There are everywhere, they are fun, and there is so much to learn from them.
Say Hello, Dolly! to the most famous sheep in the world, the first cloned mammal, now stuffed and on display at the National Museum of Scotland. I thought of Dolly after reading TreeHugger Katherine’s post Make roadside attractions part of your next car trip; our family’s obsession has always been the little museum. Dolly is in a big, marvellous museum but it was the first we saw on our recent vacation in Scotland.
Exhibits of crofting, farming, fishing and everyday objects show what life was like in Mull in the past. The wreck of a Spanish galleon in 1588 brought excitement to the place, as did the hundreds of naval personnel who trained here during Second World War.
Yes, in Tobermory they are still talking about that excitement in 1588. The Second World War is big in the little museums. In Oban, most of the museum is devoted to military history.
Oban War & Peace Museum contains a fascinating collection of artefacts and photographs depicting the rich cultural history of the busy port town and its people. You can learn about the fishing and maritime industries, the railway, road transport, local sports, the building of the iconic McCaig’s Tower and the strategic role played by Oban during the war years when the town was home to Australian, Canadian and US aircrew and RAF Flying Boats operated from the bay.
Perhaps the loveliest little museum we saw was the West Highland Museum in Fort William. It only had a small section on the Second World War, but it included a folding bike that was designed to be dropped with paratroopers. I didn’t take a lot of photos of these museums, not wanting to view my vacation through a phone, but of course, I had to take one of a folding bike.
Fort William is not far from the site of the Battle of Culloden, and the museum had a lot more space devoted to the Jacobite rebellions. It has a fun backstory: "It was founded in 1922 by a group of local enthusiasts led by Victor Hodgson, who had neither a collection nor a building to display it in," as opposed to the usual rich benefactor. Hodgson turns out to be a local architect with a passion for history and archaeology on the side (and, according to the Scottish Architects' directory, an extremely rich father).
Sometimes these museums are hilariously amateurish, like this one at the museum at Dunollie Castle in Oban, with this strange beheaded woman.
The mannequin at our local Heritage Museum in Dorset, Ontario, is much more lifelike, almost scary.
It is a charming museum, which features "exhibits of early pioneer life, local settlers, traditional logging practices, and historic information pertaining to pioneer settlement of the Dorset." It's maintained by volunteers in a village with a year-round population of just a few hundred people, in an Art Deco building that used to be government offices. Within an hour's drive, there is a pioneer village, a logging museum and two other tiny little museums -- you could spend all day going from one to the other.
Really, cement dinosaurs and big nickels are nice for a few minutes, but little museums give you a real understanding of the place you are visiting. They are staffed by the friendliest people you will ever meet, and often have play areas for the little kids. And if you start them young, they still love them when they are big kids and adults; I know my kids still do.
Also, it takes a lot less money and produces a lot less CO2 to pile the family into the car and see what’s around you in your own country than it does to fly off somewhere. We didn't have to fly to Scotland for this; they are all around us. So support your local little museum!