Mary Ann's Cottage
Mary Ann's Cottage

In 1850 John Young built a traditional Caithness cottage in the village of Dunnet, close to the most northerly point on the British mainland. John was followed by his son, William, then by William's daughter Mary Ann and her husband John Calder. Mary Ann Calder lived in this simple cottage until she was 93, and after her departure to a nursing home, it was preserved and opened to the public as a museum, an example of a traditional Caithness crofter's cottage.

Over the course of three generations, the lifestyle of those living in the cottage changed little, and that lifestyle is brought home in this wonderful museum. It is like a time-capsule, a look back over 150 years of traditional life in the very north of Scotland.

The front of the cottage
The front of the cottage

Though Mary Ann's Cottage can be labelled a museum, that might give the wrong impression; this is not some stuffy set of museum displays kept at arm's length behind glass cases! Mary Ann's Cottage is a living reminder of what life was like not so long ago in Caithness. One of the many family items on display is William Young's sea chest. Young was a seaman and sailed on the Westland on its 1879 voyage to New Zealand.

Another unusual prize on show is a healing stone. This highly polished stone is kept carefully wrapped in cloth, and stored in a clothes press. Healing stones are a reminder of an ancient pagan culture in the north of Scotland, and were used as a lucky charm, or amulet, to heal disease.

The parlour and cooking hearth
The parlour and cooking hearth

Everything was left as it was when Mary Ann Calder left the house. You will see family belongings, tools, domestic implements, furniture, and items from everyday life. Volunteer guides are on hand to share the details of how Mary Ann and her family lived here, and they do a wonderful job.

I had a marvellous visit; the guides are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and manage to share so much about the life led by Mary Ann and people like hee; a traditional life of hard work, hardship, and making do with what they could create with their own hands.

I highly recommend a visit to the Cottage, especially for families. Children will really enjoy - and marvel - at the way of life that Mary Ann and her family led.

The thatched pig hut
The thatched pig hut

Peat drying in front of the cottage
Peat drying in front of the cottage

Behind the cottage is a picturesque thatched hut, meant to house pigs, while in front of the cottage is a large heap of peat, arranged for drying. The peat is not simply there for display; it is used to heat the house on damp days. Mary Ann Calder cooked over the open range fire, fuelled by peat. To one side of the living quarters is a workshop area, where you can see a rope-making machine and other agricultural tools.

To the other side are stables for animals, a cart-storage area, and a barn. In front of the house is a small stone cubbyhole for keeping peat dry, and a rain barrel stands in one corner to collect water running off the roof. Water for drinking had to brought from a well far across the hillside, where you can see a small flag waving above the peat.

Mary Ann's Cottage is very well signposted off the A836 at Dunnet. Take the turnoff to Dunnet village and follow the signs, turning left at a point whee the road bends. There is a small parking area behind the cottage.

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About Mary Ann's Cottage
Address: Ness Road, Dunnet, Caithness, Scotland, KW14 8YD
Attraction Type: Museum
Location: Off the A836 in Dunnet village. Very well signposted. Small parking area behind the cottage.
Website: Mary Ann's Cottage
Location map
OS: ND210715
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


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