History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Evocative displays on the Highland Clearances
The core of Timespan is a museum focused on life in Helmsdale and Kildonan. A theme that runs throughout the museum is the story of the Highland Clearances. Timespan has done something quite intriguing; letting you discover the tragic tale of the Clearances from the viewpoints of some of the major characters involved, from the Countess of Sutherland to her factor, Patrick Stewart, to local clergy and a local woman whose family was forced to leave their land.
'Personalising' the story of the Clearances like this really does help bring the story to life, and it is hard not to feel affected by the sad story of the families who were forced to leave the land they had farmed for generations and move into purpose-built communities along the coast. Some chose to emigrate, and one fascinating display tells the story of how settlers from the Helmsdale region settled the area that became Winnipeg, in Canada.
The Scottish Gold Rush
The story of the Clearances is not the only focus at Timespan; there is the fascinating story of the Scottish Gold Rush. In 1868 the Duke of Sutherland granted Robert Gilchrist a license to pan for gold at Baile an Or, in the Strath of Kildonan. The story soon got out, and both experienced prospectors and neophytes alike converged on Kildonan to look for gold. The Duke granted licenses at the cost of 1 pound per month, to work a 40 square feet claim.
Crucially, the Duke also claimed a commission of 10% on all gold found. This, plus objections of local shepherds and farmers, meant that the number of prospectors soon dwindled, and in December 1869 the Duke withdrew all licenses.
A section of the museum recreates historic buildings, from a traditional crofter's cottage, a smiddy (smithy), to a village shop. There are historic artefacts including the 6th century Borrobol Pictish Symbol Stone, and a traditional peat sledge. This latter was used to recover bodies of Allied airmen when a Liberator crashed near Ben Mhealaid in 1944.
Aside from the main museum, there is a special exhibition area which was featuring local people who fought in World War One when I visited. Timespan also maintains a very large records archive, with help available for anyone wishing to trace their ancestral roots in Sutherland and the Highlands.
I think Timespan has done an exceptional job of bringing the heritage of the Helmsdale area to life. The exhibits on the Clearances were very effective, and I found myself caught up in the story of the families forced off their farms. To emphasise this part of Helmsdale's history, take a moment to visit 'The Emigrants' memorial, just the other side of the modern road bridge from Timespan.
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Address: Dunrobin Street, Helmsdale, Highlands and Islands, Scotland, KW8 6JA
Attraction Type: Museum
Location: In the centre of Helmsdale. Well signposted, and free nearby parking.
OS: ND029 153
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Badbea Clearance Village - 4.7 miles (Museum)
Baile an Or - 8.2 miles (Countryside)
Dunbeath Heritage Centre - 12 miles (Museum)
Laidhay Croft Museum - 12.8 miles (Museum)
Carn Liath Broch - 13.8 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Dunrobin Castle - 14.2 miles (Historic House)
Clan Gunn Heritage Centre & Museum - 15.5 miles (Museum)
Achavanich Standing Stones - 19.1 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Nearest Accommodation to Timespan:
Nearby accommodation is calculated 'as the crow flies' from Timespan. 'Nearest' may involve a long drive up and down glens or, if you are near the coast, may include a ferry ride! Please check the property map to make sure the location is right for you.