Orkney – Corrigall Farm Museum

Where Skara Brae shows how residents of Orkney lived 5000 years ago and where Kirbuster was built in the 16th century (and expanded in the 18th), Corrigall Farm Museum brings the progression of home-and-farm sites I visited up to the late 19th century: quite a leap again, even though I also needed to keep in mind that Kirbuster was still used as a home concurrently with establishment of Corrigall.


Many aspects of the buildings' shapes, functions, and construction carry forward earlier themes, with new ideas added, including chimneys.


The sizes, shapes, configurations, and some details evolved. The stone roofing here, sometimes with turf on top, is wonderful and shows up all over Orkney.


Peat, cut and stacked against the winter.


More careful stonework: a doorway to the barn.


Within the barn, I was surprised to find a familiar configuration of stalls for dairy cattle (now storing other items) and a drain channel in the floor, reminiscent of the way the main barn was set up at Windy Knoll Farm in Illinois in the mid-twentieth century. That was a larger barn, and made of white-painted wood, but I felt as though I recognized this space as soon as I walked into it.


In the main house, there was a big oven/kiln. As with Kirbuster, I'll need another visit (and background reading) to really understand some of the components of the way of life. But look at that amazing ball of rope, I think made of straw:


Here's a straw bikko, or dog, constructed at the end of the harvest time.


Large netting shuttles, with twine in place, and more wonderful ropes, of different kinds. Rope is an essential tool of life that we certainly manage to forget about (or ignore) in these days of computer cables and duct tape. Where would we be without rope?


A closer view of one of the roof combinations, sod on stones.


This is the entry to the house: it's the kitchen area, and the chickens enjoy the grain that's scattered around the stones where it's ground into flour.


Not everything was work. There was music, and there were dogs, and there was art.


Although they could have wandered farther, the chickens seemed to stay in the entry area of the house. . . .


. . . it was probably far more interesting to them than the sleeping and sitting areas. The cat, however, made herself at home everywhere.


There were lots of textiles, many of them worn enough that they were not too "precious" to be on display and handled by visitors. Both originals and reproductions hung on pegs, were neatly folded in cupboards. . . . 


. . . and lay on the floor.


Up in the rafters, I saw two niddy-noddies for winding skeins of yarn. Here's one of them.


It's true: I wanted to take down one of the niddies (also called reels) and use it.

The other sections of rafters and tops of items (like the cupboards) in the main room also held carders, lazy kates for spinning-wheel bobbins, and other textile tools.

A bookshelf displayed many titles in bindings that resemble those of some of the books my sister and I now have.


The family at Corrigall apparently liked to read, and a number of the books could have come directly from the shelves at my grandmother's house.

Another room held more family items: a cradle, child's and adult's chairs, more carders, a basket of wool. . . .


. . . a skein winder and a spinning wheel (with a few missing bits), plus a small expanding swift on the shelf behind. . . .


. . . and the cat who goes everywhere.


A real plant, of a somewhat rare type, from which cuttings are available to those who may be able to cultivate offspring.


In the room that is now a small shop and information center, there's a wonderful big old loom.


And a quill winder. You can also see here some of the pegs set into the back of the loom to form a warping frame.


While there were an amazing number of items on view, it was possible to focus on individual objects in turn and see their elegance and simplicity, along with the dignity that comes from having been well used. As, for example, these two reeds that may have been fitted in turn into the nearby loom. They were made, not manufactured.


And this shuttle, broken in several ways now, smooth and shaped when it was originally carved and then even more during the thousands of hours when a weaver held it, threw it through the shed, and caught it at the other side . . . 

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. . . then turned it to send it on the journey back through the next shed to the other side, growing—one thread at a time—all the cloth that would be needed by and put into use in a household: for sheets, towels, clothing, and more.

At both Kirbuster and Corrigall, we were lucky to find people as well: in each location, we met a guide involved at all levels with the museum who was willing to share his insights and knowledge. At Corrigall, that was Neil Leask, who, when he's not working, is developing a personal collection of treasures and their stories and the skills that go with them, some of which he shares with visitors at the museum, to keep both the memories and the living knowledge active. His young children will benefit in the future from his efforts and enthusiasm, as the museum does now. We thought we were about to leave, and then another hour of fascinating discourse ensued!

I felt lucky to be in Orkney during the open season for the farm museums (just barely), and I look forward to the possibility of going back for more. I'll know not to have a very tight schedule, which, fortunately, I didn't—I wasn't able to see anywhere near as much as I wanted to, but no visit that I made was rushed. That was true of this whole adventure. . . .



2 thoughts on “Orkney – Corrigall Farm Museum”

  1. Lovely stroll through the museum. It’d be great to be able to stroll through Windy Knoll nowadays instead of just in memory!

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