As you drive out of Newtonmore towards Kingussie on the A86, you pass on your right the car park for the Highland Folk Museum. This superb living museum turns out to be one of the most fascinating days out anywhere in the Highlands and is a "must see" for anyone visiting or travelling through this part of Scotland.
The first surprise is the sheer scale of the museum. It occupies a site approaching a mile long and occupying an area of 80 acres or 32 hectares. If you are planning a visit, the museum recommends allowing 3-5 hours to see it all: and you could easily spend all day here without running out of things to see.
The museum comprises three main areas. The central area, nearest the car park, is home to the reception and visitor services. It also houses a fascinating and steadily growing collection of traditional buildings, and their contents, relocated to the site from various parts of the Highlands. The eastern end is home to Aultlarie Farm and a range of agricultural buildings and equipment. And at the western end is what many will consider the highlight of their visit, the recreated township of "Baile Gean", based on an abandoned township near Kingussie as it would have appeared in 1700.
From the car park you pass through the reception. Off to your left are the white buildings that house the cafeteria and gift shop, guest toilets, and an audio visual room providing an introduction to the museum, while ahead of you is the children's play area.
The site is so large that as you initially look around, you only really appreciate the central area of the museum. Two large buildings immediately attract your attention. The red and cream T-shaped building near the rear of the car park is Leanach Church. This is made of timber with corrugated iron cladding and was originally built in 1900 from a kit. It stood on part of Culloden Battlefield, before becoming redundant in 1980 and being re-erected in its current location in 1987.
The green building with a red roof is another corrugated iron kit building, this time a school, which was built in 1925 at Kirkhill near Inverness. It was moved to its current location in 1999. Both the school and the church are fully furnished and fitted out as they would have been in their original locations. The school appears as it would have done in 1937 and comes complete with 40 desks, books, maps and the school bell.
It is at about this point that you begin to realise that not only is the museum home to a large number of fascinating buildings, but almost all have a fully fitted-out interior to be explored as well as an exterior to be admired. Suddenly the real scale of what has been achieved at the museum becomes clear.
Elsewhere in this part of the museum is MacPherson's Tailor's Shop; the Clockmaker's Workshop; and the Joiners' workshop. The Clockmaker's Workshop originally stood in Rose Street, Nairn and was where Alexander McIntyre repaired bicycles and clocks, often with tools he had invented for the job. It was relocated to the museum in 1998. The Tailor's Shop and the Joiners' Workshop were moved here in 2002, from Newtonmore and Kingussie respectively.
Further west you enter a wooded area, a relic of commercial timber production in the 1920s. Here you encounter a traditional Travelling People's Camp, a tent with washing hanging out to dry outside. This serves as a reminder of a way of life common in the 1940s and 1950s but which ceased in the 1970s. Nearby is a natural amphitheatre in the woods, and beyond it a replica of the Newtonmore Curling Club Hut beside a beautiful curling lake. Further on is a replica of the Ardverikie Estate Sawmill, complete with water wheel and original fixtures and fittings.
For many, the highlight of a visit to the Highland Folk Museum will be "Baile Gean" Township. This is traditional Highland crofting village recreated to appear as it would in 1700. All the houses, barns and other buildings are built using traditional methods, and most are furnished. A number have central peat fires, which were left burning on even the warmest of days, and the township is brought to life by human re-enactors and by livestock wandering around.
"Baile Gean" is the Gaelic for Township of Goodwill and never actually existed. It is, however, closely based on a real settlement at Easter Raitts, which stood high on the side of the Spey Valley north east of Kingussie until abandoned in the 1800s.
Restarting back in the centre of the museum's huge site and walking east leads you past a corrugated iron cottage complete with an outside privy to a reconstructed sheep fank and shepherd's bothy. Nearby fields are being farmed as they would have been in 1930. At the east end of the site is the largest building which remains "in situ". This is the Aultlarie Farm Steading, where the clock has also been turned back to 1930. Nearby is the Aultlarie tin cottage, built as farm workers' accommodation in the 1890s. The Aultlarie farm buildings are completed by the farmhouse which was built on slightly higher ground in the mid 1800s. One room is home to a recreated sitting room from 1930, while another now accommodates a sweet and ice cream shop.
Not all the buildings at this end of the site are in their original locations. The farmhouse has attached to it a small lean-to post office which was built in Glenlivet before being moved here in 2001. Not far away is a commercial garage built in Kingussie in 1928 and moved here in 1999, complete with a 1928 petrol pump and the rusting wreck of a car of about the same vintage. Near the railway line which runs along the rear of the site is a railway halt which once stood at Etteridge, south of Newtonmore.
The Highland Folk Museum was founded in 1944 by Dr Isobel F Grant to house her extensive collection of artefacts reflecting Highland rural culture. Dr Grant's collection and associated archives were originally housed in Kingussie. The museum has been based at a much larger site in Newtonmore since 1995, where it continues to grow in terms of the number of rescued and relocated buildings.