A museum without walls. No roof – just the sky above it.
I love the concept of an ‘Ecomuseum’ and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn more about Skye’s Ecomuseum sites around Staffin in the North East of the island earlier in October.
Not to sound too much like I’m writing an essay, but I wasn’t entirely clear on what an Ecomuseum was before the trip, so here is a definition (by Oxford dictionary):
“A type of interdisciplinary museum presenting the history and heritage of a particular community or region in the context of its society, culture, and natural environment.”
Some of you may know I did a masters course a few years ago in Heritage and Interpretation. Although the course was run through a school of Museum Studies, I always preferred the idea of experiencing heritage in its natural environment. With the Ecomuseum, all the exhibits are located in the environment, with various types of interpretation telling their stories.
I’m fascinated by people’s relationship to a place; how they experience it, relate to it and understand its significance. Staffin - or An Taobh Sear in Gaelic - is a living landscape. A community where people live and work, with a small resident population of little more than 500 people, living in 23 different crofting townships dotted around Staffin Bay and the Trotternish Ridge. It is an area rich in cultural and natural heritage, with environmental designations and an international reputation for its geology and paleontology.
It's also an area that attracts a huge number of visitors each year, at a rate which now sees the population increase six-fold in the busiest months. This puts pressure on this remarkable environment, the impact of which can be seen by the footpath erosion on popular walking routes and areas designated for car parking.
The Ecomuseum is delivering a new project, which is a community led initiative, to encourage visitors to slow down and take more time to understand and appreciate the area. The project also includes additional infrastructure to allow for more sustainable use by the increasing number of visitors - including a a new viewing platform at Lealt Gorge (pictured above) more parking, and new interpretation notices by Spring 2019.
There are also plans for a programme of public engagement events, and footpath improvements due to the heavy footfall. This is something I'm personally very passionate about having carried out a number of practical footpath repairs on the conservation volunteering working holidays I've done with the NTS (National Trust for Scotland) over the years. The community wants to make visitors welcome to Staffin's many scenic landmarks, including the Quiraing, Old Man of Storr and Kilt Rock, but also to show that there is a lot more to the area worth experiencing.
The Staffin Community Trust invited bloggers and Instagrammers to help spread the word about the project and the work of the Ecomuseum, staying in Flodigarry Hostel, which has epic views right outside. The experience started on the Friday when we arrived as the group went coasteering with Skye Adventure. I had no real idea what I was letting myself in for, but as with most things recently, I (literally) decided to jump in and give it a go. I was pretty rubbish, and found it all quite scary, but it was exhilarating and showcased some of Skye's beautiful coastline.
On Saturday we visited a quieter side of the Quiraing and heard more about the history of the site, which I found fascinating. We also went searching for dinosaur footprints at Brothers’ Point (but the tide was too high at that time), visited Lealt and heard about the diatomite industry of the area, as well as exploring and discovering more about a number of other beauty spots on route.
Social media is one of the reasons so many people are visiting, which is of course encouraged. However, greater awareness of our impact as responsible tourists is important; venturing beyond the obvious ‘hot spots’, visiting year-round if you can, contributing to the local economy, exploring further, delving a little deeper, getting to know the locals and their stories. For me that is the real joy is visiting somewhere new – getting to know what makes that place unique – as everywhere has its own identity and culture.
Making the heritage and significance of a place relatable to people beyond the obvious photo opportunities can be a challenge. There are many of those opportunities of course, and I made use of them, but there is so much more to a landscape than you can capture in an image – more depth which makes for a richer and more authentic experience. Go and explore and discover for yourself. The beauty of having no walls is that you can access this rich heritage and breath-taking scenery at any time... and these sites are probably best enjoyed when there are less crowds around.
Visit the website to find out more about Skye's Ecomuseum - http://www.skyecomuseum.co.uk/
I'm Kelly. A thirty-something year old adventurer from Aberdeenshire. Read more about me in the ABOUT ME section.