Venture North with….Strathnaver Museum
We caught up with Fiona Mackenzie, Development Manager at Strathnaver Museum
Strathnaver Museum from above.
What do you love about what you do?
There are so many things about my job that I love! I get to meet a host of interesting people from all over the world with an interest in our special corner of Scotland, and help to share and preserve their stories for everyone to enjoy and learn from. Working in a small independent museum my role is necessarily incredibly varied, some days I can be bidding for funding or writing business plans, others I’m putting together learning materials for schools or supporting folk to gather and produce work as part of our community based research projects. The latest of which explored the important Gaelic bard Rob Donn Mackay, a contemporary of Robert Burns, who produced a wealth of social commentary to help us learn more about life in 18thcentury north west Sutherland.
Why Caithness and Sutherland, how did you come by what you do?
I grew up in John O’Groats, where my love of history was honed by wonderful teachers at first Canisbay Primary School and then Wick High School. From there I completed my MA History (Hons) at the University of Edinburgh and although spending a decade in Edinburgh, I always knew I’d return to the north Highlands. I’d a strong desire to work in Community Development, to be able to give something back to the community that had made me who I am, and so I completed an MSC in Sustainable Rural Development at the University of Aberdeen. Heritage has such great potential to bring social, educational and economic benefits to everyone, locals and visitors alike, so working in a museum is the ideal place to let me utilise my skills while helping to make the area I love even more special.
Sam Barlow artist-blacksmith created #SomethingNew for Strathnaver Museum's collection as part of thier Rob Donn Country project with Mackay Country Community Trust.
What are your top five places to go in the area?
That’s a tough question as there are so many wonderful places to explore and discover across Caithness and Sutherland!
- As a Groats lass, John O’Groats would be top of my list! Once you’ve done the “end of the road” venture up to Duncansby Head where you can see impressive sea stacks and a vast array of seabirds from puffins, skuas, guillemots, shags, razorbills and lots more. From here you can enjoy wonderful views of the Pentland Firth with Orkney in the distance. Do also walk along from the harbour to the Ness of Duncansby and search for Groatie Buckies. There are lots of exciting projects going on in John O’Groats just now including a very exciting project to redevelop the impressive John O’Groats Mill which should be opened as a brand-new visitor attraction in a couple of years-time.
- You’ll be spoilt for choice for places to explore, do take time to explore off the main route and you will discover lots of hidden gems. For instance, Farr Bay, which is located north of Strathnaver Museum, is a sheltered beach with a sandy beach which you may have all to yourself! It’s also where you will find an important site for bumblebees at Farr Glebe Bumblebee Meadow.
- The Unknown in Borgie Glen is an enigmatic sculpture by artist Kenny Hunter. At the edge of the vast interior of Sutherland’s hills, moors and lochans it’s an emotive place where you can contemplate what now appears as empty glens that at one time would have been full of people. You might even catch sight of some red deer or the odd buzzard!
- With spectacular coastal views explore the Clearance township of Ceannabeinne which is found 2 miles east of Durness. This way marked trail explores what happened to the people who called this beautiful place their home and what happened in 1841 when the women of the townships defied the Sheriff Officer sent to deliver the eviction summons which resulted in the Durness Riots!
- There are some wonderful, quiet roads in the interior which will take you through some of the most wonderful scenery in the country. A great way to explore is by bike, take your time and check of the sights along the Strathnaver Trail. Or why not take part in a local sportive such as Cycling in the Straths which is a community run event which takes you through some of this wonderful scenery passing Syre, Altnaharra, Dun Dornigall broch and the majestic Ben Hope.
One of Fiona's favourite places to visit: The Unknown is an enigmatic sculpture by artist Kenny Hunter located in the beautiful Borgie Glen.
Could you tell us about anything new or recent projects happening at Strathnaver Museum?
We are in the middle of a very exciting development at Strathnaver Museum which will improve our important B listed historic building and the important collection it contains. Our building dates from about 1750 and is in need of repair and maintenance, as part of the development we will reinstate part of the gallery via a new bridge link, improve the visitor experience and facilities and build a brand-new annex building to house our agricultural and fishing artefacts. Running alongside the capital work, which all going to plan, will start in early 2021 we will have a packed programme of activities with talks, workshops and opportunities to contribute to new interpretation that will appear in the newly refurbished museum. During the closure there will be lots of opportunities to view our collection at specific sites throughout the area so we won’t be closing access to the collection during the work.
Find out more about Strathnaver Museum here: https://www.venture-north.co.uk/plan/attractions/strathnaver-museum