In May 2022, 'Wordplay' - a local creative writing group - visited Glencoe Folk Museum for a tour and to explore the collections. Parris, Learning and Engagement Officer for the Museum, invited them to write a piece inspired by an object, story or the visit itself. One month later, Parris joined the group again and met the members at Duror and Kentallen Community Hall to find out what they had created.
Out of the members present, everyone had totally different styles, choosing a variety of objects as inspiration, and it was a very supportive space to share our work. It was great to see how everyone had their own unique viewpoint and interests. One theme that kept reoccurring was how the members related to certain objects or stories - most had fond memories associated with certain objects being used in their childhoods by family members.
We had poetry, short stories and even a journalistic piece. Below are a selection of the works, shared here with our online audiences with the permission of the writers.
"Then and Now": An Account of the visit to Glencoe Folk Museum on 15.05.22 by Becky Coope
One by one we gather on the pavement outside Glencoe Museum in the warm late afternoon sun. “Mind your heads” Parris warns as we file in through the low doorway. When we straighten up indoors we find ourselves in a cosy cottage - the white walls contrasting with the dark stripes of the heather-thatch-bearing beams above.
Around the room are glazed display cabinets, each modestly named. “Making a Museum” tells us that this ‘museum of daily life’ is here thanks to the vision and determination of a small group of women who saved the buildings from demolition. A faded photograph shows two of the founders outside the building in the late 1960s.
The connecting ‘cruck’ barn reveals more. “Living in Glencoe”, “Childhood”, “Aluminium”, “Slate”, “Conflict”. All aspects of life in and around Glencoe over the last five centuries. A simple wall display of 12 black dots joined by a line represents the railway that once linked communities between Oban and Ballachulish. An old Royal type-writer sits on a high shelf.
We duck again to leave through the back door. Outside the cottages are further dedicated displays, the buildings housing them as delicate as the objects. Amongst these are “Daily Life”, “The Coffin Boat”, “The Massacre Room”. Our visit over, we reluctantly pose for a group photo at the door and then head home.
Reflecting later, I contemplate the sheer number and range of displayed objects. Many were familiar. Some have been part of my life. All were donated by local people - the stories that connect them to the objects serving as the pass for inclusion in the collection. They tell of how daily life has changed over the years in the area - perhaps especially for women.
One of the major changes is that we are amongst the first generation of women not to have experienced the horrors of war in our villages, county, country. In addition, women’s roles have changed dramatically since the end of the 2nd World War, thanks to the escalation of mechanisation and transportation. Daily life for our predecessors would have consisted, for the most part, in doing chores. Washing took a whole day, food was produced locally, women would have worked in small, local dairies producing milk, butter and cheese. Keeping a household and family going was, for many, a full-time job.
Our writing group consists of women from Appin, Duror, Kentallen and Ballachulish. We work, have had careers, independent lives. A push of a button and the weekly wash is done. Ten minutes spent on-line results in groceries from all over the world being dropped off on our doorsteps. We gather together in our spare time to share our writing. We travel individually by car, we compose our stories on computer, iPad, smart phone. We communicate by email.
We are however starting, once again, to feel the impact of World events. Covid firstly - affecting every house, not only in our area but in every corner of the world, and now another war in Europe causing shortages, death and potentially famine on a global scale. We are fortunate, but is life on the whole better today or have we lost our connection with our neighbours and local area in a way that is impossible to rectify? Lockdown did stop us all in our tracks, local once again became important, but the lessons learnt seem short-lived. Will we end up back living a simple life under a roof of heather thatch, walking down the street to the local farm for our milk and butter, travelling to meetings by some new form of communal transport - as yet undiscovered?
The Museum’s future is thankfully safe and plans are afoot for a major refurbishment. I wonder what will be added to the display in years to come. Perhaps beside the old railway photos may be a photo of Glencoe Filling Station - a memory of another lost form of transportation. Perhaps beside the butter pats, menus from Chuffy’s Kitchen and Stiff Peaks, as a tribute to two local women who started to produce meals through Lockdown which lifted us all and became a cherished part of weekly life? And perhaps beside the photograph of the women who founded the museum may sit the photograph of our group at the door, and next to it a draft manuscript of a prize-winning novel by one of us, inspired by our visit.
The Thrawcock by Andrea McNicoll
She held the thrawcock tightly between her fingers, her hand hidden in the folds of the dress. He had bought her the dress on his last business trip to Edinburgh. Constructed of black poplin, it had a high neck and tight bodice, which he said would compliment her figure nicely. She felt like a statue in it: immobile, upright, contained. It was hard to breathe, impossible to bend.
‘What business?’ she had asked, the first time he went away, a week or so after their wedding.
‘Never you mind’. He had paused in his packing, looking over at her.
But she didn’t mind; in fact, she looked forward to his trips. She would watch him disappear on his big black horse then go into the bedroom and unfasten the tight dress, hang it up and reach for her old skirts and cotton blouses instead. Then she was free to roam the glen until the gloaming, gathering wild flowers and kindling, lying on the heather to watch the sun turn the sky red behind the Three Sisters.
The village men were ready to launch the coffin boat, to take her man’s body over to Eilean Munde, the burial island on Loch Leven. The sun sparkled on the loch’s surface as she bowed her head and walked alone towards the boat. Her own kin, mother, father and two brothers, had all died within a few weeks of each other the previous year, taken by the cholera. The minister had introduced her to him, for it was considered dangerous for a young woman to reside alone. He was a stranger, a man from the northeast with business interests, on the lookout for a wife. She pleased him, her and her cottage with its bits of furniture and the plot outside for growing vegetables. The minister married them quickly and he moved in, setting his boots down at her hearth, his legs under her table, his rough hands all over her each and every night. But that was finished now. He would soon be buried on the island and she would be alone again.
The corpse had been found on a flat rock by the green pool of the River Coe, still fully dressed. She had raised the alarm when his horse returned to the cottage, riderless. At first, no-one could guess what weapon might have made a wound so deep in his right eye socket that it penetrated his brain. The minister and the dominie had pondered the facts for a few days before declaring that he had been drunk - for a flask of whisky had been found in his coat pocket - and had ridden face first into a tree branch for there were no signs of either struggle or theft.
The oarsmen rowed the boat slowly across the loch. It was nothing, then, to take her hand out from the folds of her stiff dress and quietly let the thrawcock loose in the dark, inky water. Done, she set her gaze firmly on the island where a group of grey seals lounged on the rocks by the shore, calm and indifferent in the warm summer sun.
 A device used in rope-making.
Churning Day by Christine Ross
It was the last one. Kate sighed. She didn’t want it to go. She had always loved the shape of it, the rosy burnt umber colour of its earthenware surface and the primrose yellow creamy glaze of its inside and smoothly rounded rim. It sat solidly on the marble slabs in the dairy and the milk always looked so good in it with the white muslin draped over to keep the flies or little flecks of dust from interfering with the surface where the cream gathered.
But today she had noticed that the glaze had started to crack and in some places was beginning to flake away.
Over the last year her daughter in law had been replacing the old basins with new modern ones which now stretched out in a long clinical line in front of her, the length of the the dairy shelves.
How Kate disliked them. Stark, white, enamel basins which lacked the solidity of the old ones with a tinny sound as you moved them and which wobbled slightly when you placed them down. She acknowledged they did the same job but somehow just didn’t sit right in the old dairy. The old worn wooden skimmer for removing the cream had also disappeared and had been replaced by a saucer. Changes…
Kirsty was away to the nearest town today, some thirty miles away, on an important shopping trip so if everything went according to plan - no visit from Mrs McAvoy looking for a gossip and a cup of tea while she picked up her daily milk or perhaps an escapee cow or sheep- the butter would be made before her return.
Having collected the cream into the little pot bellied crock she took it through to the scullery where the wee barrel churn sat on a table. If she positioned it correctly she could sit beside it while she turned the handle in a regular, slow beat.
After twenty minutes or so of dreaming, how many times had she done this since she came into this house as a new young wife, she was aware of the change of the sound coming from the churn as the butter began to form. She opened the little square lid on the top and had a quick look. Not quite there.
After a few more minutes she had another quick look. All was ready.
She lifted the bulky churn over to the nearby large sink and pulling out the wooden plug at the side, she let the buttermilk pour into the jug below. She then ran cold water into the churn to rinse the butter, tipping this out into another jug - how the collies would enjoy this addition to their food tonight - and turned the lumps of newly formed butter out onto one of the cool slabs.
With the wooden pats, smooth on one side, ridged on the other, she patted the excess water out into small rectangular batches adding salt to half of them and leaving the remainder fresh, a task that couldn’t be rushed. Once in manageable amounts it was wrapped in greaseproof paper and stacked.
Tonight Seannair would get his drink of fuarag, the tangy buttermilk with a liberal spoonful of oatmeal and tomorrow there would be buttermilk for the daily baking of griddle scones.
Kirsty would be home soon and with her the new churn, a small, easily portable glass one which could be plugged into a socket where the recently installed electricity would whizz the butter around without any human exertion, easier to clean and much quicker. Or so she was told.
Parris decided to write 50-word short stories inspired by some of her favourite objects on display.
The Jacobite Dress
She swirled and twirled in her new cream gown at the ceilidh, the compact structure exaggerating her outline and elegant florals complimenting her fine freckled face. The crystal glasses clinked and shined. Slàinte! She smiled distractedly… Blushing rose-red, she remembered the hushed hurried whispers of a secret that’s consuming her.
The Ballachulish Goddess
Smooth, thick, hard, black. She glowers at you with her gaping expression and stony stare, her look deceivingly glaikit. For she is no eejit, for she is wise! She has survived thousands of years in the peat pit, succumbed by the deathly darkness, harbouring her knowledge to share with all.
The Coffin Boat
Dampness is in the air. The sea mist is hovering low, clinging to all who penetrate it, making the men’s woollen kilts itch. A gloominess sets deeper into their souls as they silently row underneath the squawking birds in flight. Suddenly, the haze clears, and the sacred Island reveals itself.
Her forest-green eyes widened then narrowed, locking onto the snowy-white fluffy creature in the mushroomed and mossy growth. Her heart beating soundly, her breathing slow and steady. Her feet tingling, her claws aching. Her mouth-watering, her pearly piercing teeth glittering. Her stomach rumbling, her stripy coat bristling. Ready... She pounces!
If you are member of a writing group, why not suggest a day-trip to your local museum? It is a great way to engage with your local heritage whilst supporting small museums, and they are full of interesting, dramatic, funny, heart-warming - and sometimes just downright weird - stories and objects. They provide endless amounts of inspiration and writing prompts - a museum visit will be sure to get you scribbling or typing away in no time!