke would go on to become one of the most hated men in Scottish history. The stone itself is unassuming but it’s important for what it represents and the feelings it provokes in people. In contrast to a gravestone that people honour or pay their respects at, this is like an omphalos for English villainy.

Skye & Lochalsh

A giant’s bed at the MacAskill Museum

The tallest Scotsman to have ever lived stood at 7 foot 8 inches and was born on Berneray in 1825. He was evicted with his parents during the highland clearances but went on to find fame in America as part of a travelling circus. This quirky, boutique museum, founded by members of the clan MacAskill has a life size replica of this gentle giant as well as his enormous bed.

Mid and East Sutherland

A pane of glass at Croick Church

The clearances are without a doubt one of the most scandalous episodes in our history and remain deep rooted in the Scottish psyche today. There are exhibitions, sculptures and ruined villages that tell the story but nothing as poignant as the panes of glass in a Croick church. Cleared from their land and taking refuge in the church graveyard highlanders scratched messages into the panes of glass before enforced emigration to the new world. It’s a tangible, very human link to one of the most important events in Highland history.

Black Isle, Mid & Easter Ross

A fossil at Hugh Miller’s Cottage

Born in Cromarty in 1802 Hugh Millar is without a doubt one of the most remarkable geniuses of his era. The cottage where he lived now houses among other exhibits a collection of fossils gathered in the immediate area that would play a part in his pioneering writings on geology.

Ardnamurchan & Mull

The carved stones of Keil at Keil Church

This collection of medieval carved gravestone slabs is one of the finest in the country and bear testament to the areas importance in the Middle Ages. Due to its strategic location on the coast St Columba established a monastery here in the 500s, these stones feature incredibly intricate Celtic artwork and would have adorned the graves of chiefs or church dignitaries.

Fort William & Lochaber

A birching table and neck irons at the West Highland Museum

Should you have misbehaving children then this is most definitely one exhibit you must drag them to. You can only wonder if it was somehow interactive then its popularity would be even greater. A birching table was traditionally used for punishment, the guilty party would be tied to this table and would then have their bare buttocks whipped by a bundle of stripped rods of birch. There is also a neck iron on display to threaten the truly unruly.

Loch Ness

A Lock at The Caledonian Canal Visitor Centre

The canal is like a living museum that has remained remarkably unchanged since its construction over 200 years ago. It was a mammoth engineering feat for its day but the bittersweet truth is that it was largely a scheme to provide employment for highlanders to try and stem the flood of emigration in the years after the clearances.

Aviemore & the Cairngorms

A Shinty Stick at the Highland Folk Museum

The museum here is massive, covering a site over a mile long with thousands of exhibits. The one piece that sticks out for me thought is an old shinty stick. Often when we dwell on the past we reflect on the hardships and suffering of our ancestors, and there is no denying that rural Scots over the years had it tough but the display of vintage sporting equipment here tells of another story. It speaks of happiness, of leisure and of people having fun. Country folk had tough lives but that was part of the reason why sport became so important, a way of removing themselves from their daily struggles. No more so than shinty which in contrast to golf was the sport of the working class.

Argyll, Arran, Jura & Islay

The Shuna Sword at Kilmartin Museum

This incredibly well preserved sword was found in a bog on the nearby Isle of Shuna. It was one of three found upright, point down as if stabbed into the ground as an offering or as part of a ritual that would have taken place over 2,000 years ago. It is compelling evidence of this area’s prosperity, advanced culture and trading links to the rest of Britain.

North West Sutherland

A Dogskin Buoy at Strathnaver Museum

This intriguing artefact which dates from the 19th century was found buried within the wall of a house along with a boot and a whisky bottle. It had been most probably placed there as some form of lucky charm but it is nonetheless a striking curiosity. Dogs were apparently used in this way as their skin wasn’t porous, the shiny colour comes from its coating of tar.

 Other Islands

Slate at Easdale Island Folk Museum

The history of this area is intrinsically linked to slate mining, the scars of which are evident all around the island. The sheer scale of the enterprise however is not clear until you visit this tiny, award-winning museum that tells the story from its origins in the 17th century to its peak in the 1800s when it would export all around the world and then to its demise in the early 20th century.

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