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Park Talk – History & Heritage

14th February 2017

By Peter Argyle, CNPA Convener

It is always a pleasure, as February rolls round, to find the mornings that little bit lighter a little bit earlier, the evenings noticeably drawing out, the snowdrops making their first show and the sound of bird song returning to our countryside and gardens. The early sunlight on the Cairngorms recently has been staggeringly beautiful.

2017 then is well underway. It also happens to be the themed Year for History, Heritage and Archaeology and thus a very good opportunity to remind ourselves – and importantly our visitors – of what the Park can offer in this respect. It is an area that has been inhabited for around 7000 years, with traces left by pre-historic, Celtic and Pictish peoples, through medieval times,  the turbulent eighteenth century and the changes brought about by the Romantics’ ‘rediscovery’ of the Highlands in the nineteenth.

There are few physical traces of the peoples who lived in this area long before we did; the most evident and widespread ‘footprints’ being Gaelic place names for everything from villages and settlements to mountains, rivers and countless other features. Farm names are particularly important to those who study such matters as the names very often remain unchanged for centuries – however much the nature, scale and agricultural practice on the holding may have evolved.

The castles within the Park, whether ruined or occupied, are a hugely valuable part of our built heritage, particularly because we do not have a significant number of other buildings from before the start of the nineteenth century. There are very few pre-nineteenth century houses or churches compared with areas further south.

The Ruthven Barracks are a very familiar landmark – as they were designed to be back in 1719. Thinking about the type and scale of buildings along the Spey at that time, the presence of these vast structures must have been truly dominating. No wonder the Jacobite army burned them in 1746.

It is right that we celebrate this heritage and give our support to the various museums that have been established by communities to tell their long stories. Grantown tells of the planned town, Tomintoul has a fascinating collection and reconstructions showing daily life in centuries past, while the Highland Folk Museum gives a unique insight into life over the past 200 years through its collection of relocated but original structures and more.

Add to these the Explore Abernethy Centre, the Heritage Centre at the Newtonmore Riding Centre, the Strathspey Steam railway, the heritage and visitor centres at many of our distilleries and the huge range of groups celebrating our cultural heritage, music and traditions and it is true to say that the Past is Safe and Well in the Cairngorms and in very good hands.

I do believe we should be doing more to promote the excellent work that is being done on all of this in our communities, by working with agencies such as Historic Environment Scotland, SNH, Visit Scotland and so on. We know that overwhelmingly our 1.7 million visitors come here for the landscape and all that goes with that; we need to show that we can offer really special history, heritage and archaeology as well.