Historylinks Museum Dornoch

Written by Chris Thornton | 7th of September 2022
Historylinks Museum in Dornoch

Historylinks is a lovely wee museum dedicated to the history of Dornoch and the local area. Being one of the few 5-star rated museums in Scotland, I expected big things, and Historylinks Museum didn't disappoint.

Dornoch is a town my wife and I have been visiting for nearly 20 years. Although we have checked out most places in the area, we had never been to this museum; today, we decided to change that. So hot off our visit to Carn Liath Broch, we were keen to find out more local history of this cathedral town.

With our three daughters in tow, ages 12, 10 and 6, we walked from the car park at Meadows Park Road, a short distance to the east, to get to the museum. There was a limit to how many people were admitted to the museum at one time (15); a red/green light indicated if we were allowed to enter or not.

Museum Historylinks
Historylinks signage.

Social distancing measures

The light was red, and the museum curator popped out to tell us there might be a wait to enter. This was fine; we decided to wait outside until some people left and we could enter. Although the curator had already told us this message, she told us the same message another two times... I'm not sure if she was hinting at us not to wait.

Accompanied children are free
Waiting patiently on the medieval stocks outside.
 
Dornoch Sutherland info board.
A great information board outside the museum showing many sites of interest within Dornoch.

Entering Historylinks Museum

After about 20 minutes, enough people had left the museum for us to enter. The curator let us in, and we bought two adult tickets (the kids were free!). The adult ticket price was only £4.50 (concessions £3.50), quite reasonable, I thought, considering the kids were getting in free too. The curator also mentioned we could come back later in the week with the same ticket, a nice offer.

Local stories from Dornoch history.
Exploring the many nooks and crannies of the Historylinks Museum.

Complete the quiz (no prizes though)

The kids were each issued with a quiz sheet and a pencil; they had to find the answers to each question as they moved around each area of the museum. A great idea, but my kids just weren't interested, which was a shame.

I did see other kids with their completed quiz sheets eagerly coming back to the reception, sheets held aloft; there didn't seem to be a prize for getting all the answers correct, and they looked a little disappointed... I guess their newfound knowledge was reward enough.

The Historylinks quiz sheet!
The quiz sheet.
 
An assortment of engineers tools.
A selection of old tools.

Exploring the Historylinks Museum

To say there is a wealth of information within this museum is an understatement. With wall space at a premium, every inch is covered with information about Dornoch, Sutherland, and ancient legends about Dragons; it's all here.

Some items of interest while walking around.

Andrew Carnegie information wall.
No wall space is wasted.

Keeping the Dornoch Story Alive

Each little alcove and section of the museum is packed with interesting facts, wonderful storyboards, and illustrations. One of my favourite exhibits was the many little dioramas to help paint a picture of the history I read on the walls.

Knights fighting diorama.
One of the many dioramas.

It's not just set up for the casual visitor either; there are shelves of folders, books and photographs in the Historylinks archive for the more serious researchers out there.

For me, the best part of the museum is all the old objects on display, everything from old tools, medicine bottles, pottery, medieval rings, Viking bracelets and a selection of old coins.

Medicine bottles.
Tincture bottles and assorted items.
 
Viking artefacts.
Viking relics, the bracelet in particular was very beautiful.
 
An assortment of pottery.
Pottery.
 
Gold and sapphire ring.
A stunning medieval gold ring with embedded sapphire.

One of the exhibits is a dead cat! Found below the floor of Dornoch Free Church, dead cats were said to ward off evil spirits; sometimes, a dead mouse would be placed within their mouths to protect the building from vermin. A bit gross, and it couldn't have smelled very nice!

Desiccated Cat!
A desiccated cat, eww!!.

Young Curators

It was great to see an entire room dedicated to the local community and the young curators from the local schools. It was a nice touch to see how the museum benefited the surrounding area.

Looking at old farm tools.
Exploring the museum. Dornoch Parish.
 
Skulls and antlers.
A collection of skulls and antlers adorn the wall in one area.

The Last Witch

The museum has a section on the last witch executed in the British Isles. Poor old Janet Horne was burned at the stake after her neighbours accused her of turning her daughter into a pony to ride to the Devil; in reality, Janet was suffering from senility, and her daughter had been born with malformed hands and feet.

