This collaborative exhibition has been developed to maximise our collection, to strengthen local and international collaborations, and to focus on the concept of North. Our community is at the heart of the museum and our exhibitions are developed to reflect relevant local stories and histories.

From Harbour to Hill
From Harbour to Hill is a narrative journey through our museum space where visitors can travel from sea, to harbour and river mouth, upstream, and inland to discover the rich and varied history of Helmsdale and the surrounding area.

The exhibits look at both salt and freshwater communities, through a personal lens, addressing larger themes. Learn about the inspirational people who harvested the sea and worked in the fishing industry. It was their skill, hard work and bravery that made Helmsdale what it is today.

Visitors can explore the area’s history through object collections, historical narratives, local stories, archival images and interactive cabinets.

The exhibition themes include Helmsdale Village, Bravery at Sea, A History of Making, The Borrobol Pictish Stone, Helmsdale Harbour, The Great Herring Boom, Poisoning at Helmsdale Castle, The Diving Fly, The Leaping Fish and portrayals of the herring gutting girl, fisherman and ghillie.

Helmsdale is named from the Norse “Hjalmunsdal” (the dale of the tiller or helmet) and it is also known as “Bunillidh”(village at the base of the river)  from the Scots Gaelic.

Helmsdale is a community of change, and of fortune sought on land and sea.

It is a place fashioned by opportunity, and transformed by travellers: a historic community displaced from the land, and resettled on the coast; a point of arrival for wary seafarers from ancient times to the present day, and the place where long journeys began for hopeful mariners and pioneering voyagers seeking a life in the new world.”

Travel through our museum to explore the extraordinary stories of communities based on northern soil and sea.

Wolf film
The short film “Wolf” by artists Dalziel + Scullion is a creative synthesis of the spoken word, images and music, addressing ideas about co-existence and loss. It is based around the story of the last wolf in Sutherland, who was killed by a hunter named Polson in around 1700, according to local folklore.

The film narrative is written by Robin Lloyd-Jones and touches on ideas about migration, land use, religion and ecology. There are long parts of the film where there are no words, only images and the haunting sound of Aidan O’Rourke’s music played on looped solo fiddle.

Wolf examines our failure to co-exist with large predators, whose absence has had a fundamental impact on the ecology of the Scottish landscape. It suggest that the wolf’s absence from our landscape is also symbolic of our overall detachment from nature, which is reflected in a spiritual and psychological yearning we carry within us.

The Smiddy
The objects and tools on display were formerly housed in an old blacksmith’s workshop in Helmsdale, that closed during the 1950s. The village had several “smiddys” that provided making and repairing services for the flourishing fishing industry and crofting community. The local smiddy was a meeting place and people from the outlying parishes of Navidale, Loth, Gartymore and West Helmsdale would gather and exchange news and gossip while having their horses shod, leaving a piece of farm machinery to be repaired or even getting their hair cut or a tooth pulled!

Helmsdale Shop
The village shop was an important part of village life, especially during the Kildonan Gold Rush. It is where local people came to buy all sort of daily commodities and where the women could catch up on village news. It is also where gold prospectors sought accommodation. Visitors can even experience the distinctive smell of carbolic soap!

Gartymore Croft House
A typical house would have two rooms, a small scullery and a separate byre either attached to or beside the house.  All the cooking would be done over the fireplace set into the gable end of the house, using pots and pans suspended on a hook over the flames. Houses such as this replaced the older style longhouses, with inbuilt byre at one end, and accommodated families cleared from the Strath of Kildonan in the early 1800s. The local landowners encouraged their tenants to build neat cottages on the coast and the estate supplied timber and lime and tokens of money were offered as an extra incentive.

Coming in 2018
The Kildonan Clearances: A story of dislocation, resettlement and emigration. An exhibit with historical narratives, contemporary accounts, info-graphics and images.

Museum resources and bookings
Out of hours visits
Outreach and education
Highland Clearances resources

How to get involved
Object preservation group
Display advisory group

For further information email or tel. 01431 821327