“ Address: Kingussie Road / Newtonmore / PH20 1AY / Scotland / Tel: 01540 673551 „
While we were recently enjoying our holiday at Nethy Bridge, near Aviemore, the owner of our cottage suggested that we should try the Highland Folk Museum. She thought that both we and the kids would enjoy it, and moreover it was free to get into and not very far away!
The museum has a long history, and was apparently Britain's first open-air museum, opening on a previous site in 1944. Its origins go back still further to a collection of items owned by Dr Isobel Grant which were originally displayed from 1935 in a disused church on the Isle of Iona. Dr Grant moved to a three acre site in Kingussie, via another church on the mainland, as her collection increased.
The current location at Newtonmore, very close to Kingussie, houses a working farm using the existing buildings on site 'interpreted for the 1930s', a collection of relocated or replica buildings, and a 17th century replica settlement at the far end of the site. The relocated buildings have been painstakingly dismantled, moved here, and reconstructed stone by stone, which is a tremendous feat.
The first impression that I had on arrival was a feeling of space - this is not a congested, full-to-the-brim museum. The buildings are well spread across its 80 acres. There is, sensibly, an attendant at the car park to direct you to spaces - it's not a very big area, and the overflow car park was in use during our time there. There are two or three disabled bays right by the entrance.
There is no entrance fee, but there are donation points around the buildings where you can contribute to the running costs if you wish. On entering, you are given a sticker to wear during your stay to indicate that you've been counted in. You can go back to your car and re-enter the site whenever you need to. You can also buy a guide book, which is very good value at £2.50 in my opinion, as it is in full colour and full of information both on the history of the site and about each of the buildings, and also includes a site map.
There is a welcome emphasis on the Gaelic language, as you might expect from a folk museum. However it's not from a 'this is how we used to speak' perspective, more from a point of trying to raise awareness of the language. In the entrance kiosk there's a small card that you can take and show to a member of staff if you want to either talk about or have a conversation in Gaelic. Having been born and raised in Wales where the Welsh language is now quite widespread again, it's good to see Gaelic being given a higher profile than when we last came up to Scotland!
We first made our way down to one end of the museum site, which is where the farm buildings are. They house a fantastic collection of implements, although some more labelling and descriptions would have been helpful - you get the feeling that it's definitely a work in progress. There are some information sheets, but with the number of items here it must be a nightmare trying to find ways of displaying and explaining everything. Outside, there are larger pieces of equipment such as a shed full of wooden carts, a rural garage, and various harvesting and ploughing pieces. The favourite items here for one of our daughters in particular were the free-ranging chickens, some of whom had chicks, and who would happily peck around your feet without worrying.
~~CENTRE SECTION - THE RELOCATED BUILDINGS~~
On the way back, we dropped into the post office and attached sweet shop - here you can have your quarter pound of sweeties weighed out (and pay for it with contemporary decimal currency which you need to supply yourself!), and there's a good selection of tooth rot available for young and old alike. So good in fact that we made two visits while we were there...
There are various cottages and workshops along the way, and it's very striking how spartan and tiny these dwellings are. It was interesting seeing the penny drop with our youngest when she realised just HOW small these homes were, as at first she was identifying the cottages with our bungalow and assuming there would be more rooms beyond the two that we could see.
There is a school, of obvious interest to children! It's a single room, in a building of similar design to a church in many ways, with a high roof. They had a show & tell table with locally found objects such as animal skulls and birds' nests, and a timetable for the typical day which our kids studied quite closely. The rows of desks could seem gloomy but the big windows make the most of the natural light, and on the day that we visited it seemed quite a pleasant learning environment - but imagining it in the depths of winter put the dampers on that! One of the staff was giving demonstrations of how hard children would have been struck with the belt as a punishment (on a bench, not on a human, I hasten to add! ). Quite sobering, as the force he exerted seemed quite enough to break a limb...
Moving on down the site you arrive at a stretch of pine woodland, home to red squirrels and several other native species. It's a lovely walk, although we did discover that the path to the squirrel viewing area is too steep for wheelchairs, and had to double back to follow the main track again. This brings you eventually to a saw mill, and beyond that to the 17th century settlement.
~~17th CENTURY SETTLEMENT~~
The settlement consists of several turf and stone walled long, low buildings, with heather-thatched roofs. Outside two of these were ladies in period costume demonstrating spinning wool on hand spindles, and some visitors were trying their hand at it too. Inside another house was a lady demonstrating weaving on a reproduction loom.
You can enter all of these buildings, although you do so at your own risk, as the doorways are very low, and there's very little light inside as all that there is comes in through the doors and maybe a small window. You certainly get a feel for what it must have been like to live in these homes, very dark and very basic, but they're also very solid and you feel that they could take a fair battering from the weather. It's a very atmospheric place, with it being set apart from the rest of the museum, and up a slight hill surrounded on three sides by pine woodland. The hill location is a bit tricky access-wise; that said, my hubby decided to sit this part out as he'd been driving his powered wheelchair around most of the day and needed a rest.
Thankfully, there is on-site transport, in the shape of a small vintage bus, which amazingly incorporates a tail-lift for wheelchairs. I think Ian's power chair was about the biggest thing you could get in there though, there didn't seem to be the floor-space for a mobility scooter. Even so, it was a God-send to get back to the main central complex! The bus is also a free service, and operates on a hail-by-staff basis - if you need it, you give a member of staff a shout and they'll walkie-talkie the bus down for you.
~~SHOP, CAFE AND LOOS!~~
In the main complex, near to the entrance, you find the shop, cafe and loos. The shop is located on the ground floor, has a welcome absence of plastic tat, and an emphasis on fun educational kids' stuff, local high quality craft, Gaelic language and culture, with the odd touristy bit such as little bags of bagpipe-shaped chocolates. They also stock a good selection of Celtic/folk music CDs. This is very much a museum shop and not and amusement park one.
The cafe and loos are both located on the first floor, but are easily accessible by pushchair and wheelchair even without a lift, as they have a long, slowly rising ramp. The cafe is to the right, and serves a decent range of sandwiches, drinks and snacks, all clearly (and not too highly) priced, and very good too. They accept card payments, although they checked if I was using a debit or credit card - they may be an extra charge for credit cards. The loos are 'across the landing' in that you have to go down a small section of ramp and back up the other side, and were pretty clean when we visited. I'm fairly certain that the baby changing was in the disabled loo.
~~CONCLUSION & FURTHER INFO~~
To sum up, we really enjoyed our day here, and we're looking forward to visiting again in the future to see how it's developed. My husband was able to travel in his powered wheelchair freely over most of the site, although it was a good job that the batteries were fully charged, as it's a mile-long with lots of side-roads! The buildings do vary in their accessibility - some have steps so are just not possible, but on the whole he was happy with what he could get at, and felt that he saw plenty. There were a couple of buildings in construction when we were there, and there's certainly plenty of land to enable more historic buildings to transferred here for posterity!
Contact details etc:
The museum is located at:
Highland Folk Museum
Tel: 01540 673551
It's best accessed by taking the Kingussie turn off the A9 and following the brown tourist signs.
Opening Hours for 2010
1st April to 31st August (Open daily)
Opens: 10.30am Closes: 5.30pm
September and October (Open daily)
Opens: 11.00am Closes: 4.30pm
For further information, the website is here: