The Highland Folk Museum is a gem of a place, snuggled away off the A9 in the charming, quaint village of Newtonmore in Scotland. A mile-long open air collection of historical buildings, shows how life used to be through the ages. The folk museum was the vision of a Dr Isobel.F. Grant, who wrote the book “Highland Folk Ways” in 1961. Having been inspired by an open air museum in Scandinavia she returned to Scotland to open her first museum in a disused church on the Island of Iona before moving to a larger site in Laggan, not far from it’s current location. She then purchased land in Kingussie to hold her vast collection.
The museum now sits in 80 acres of prime, green, lush land and has fantastic views of the mountains of the Cairngorms. We had an excellent morning peacefully strolling around, and because the buildings are so spread out it really feels like you are in an old fashioned village. I almost felt out of place in my jeans and trainers, especially when we visited the 1930’s classroom! The teacher stood at her desk with a belt in her hands and we sat at the tiny wooden desks practising our handwriting with the ink well and nib. I even hid my camera, it felt so out of place. I got marked 8 1\2 out of 10 though, not bad for not being old enough to have ever used them before.
Several of the buildings are interpreted like the1930’s and included Kirk’s store, a traditional sweet shop in the spare room of the farm cottage, which people often done in order to supplement their income. The living room next door is decorated like it would have been at the start of the second world war and the cottage itself is the cottage of the family who worked the land before it became the museum.
The Aultlarie farm steading dates from the 1980’s but is laid out as if from the 1930’s with stables and a barn, and it was in one of the stables we saw the table filled with 1 weeks worth of food rationing. I can’t imagine having to live on so little and seeing it all laid out certainly makes you think and appreciate what luxuries we have now. I remember listening to my nana’s stories about the years of the war and finding it hard to imagine such things which is why this place is so fascinating. Being able to actually see it all as opposed to reading it in a text book. Around the farm you can also see their fine collection of agriculural tools which used in the Highlands in the 1930’s such a s turnip sowers, horse ploughs and sheep sheers.
There is an old Railway hut which was used as a signal box in Etteridge before it was dismantled and brought to Newtonmore. The Smoke house, with its corrugated iron exterior, fire pit and chimney was originally from Easter Ross and again has been preserved here at the museum. A traditional post office, a garage and a Cart shed are also at this side of the museum as well as a shepherd’s bothy made from reused railway sleepers which was used by the shepherds as shelter during lambing season.
After visiting this side we made our way back past the entrance to the “Black house”, which was the first building brought here from the Kingussie site which I.F Grant had built. This is a particularity intriguing building, built low with rounded corners to combat those crazy Highland winds. With an inside and an outside wall with sand or stones between them to strengthen them they acted like a wind break and kept the family, or families, inside relatively warm.
To show off some of the occupations of the Scots in years gone by there is a few authentic buildings like the Loom shed, housing the museum’s Hattersley Hand Loom, which was introduced to the Western Isles to make weaving Harris tweed easier. There is Craigdhu Cottage housing a Tweed shop from the 1950’s, MacPherson’s Tailor’s Shop, a Clockmakers workshop and a Joiners workshop.
A summerhouse, a church and the museums gardens are also in this area as well as a lovely little cafe, the toilets and the gift shop.
After a ten minute stroll through some gorgeous pine woods we emerged to what my Outlander fan followers really want to hear about. There was a little clue in the middle of the woods when we stumbled upon a travellers camp but that’s just a teaser. The 1700’s Township is one seriously impressive piece of land. Everything about it shouts Outlander and if any fans are in the area I can highly recommend visiting. The Township, named the ”Baile Gean” township, is the result of research, physical and documentary, as well as an archaeological excavation and practical experimentation and the results are brilliant. Based on the original Bademoch settlement of Easter Riatts, each recreated building has been built based on surviving stone foundations, doorways cobbling and hearths so are as accurate as possible. Stone foundations, timber frames, roof timbers, stone or turf walls and thatch roofs make this camp look authentic and the complete lack of any modern touches let you really see how Jamie and Claire lived.
In the first series of Outlander Dougal and Jamie visited towns and collected rents. The men they would have met were the Tacksmen. These men were the principal tenants who collected the rent from the other tenants and paid it, as well as liased and negotiated with the Laird, or Landord. The Tacksman’s house here is the largest, showing his status in the camp and the decor and furniture inside reflected this. There is a cattle room, a central living room with open fire, a bed area with authentic box beds and a “Guid” area, presumably for special occasions. Other buildings here reflect different occupations and social statuses and include a Weaver’s cottage, a Cottar’s House, a barn and a Stockman’s House. The houses are built in a circle, like a traditional camp would be, and if you sit and watch for a while you can imagine all the little kids running around with their dirty faces, women on stools weaving their wares, goats tied up to posts, men returning home from their travels on horseback, smoke filling the air from the fires, dinner in the pot hanging over the stoves. What a simple but tough life they must have lead.
Outlander used the Township for filming in 2014 to film scenes for Season 1. Update - and season 2.
Entry to the Folk Museum is free although donations are welcome. There is a tractor which can take you from one end to the other for £1 each. There is a cafe and toilets and a large car park. Situated in Newtonmore off the A9 it’s within walking distance to the main street where there are cafes, shops and restaurants.