A stone in Dornoch marks the spot of Janet Horne's shameful burning.

Dornoch Light Railway

The Dornoch Light Railway opened in 1902 with the support of a group of Dornoch businessmen. The museum goes into great depth on the railway, its associated Dornoch Hotel, and all of the benefits it gave to the local area. There is even a DVD available for purchase if you wish to find out more.

Farming tools mounted on the wall.
A selection of old farming tools.

Miss Kathleen Lyon

Current displays include a beautiful room in the museum dedicated to Miss Kathleen J Lyon, who was born in New Zealand in 1885 and died in 1983 at the age of 98 in Dornoch. She led an extraordinary life and had a strong interest in history.

She must have been a very dainty lady, the exquisite dress on display is tiny!

Kathleen Jane Lyon exhibit.
Kathleen Lyon exhibit.

Golf Club Workshop

One of the final exhibits at the museum is the recreation of a workshop from Royal Dornoch Golf Club. The tools here were used to fashion club heads and shafts to each customer's exacting requirements.

Golf professional's workshop where Donald Ross honed his skills.
Recreation of the golf club workshop.

Historylinks Gift Shop

There are a lot of lovely items available to purchase before you leave the museum, including stationary, toys and polished stones.

The main reception and giftshop at Historylinks Museum.
Recreation of the golf club workshop.

Historylinks trail

In addition to the main museum, leaflets are available for the Historylinks Trail. Starting at the museum, you can follow a self-guided tour around Dornoch, taking in many historical sights. I would only attempt this if you are a seasoned walker!

  1. Old Parish Manse - a circular well once connected to the Old Manse.

  2. Cathedral Gardens - Gardens at the front of the cathedral, there is an ornate drinking fountain here.

  3. Mercat Cross - The old commercial centre of Dornoch, opposite the chemists.

  4. The Early Church - The old monastery well exists near the Sutherland Council Chamber.

  5. Dornoch Light Railway - Old Dornoch Station, a small red-coloured building, still exists on the Embo road.

  6. St Michael's Well - The stone at St Micheal's Well marks the old burgh boundary.

  7. Gallows Hill - A plaque marks the site of the last public hanging in Dornoch near the gates of Earl's Cross House.

  8. Cholera Stone - To the rear of Earl's Cross House is a stone marking a cholera victim's grave.

  9. The Earl's Cross - A sculptured stone named the Earls Cross is hidden amongst gorse bushes.

  10. Dornoch Links - Here you can see the world-famous Dornoch Links golf course.

  11. The Witch's Stone - Located in Carnaig Street, the garden of the first house contains the witch's stone, marked 1722 - this was where the last witch was executed in Scotland.

  12. Littletown - People evicted from the estates during the Highland Clearances settled here in 1819.

  13. The Receiving House -This is where the mail was received into Dornoch via a series of runners until 1830. It acted as the post office for Dornoch.

  14. Embo Beach - Not only is Embo Beach one of the best in the area, perfect for holidaymakers at Grannies Heilan Hame, there is also a neolithic chambered cairn.

  15. Meikle Ferry - The site of a local disaster in 1809 where 99 people lost their lives in the Dornoch Firth.

Informational video on the Dornoch Light Railway.
Video on the Dornoch Railway is the final exhibit.

When did Historylinks Museum open?

Historylinks Museum opened in 1998 and achieved a rare 5-star rating from VisitScotland in 2009, which it still holds today.

How much does Historylinks Museum cost?

£4.50 for adults (£3.50 concessions); children are free but must be accompanied by an adult. Exclusive tours for your group can be purchased for £30 for 2 to 8 people.

Exterior photo of Historylinks Museum.
We loved our visit to HistoryLinks.

Conclusion - Local history at its best

Historylinks Museum is a great way to spend an hour or so if you are in the Dornoch area. Kids enter free, and there are so many interesting artefacts and exhibits for you to discover.

The museum is a little small, and if you don't like to read all of the information on the walls, you might be in and out pretty quickly... Just take your time and soak in all of the local history on offer; it's fascinating stuff!

We left to grab some lunch at Sandstone Cafe and then a walk around Dornoch Cathedral.

Historylinks location map

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