Hmm. Maybe I should have thought twice about committing to writing blog posts while I was on vacation. I seem to be getting a bit lax about deadlines as the vacation progresses. I guess it’s a good thing no one enforces the deadlines but me.
Anyway, when last we met I was looking forward to visiting The Highland Village Museum (An Clachan Gàidhealach) at Iona in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I am happy to report that I had a spectacular visit on a beautiful sunny day last week. The Village is spread across a hill overlooking the great Bras d’Or inland sea but the views before you even enter the village proper are just spectacular. I was also presented with immediate opportunities to test my Gàidhlig comprehension (I give myself a B+).
View from the parking lot
View across the Bras d’Or
Map of the Village layout
A Journey Begins…
Once I paid for my admission ticket, I began my journey through the history of Cape Breton settlement. There weren’t any stones but I still managed to lose over 200 years as I climbed the tree-shaded path up the hill. I wonder if I will find Jamie?
The first habitation on my tour is a Black House—or An Taigh Dubh in Gàidhlig. This is the type of dwelling that many Scottish emigrants left in Scotland when they moved across the Atlantic to Nova Scotia. As I stepped into the hazy darkness of the single room lit only by a peat fire, I was greeted by it’s resident—a shepherd who tended his lordship’s flocks. He apologized for the clutter, as he was in the final stages of preparing to move across the Great Sea to join his wife and children who had already left. He was very interested to hear if I had any first-hand information about the new land of Nova Scotia. I tried to channel my best inner Claire (a character in Outlander for the uninitiated) and make a few comments without prophesying like Cassandra.😉
A trifle gratefully, I made my escape from the Black House and move further up the hill toward the first habitations of the Scots in the new world of Cape Breton.
A Journey Begins
View across the Bras d’Or to Jamestown
Leaving the old world for the new
Welcome to Alba Nuaidh
An alien land…
Continuing up the hill, I paused to speak to some other new residents—Heiland Coos!
Once passed the coos, I entered the realm of the first Scots in Nova Scotia. The first thing the Scots had to do when they arrived was clear the great forests that covered their new home. As those of you who are familiar with the Scottish Highlands may realize, this was quite a change from the deforested landscape most of them had left. In fact, many of them had only carried a single axe head on their voyage and had to craft a handle for that before it could even be used.
However, once they did manage to get some trees felled, they were able to build dwellings for themselves and their animals. Entering the log cabin, I was greeted by a frontierswoman—in Gaelic! I answered her ‘Ciamar a tha sibh?’ with ‘Glè mhath.’ I fancy she was a bit surprised but I don’t think even I could butcher the pronunciation of that too badly. Pleasantries exchanged, she was happy to show me around her humble home.
Visitors to the log cabin
Exiting the Log Cabin (Taigh-logaichean), I made my way forward in time to the house of a slightly more prosperous farmer who owned a center-chimney house. This dwelling was a vast improvement over the log cabin. It had painted walls, a hardwood floor and actual partitioned rooms—all clustered around a central fireplace that provided not only for cooking but also the heat for the entire house. Also, many of the rooms served more than one function. You will note in one of the pictures below that the living room is set up for a milling frolic where they waulk the wool to make the cloth softer and more durable. An interesting note about waulking wool—in Scotland waulking was done exclusively by women but in Nova Scotia it was done by women and men. Personally, I think the men just didn’t want to be left out of the singing and gossiping that were part of any Cape Breton function. For all you Outlander fans, I have heard that there may be a waulking scene in Outlander!
Center Chimney House
Sick or Guest Room
View of the homestead
View of the Bras d’Or
After leaving the previous house, I ventured into the church that has served the community for hundreds of years. One of the things I have noticed since I first began coming to Cape Breton almost 15 years ago, is that every community seems to have set aside the piece of land with the best view for their church, and this was no exception.
Malagawatch Church on the hill
Inside the Church
View from the Church
Leaving the church situated on the high ground, I descended into a Cape Breton village of roughly the 19th century time period. I stopped to peek into a Centre Hallway house from about 1865 and admired the brand new cook-stove. Such a time-saver for the farmer’s wife.
Cast Iron Cookstove
View of Centre Hallway House
After the 1865 house, I walked past the Village School and then stepped into a turn-of-the-century General Store. This is where I got very brave. Not only did I answer the Storekeeper’s ‘Ciamar a tha sibh’ query with ‘Glè mhath,’ but I even ventured a further comment on the weather—’Tha e glè briagh an-diugh!’ Smugly I thought to myself—Àdham would be so proud—unfortunately, however, the storekeeper took this to mean I spoke Gaelic fluently and unleashed a torrent of Gaelic at me. Luckily, she quickly interpreted my panicked deer-in-the-headlights look correctly and switched back to English. We did have a lovely conversation though about how I came to speak even a little Gaelic and I took the opportunity to tell her about a new upcoming television series called Outlander.😉
One room Schoolhouse
Inside the General Store
Inside the General Store
Inside the General Store
I finally found Jamie…
Next up on my path through the village was the Blacksmith’s Shop. And guess what!! I finally found Jamie. Ok, so maybe he’s not a six-foot four-inch Highland Scot with red hair, but he does speak Gaelic and has a useful skill! I took a few pictures and a quick video of him at work making nails. (And just maybe had a brief flashback to a certain scene in MOBY).
Preparing to make nails
Stoking the fire in the forge
The last stop on my tour of the Highland Village Museum was a turn of the 20th century house. These are the types of houses still much in evidence in many places on Cape Breton. In this house, modern appliances such as stoves, washing machines and ice cream churns are starting to be seen. As I concluded my tour, I stopped to read the signboard about the 21st century Gaels in Cape Breton and also to make a purchase in the gift shop. I’ve never yet experienced anything easy about Gaelic but I’m hopeful this little book will live up to its cover.
21st Century Gael
I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this tour through the Cape Breton Highland Village museum with me. If you are ever in Cape Breton—and I sincerely hope you will visit—be sure to stop by. You can find all the details about planning a visit at their website: Highland Village Museum
I also wanted to take a moment to congratulate Linda Schultz (@lsdragonfly1) on winning the first ever GreatScot! giveaway. I know that the signed first edition copy of Written in My Own Heart’s Blood and the Outlander poster will have a wonderful home—just as soon as I’m home long enough to mail it!
Stay tuned for the next post all about my visit to the Gaelic College (Colaisde na Gàidhlig) where I see a man about a kilt, observe a waulking demonstration and listen to some fine fiddling from a former Premier of Nova Scotia!