Our museum first opened in 1986 and ever since we have been welcoming visitors and adding to our collections. Our museum display tells the local and social history of our parish and people, taking you on a journey from the sea and river mouth, upstream and inland to the Strath of Kildonan. Our museum covers the boom and bust of the herring fishing industry; the dark historic period of change of the Highland Clearances; the brief but feverish 1869 gold rush; the shameful burning of the last witch in Sutherland; Pictish mythology and the Borrobol Stone; the last Wolf in Sutherland shot in 1700; the poisoning at Helmsdale Castle and the history of domestic making and craft essential for the parish’s agriculture and fishing industries. The history is told through a tapestry of local stories, historical objects, archival images, mythology and interactive displays, and is contextualised within a wider national and global history. The history of our parish is one of remarkable resilience and an intimate enduring relationship with ancient land and sea.
We have reconstructed a typical mid to late nineteenth century street which includes The Smiddy; Village Shop and Gartymore Croft House. Here you can experience what life was like in Helmsdale & district when it was a bustling village and self sufficient in serving local industries and people.
The Smiddy has the original tools and equipment from Helmsdale’s old blacksmith’s workshop which closed in the 1950s. The village had several Smiddys (blacksmith workshops) which provided vital repair and making services for the fishing industry and crofting communities. They were certainly enterprising and put their tools to good use for emergency tooth pulling and haircuts!
The village shop was at the heart of village life, especially during the Kildonan Gold Rush. Locals would trade news on the latest gold discoveries and the health of the sheep and salmon populations. To accommodate the influx of gold prospectors, the shopkeepers were canny and rented out beds in their shop, which ensured you were welcomed with the strong smell of carbolic soap.
The Gartymore Croft House shows you how crofters lived after they were cleared from the Strath of Kildonan in the early 1800s; a typical house would have two rooms, a small scullery and a separate byre attached to the house. These types of croft houses replaced the older style longhouses as local landowners encouraged their tenants to build neat cottages on the coast, and the estate supplied timber and lime as an incentive.
The Museum is part of Highland Council’s cultural services, and has Full Accreditation from Museum Galleries Scotland. We play an active role in Highland Museum Forum, a consortium of independent museums in the Scottish Highlands.