It’s cold, it’s wet and it’s misty – the fire burning in the old dark 17th century house is very welcome to warm the bones, though you can feel the smoke swirling around inside, permeating through the straw roof and out of the hole in the roof. It’s not exactly a very healthy environment.
Life in the Highlands was obviously pretty tough. The Highland Folk Museum was founded over 80 years ago in Iona by Dr Isobel Frances Gaunt, inspired by such museums in Scandinavia, initially collecting items from everyday life then growing to the museum we see today where the objects, textiles, furniture and other items are set within the context of over 25 buildings which have been saved and rebuilt in its current location at Newtonmore in the Highlands, including farmsteads, a traditional Blackhouse from Lewis, 17th century village buildings, Leanach Mission Church, Knockbain School, shops, Glenlivet post office, a joiner’s workshop, a sawmill, a smoking house and Aultlarie railway station.
Plodding through the mud last week you could feel the real atmosphere of these buildings, while you could buy sweets in Kirk’s Stores (at 20 times their price in the 1950’s), suffer the discipline of the headmistress in Knockbain School and gaze on the 1950’s interiors of Lochanhully House that remind you of the maiden aunts that you used to visit in your youth.
Strangely, what is missing is a pub or inn. Perhaps none have come under threat of demolition. It is also encouraging to see how the new £3.25 million conservation and curatorial building ‘Am Fasgadh’ on the site constructed by Robertson and opened in 2014 had been inspired by the old ones around it so that, while it was unashamedly contemporary, it fits into its setting.