Archaeology Festival to showcase Highland’s historic past

Copy of poster

A celebration of the heritage of the Highlands starts on Saturday (24 September). For three weeks, the Highland Archaeology Festival (HAF) will offer a range of walks, talks, workshops, exhibitions, special children’s activities and other events for all ages. The much-anticipated festival, organised by The Highland Council, features events and special exhibitions at museums throughout the Highlands, as well as geocaches and trails exploring our rich heritage from prehistoric times through to the 20th century.

Councillor Ken Gowans, Chair of The Highland Council’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee said: “Archaeology enriches all our lives, fascinates young minds and contributes greatly of our understanding and creation of community and place. The Highland Archaeology Festival is the premier event of its kind in Scotland, and attracts people from a wide area. We live in communities where the heritage is so accessible, with many local societies and museums promoting their local 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 Highland 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 added: “We’re delighted that so many organisations and museums have offered activities to celebrate archaeology, history and heritage. We’ve had a great response this year, with over 130 events and exhibitions on offer. We are very pleased to have our in-person conference again, this year on Saturday 8th October at Council Headquarters in Inverness after a break of two years.  To compliment this, we have also organised six online sessions for those who can’t make the conference. Our keynote talk, on the 7th October at Council Headquarters will be given by Steven Birch on High Pasture Cave. This internationally important site will be published in early 2023, and Steven will provide new insights from the last few years.”

There are activities to tempt people to explore further afield, with events from Caithness to Badenoch, Skye to Nairn. As usual the festival overlaps with the first week of the October school holidays and some organisations have offered special children’s activities. As well as outdoor walks there are also indoor workshops on various topics.

The popular in person conference returns this year with a packed programme provided by professional archaeologists, community groups, academics and independent researchers, all showcasing recent work and discoveries. The conference will take place on 8th October at Council Headquarters, Inverness.

The website provides further information on all the activities including the conference and special museum exhibitions. It also has links to a growing number of self-guided trails and a list of museums open during HAF. For those who don’t use the internet, a list of sites can be sent out: contact 077888 35466 to request a copy. Copies can also be found at libraries and can be downloaded from the HAF website. The website also has an index of events by geographic area.

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

Events in Badenoch and Strathspey feature over 14 events including walks to Milton of Banchor, Etteridge to Kingussie, Grantown on Spey, Inverallen, Castle Grant, The Dava Way, The Dava Moor and Cromdale. There are open days at Castle Roy and Am Fasgadh, Highland Folk Museum. The Folk Museum also hosts a Heritage in Action Day. There are special exhibitions at Grantown Museum and Clan Macpherson Museum.

In Caithness there is a walk to Forse of Wag, an open day at Castletown Mill, and special exhibitions at Dunbeath Heritage Museum and the North Coast Visitor Centre

In the Inverness area there are walks in Reelig Glen, Kirkhill, Petty and around the City of Inverness. There are tours at Culloden and the for Emergency Operations Bunker. Urquhart Castle is hosting a Pictish jewellery workshop and a family event to meet a medieval blacksmith. The Strathnairn Agricultural Working Vintage Rally and Display provides a chance to see farming and rural crafts. Workshops on basic finds conservation and small finds illustration will appeal to those working in museums, but also to detectorists and those interested in art. Treasure Trove will be present on the 8th October at the conference inviting people to bring along any finds.

West Highland Museum in Lochaber has again organised a range of walks in Fort William and surrounding areas, as well as a session focussing on metal detecting. They have prepared a children’s archaeology trail which can be picked up at the museum. Glen Coe Folk Museum will run special children’s events. A NoSAS walk explores bridges and sites around Spean Bridge. The Lochaber Archive Centre will open as part of Doors Open Day, overlapping with HAF.

In Nairn there is a talk on Highland Regional ScARF, a great resource providing an overview of all Highland heritage from earliest settlers to modern times. There is also a special exhibition at Nairn Museum on Isobel Gowdie, the Witch of Auldearn.

Ross and Cromarty has its usual diverse range of offerings. There are walks and site tours at Dingwall, Kirkmichael, Munlochy, the North Sutor, Fortrose, Rosemarkie, Strathkanaird, Beinn Eighe, and Lochbroom, with a cycle trip on the Black Isle exploring duns. Open days at Ardross Ark (formerly Ardross Church), Edderton Old Church, Clachan Church and Tarbat Old Church allow opportunities to explore these historic buildings and find out more about local heritage. The Tarradale Through Time project celebrates its completion with a talk and displays. Tarbat Discovery Centre has a children’s archaeology pit open throughout the festival, and the Highland Museum of Childhood has also organised children’s activities. Talks have been organised at Dingwall (on Dingwall and the British Empire), Tain (on the area in the Scottish Wars of Independence) and Ullapool (on archaeological sites around Loch Broom). A chance to handle real and replica objects will take place at Dingwall Library where there will also be an opportunity to explore the heritage resources. A chance to learn more about identifying animal bones will take place at Muir of Ord Hub. There is even a chance to participate at a dig near Gairloch Museum, investigating an Iron Age roundhouse. Special exhibitions have been organised on the Science of Skulls (relating to the extraordinary 6-headed burial at Portmahomack), old photographs and the work of the Ross and Cromarty Heritage Society at Dingwall and Lochcarron Libraries, and new soundscapes at Cromarty Courthouse Museum.

Skye and Lochalsh has a walk to Dunsgaith Castle and nearby cists at Tokavaig. Last year’s talk on the history of string was a big success and continues this year with a follow-on talk (online), and a special exhibition and open day at Skye & Lochalsh Archive centre, which also hosts an open day as part of Doors Open Day. It will also host, along with the Skye U3A Archaeology and History Group, a day looking at archaeological finds inviting you to bring along any mysterious finds. There is also a family event at The Plock, Kyle of Lochalsh, exploring features and stories.

In Sutherland there are walks at Helmsdale, Strath Brora, Dalnamain and Dornoch. There is an opportunity to try out the new trails at Dunrobin Castle Museum. Talks will focus on the recent excavations at Greeanan, and the impact of the sinking of the Iolaire (the latter in person or online). A special exhibition at Historylinks Museum on Mammals has been created by the Historylinks Young Curators Club.

A variety of online talks have also been arranged. The Highland Council Historic Environment Team is hosting talks on: Recent Place-Name Research (by Dr Simon Taylor and Roddy Maclean); The Boundary Objects Project investigating grave goods, stories and research opportunities (by Prof Duncan Garrow and Dr Melanie Giles); Recent work by AOC Archaeology at Bettyhill, Staffin, Kirkhill and Dornoch; New Light on Old Graves (by Dr Cecily Spall, Dr Matt Knight, Dr Adrián Maldonado and Dr Alison Sheridan); Tarradale Through Time Project (by its director Eric Grant); and Cultural Connections at the Monastery of Applecross (by Dr Carolyn McNamara). Other online talks have been organised by the String Project and West Highland Museum on a Mesolithic Harpoon (by Dr Alison Sheridan).

In addition, the Kinloss Abbey Trust in Moray has offered a guided tour, and there are special exhibitions at Burghead Visitor Centre and Elgin Museum. Volunteers are invited to come and help at a dig at Brodie Castle. Argyll’s Kilmartin Museum offers walks of this historic landscape.

For full details of these and other events, see HAF festival website



20 Sep 2022