Museum that tells 8,000 years of Highland history faces new dawn

A museum that tells 8,000 years of Highland history – from hunter gatherers to the Picts, Vikings and the Clearances – is facing a new dawn after it raised £2m to take its story into the future.

Strathnaver Museum, Bettyhill, Sutherland, which has experienced a rise in visitors in recent years given it location on the North Coast 500 driving route- reached its fundraising target after being awarded £75,000 from the Wolfson Foundation for its refurbishment.

A new centre will also be built, which will reveal the depth of human activity in northwest Sutherland over 8,000 years of human occupation.

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Tom Mackay, Strathnaver Museum Chair said: “We are delighted to have received this support from the Wolfson Foundation towards our vital refurbishment work. Strathnaver Museum is at an exciting crossroads, where our vision for a refurbished facility offers the opportunity for the museum to secure the future of our important historic building and reimagine its place in the community by expanding the services we can offer”.

Strathnaver Museum in Sutherland tells 8,000 years of Highland history and is set to undergo a major refurbishment to allow it to take its story into the future. PIC: Contributed.

The museum is housed in the old Strathnaver parish church, with the site thought to have been a site of ecclesiastical importance for over a thousand years.

The timeline of human life in Sutherland begins at the museum with a collection of Mesolithic arrowheads and a number of Bronze Age items, including the Chealamy Beaker (2140-1885 BC), which was found in 1981 during nearby road works.

A recent archaeological dig on the site uncovered a wealth of Late Iron Age and medieval treasures, including a bronze pin which is thought to have ecclesiastical origins.

The Farr Stone (c.850AD), a Pictish slab stone that marks the grave of an elite local figure, stands close to the church building.

Meanwhile, land surrounding the site bore witness to significant historic events that were pivotal to the establishment of Scotland as a unified nation. A series of battles, at nearby Dalharald and at Farr were fought between the forces of William and Harald of Orkney and instrumental in driving out the Norse Kingdom from the area, according to the museum.

More recently, the church was where eviction notices were read out at the height of the Strathnaver Clearances in 1819, with the pulpit from where the grim news was delivered still in place.

Later, the church was where crofters gathered in 1883 to give evidence to the Napier Commission which led to them receiving security of tenure through the Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886.

The £2m will be spent on refurbishing the existing museum, creating a new exhibition and workshop space and delivering community research projects. The museum is also home to the Clan Mackay archive.

Paul Ramsbottom OBE, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation: "Wolfson places a great emphasis on providing funding across the whole of the UK. Strathnaver Museum is a place of significance for Scottish history and is deeply rooted in the community of northwest Sutherland.

" It is also a place of considerable beauty - and we are delighted to support a refurbishment project that will bring alive both history and location, as well as providing exciting opportunities for the local area."

Funding has also come from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, National Lottery Heritage Fund, SSE, Museum Galleries Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Dounreay and the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund.

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