Archaeology Festival to showcase Highland’s historic past

launch photo

• Chair of The Highland Council’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Trish Robertson joins The Highland Council's Archaeologist Kirsty Cameron to launch the 2021 Highland Archaeology Festival. Photos by Ewen Weatherspoon

The high point of the year for celebrating our heritage starts on Saturday 25 September. For three weeks, the Highland Archaeology Festival will offer a range of walks, talks, workshops, exhibitions, and activities for all ages. The festival is organised by The Highland Council’s Development and Infrastructure Service and features over a hundred events, including special exhibitions at museums, as well as geocaches and trails exploring our rich heritage from prehistoric times through to the 20th century.

Chair of The Highland Council’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Trish Robertson, said: “The Highland Archaeology Festival is the premier event of its kind in Scotland. We live in an area where the heritage is so accessible, with many local societies and museums promoting their area and undertaking important projects. Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy notes that archaeology is for everyone, contributing to our wellbeing and knowledge, and to our economic growth and quality of life. What better way to showcase this than by a festival stretching across the Highlands and celebrating the range and diversity of our heritage. I particularly would like to thank all the event organisers for their time, imagination and effort, as the festival would not be possible without them.”

The Highland Council’s Archaeologist Kirsty Cameron said: “We’re delighted to be able to run the Events Programme again this year and it’s fantastic that so many organisations and museums have offered activities which celebrate archaeology, history and heritage. Walks to special places are always popular, and people are keen to get out and about more, especially after the past year.

“Last year due to Covid we organised a series of online talks, attracting people from all over the world. This year we have organised an expanded programme of lunchtime and evening talks. We begin with the launch of the Highland Regional ScARF, a 3-year project the Council has been involved with to provide an overview over 14,000 years of Highland heritage, from the Palaeolithic to modern times. We will also feature a new talk by Dr Candy Hatherley on the publication of the nationally important Iron Age site of Culduthel. Our closing talk will be from Dr Alison Sheridan on the important Bronze Age hoard from Migdale. Other sessions include a focus on the potential of archaeology to promote Highland tourism, reports on recent excavations, the ever-popular topic of whisky heritage, a focus on some architectural gems, scientific analysis of castle mortars, the potential of tree ring dating, a look at some key Highland finds, and a session profiling new student research. Details on these, with links to online events, can be found on the Highland Archaeology Festival website”

There are activities to tempt people to explore far and wide, with events from Caithness to Badenoch, Skye to Nairn. In previous years our workshops proved very popular, and this year will feature workshops, sponsored by ScARF, on finds conservation and illustration. As usual the festival overlaps the first week of the October school holidays, so we have some special children’s activities in the programme too. As well as outdoor walks, there are indoor workshops, including a focus on the marvellous aerial photos collection of the late Jim Bone, now available online.

The website provides information on all the activities and more, with links to a growing number of self-guided trails and a listing of museums open during the festival, including those with special exhibitions. Copies of the brochure can be found at libraries, museums, tourist information centres and various other outlets, and can also be downloaded from the website.

The line-up of events around the Highlands this year includes:

Events in Badenoch and Strathspey feature the online Badenoch celebration organised by the Badenoch Great Place Project and an online talk on scientific investigation of Castle Roy, which will also host open days.

In Caithness there is a walk to investigate wartime remains at Dunnet Head, online talks on excavations at Swartigill and finds from Freswick and a special exhibition at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Maps and Sea Charts.

Inverness-shire has walks to Comar Wood Dun; Strathglass, Breackachy; tours and a special family activity at the Inverness Filter Bunker and a special exhibition on recent Treasure Trove finds at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Online talks focus on recent archaeological work in Inverness on Castle Street and Culduthel, architectural studies in Inverness and Kirkhill, and a focus on 16th century Inverness alewives.

West Highland Museum in Lochaber has organised a range of walks in Fort William and surrounding areas, as well as a session focussing on metal detecting in Lochaber. Glenfinnan Station Museum has organised a special exhibition about the building of the Mallaig railway.

In Nairn there are two talks at Nairn Museum, one relating to their special exhibition on shops and businesses, the other on recent Treasure Trove finds. There is a workshop on small finds illustration, and a chance to record Ordnance Survey benchmarks.

Ross and Cromarty has a diverse range of offerings. There are walks and site tours at Dingwall, Strathpeffer, Kirkmichael, Ardross, Edderton, Tain, Milton, Portmahomack, Ullapool, Gairloch and Shieldaig. Online talks feature excavations at Rosemarkie and Bellfield (North Kessock), and Gairloch is hosting an online event where archaeologists discuss the local area. There is are also some in-person talks at Tain and Clachan Church. Dingwall Museum will have a special opening to feature the recently found Conan Stone, and there are special exhibitions at Cromarty Courthouse Museum, Groam House Museum and Gairloch Museum. Blacksmith crafts and archaeology loan boxes and learning materials are featured at an event at the Black Isle Showground. A number of events have been organised by the St Duthac Book and Arts Festival. Special children’s activities are planned at Portmahomack and Strathpeffer. There is an excavation of a roundhouse in Gairloch which welcomes visitors and an opportunity to help record remains around Braemore Junction.

Skye and Lochalsh has walks at the marble quarries at Broadford, Pictish and Medieval remains at St Columba’s Isle and Tote, and multi-period sites around Camus Cross and Isle Ornsay.  A special family Viking activity day is taking place at Kyle of Lochalsh.

In Sutherland there are walks at Dalnamain, Doll (Brora), The Ord and Clachtoll Broch. Online talks explore the Bronze Age Migdale Hoard, Dalchork prehistoric houses and Clachtoll Broch. There are guided tours of Dunrobin Castle Museum and a special exhibition on Brora’s Industrial Tramways at Brora Library. Historylinks Museum in Dornoch has a special dig event for children.

Other online talks spanning all parts of the Highlands include the launch of the Highland Regional ScARF, a major project providing an overview of Highland heritage; an in depth look at string through the ages; reconstruction of past lives from the biomolecular and chemical analysis of human remains; an exploration of heritage and tourism; a focus on excavation of whisky stills and whisky in Gaelic tradition; the potential of studying tree rings for dating and climate; recent Treasure Trove finds in the Highlands; and student research on shielings and sandstones. An in-person workshop will explore the aerial photograph collection, now online, of the late Jim Bone.

Argyll’s Kilmartin Museum offers walks of this important historic landscape.

For full details of these and other events, see the Highland Archaeology Festival 2021 brochure available from local libraries, museums, visitor information points, and various other venues or from the festival website

front cover of booklet



20 Sep 2021