There are many excellent Scottish Island Museums. Whenever I visit the islands, I always head for the nearest Museum to find out about the history of the island. Here are just a small selection of my favourites:
Easdale Folk Museum – located on the tiny island of Easdale, one of the Slate islands, near Oban on the west coast of Scotland. This is my favourite Museum, although it is probably the smallest Museum I have visited. It may be small in stature, but it more than makes up for it with the artefacts on display and the incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff. There are some excellent relics from slate quarrying and some fascinating stories and information detailing this dangerous occupation. This Museum is especially good if you bring the kids as there is a Treasure Hunt for them to complete. My kids loved it!
Fetlar Interpretive Centre – again quite a small Museum, the Interpretive Centre is in the village of Houbie on the beautiful Shetland island of Fetlar. The Museum includes a Steatite Bowl found during a Time Team dig in 2002. It is the largest single object ever excavated by the Time Team, and probably the largest bowl of its kind in the country. Also, there is video footage from nearby Brough Lodge. I sat and watched these videos for quite a while as I had just visited Brough Lodge, before visiting the Museum. There is also interesting information on Sir William Watson Cheyne who lived at nearby Leogarth House.
Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum – this is possibly the largest Museum I have visited. The Visitors Centre tells the story of Scapa Flow and Lyness (mainly through the First and Second World Wars). There are excellent exhibits (such as mines and torpedoes as well as informative information boards) and a short film outlining the major role of Scapa Flow in both World Wars. I found the Museum to be fascinating and incredibly it was FREE! It´s a definite ´must see`on any visit to Orkney and Hoy in particular.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village – located on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The Village was occupied until the early 1970s when the last few elderly residents moved to new accommodation. It is interesting to see how the people here once lived and also to watch traditional activities such as weaving Harris Tweed. It is also possible to stay in the Village. There is a wide range of accommodation, ranging from 2 star group accommodation sleeping 16, to 4 star family cottages.
Museum of Island Life – this Museum is very close to the northern-most coast of the Isle of Skye. It is located a few miles from the village of Uig, which is the main port on Skye for the Outer Hebrides. The Museum is in a very exposed position overlooking the Minch and was opened way back in 1965. This Museum gives you an amazing insight into life on Skye and across the highlands in the 19th century. The Museum has seven thatched cottages, of which four are furnished and equipped as they would have been originally.
Gaelic Heritage Centre – on the Isle of Lismore. Slightly different to the other Museums I have visited. This ecologically friendly building was opened in 2007 and houses a Museum charting island life throughout the ages. There is also a special Genealogy section, where you can trace any relatives from Lismore. Although the Museum is quite small, there are some very interesting photo’s and documents that chart Lismore throughout the ages. Next to the Heritage Centre is a fully restored 19th century ‘Cottars’ Cottage. There is also a fantastic cafe with fantastic views.
These Museums are my personal favourites, but there are many other Museums that I have visited over the years that deserve a mention.
Shetland – Tangwick Haa on mainland Shetland, Heritage Centre on Bressay, Unst Boat Haven and Unst Heritage Centre, Whalsay Heritage and Community Centre
Orkney – Orkney Museum and Skaill House on mainland Orkney, The Heritage Centre on Shapinsay, Holland House on Papa Westray and the Heritage Centre on Rousay
Outer Hebrides – Blackhouse Museum and Calanais Visitors Centre both on the Isle of Lewis
Inner Hebrides – Museum of Islay Life on Islay, Mull Museum on Mull, Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum on Tiree and The Boat House on Ulva
Skye and around – Dairy Shed Heritage Centre on Canna, Visitor Centre on Rum, Community Centre on Muck, Dunvegan Castle and the Aros Experience on Skye
Of course, there are many more Museums that I have yet to visit and some big one’s at that. I still need to visit the New Shetland Museum and Archive and also I turned up an hour early for the Kildonan Museum on South Uist, so I still need to visit there as well. Also, for some reason, I haven’t visited any Museums on Arran, Bute or Cumbrae, so I aim to remedy that in the near future.
I always try to visit any Museums or Heritage Centre’s when I visit the islands. They give a fascinating insight into the past (and sometimes the present) on the island. I shall definitely keep on visiting as many Scottish Island Museum’s as I can, which gives me another reason to visit the beautiful islands of Scotland. Not that I need another reason …