National Museum of Rural Life

A Fun Day Out for the Whole Family

By Gill Sherry

When I was a child, the word ‘museum’ always filled me with dread. For me, it represented boredom, a day spent indoors looking at old, uninteresting stuff when I could have been outside having fun with my friends.

If only the National Museum of Rural Life had existed then! Situated in East Kilbride, the museum has something for every member of the family. In fact, on the day of my visit, three generations of the same family were enjoying a day out, all entertained by what the museum had to offer.

For those interested in Scotland’s rural history, the items on display include everything from tractors, ploughs and scythes, to rope twisters and muck spreaders. You will also find a 1920s chopper blower, a tumlin tam, and a hay bogie made in Maybole. No spoilers here, though, if you want to know what they are, you’ll have to go and see for yourself!

There’s also a blacksmith’s workshop, laid out exactly as it would have been at the turn of 20th century, in addition to model harrows, barrows, carriages and carts.

For younger visitors, there’s the opportunity to become a garden detective! The indoor shed offers footage of nocturnal creatures while special sound effects bring the outdoors in. There are plenty of plant and animal puzzles and a plethora of flora and fauna facts. Perfect for keeping the little ones amused.

Kids can also learn why bees and other insects are so important to the survival of our planet.

The main galleries relate to Tools, Science and People. Display cabinets in each of the galleries offer a wealth of information on how things have changed over the years including the use of water, steam and animal power. You can find details of milking machines and veterinary equipment and learn how ploughs have developed from simple ground breaking instruments to modern, specialist machines.

Artwork adorns the walls in the form of animal portraits by William Shiels. Dating from 1832, the artist captured key features of various breeds including the Fife horned cow, the Berkshire pig, a Cheviot ewe, Orkney sheep, West Highland ponies and a Scotch terrier. It’s interesting to see how these creatures have changed over time.

When it comes to animals, however, you can’t beat the real thing. That’s where the historic farmhouse and working farm come in.

Both are a short walk from the museum but be aware, there is a slight incline and the path can be muddy in places. Alternatively, you can opt for the tractor ride which is slow and very bumpy. If you’re physically able, you would probably be quicker to walk. Besides, what could be better than a meander through the countryside?

The path to and from the farmhouse affords delightful views of the landscape, the distant Whitelee Windfarm the only interruption to the rolling hills of East Kilbride. There are information boards to entertain and educate as well as willow sculptures to discover and marvel upon. There’s also the odd bench to rest awhile and appreciate the surroundings. Weather permitting, you could even enjoy a picnic.

At the time of my visit, the farmhouse garden was covered with a blanket of snowdrops, punctuated with patches of purple crocuses. A watchful scarecrow followed my progress with his beady eyes.

The farm is home to cattle, pigs, sheep, horses and hens, as well as a highly inquisitive black cat. I managed to snap photographs of two very obliging Highland cows as they tucked into their lunch. In the meantime, three adorable calves (Hansel, Greta and Roly) fed from buckets in the outbuildings.

In the hen hut, you’ll find White Leghorns, Black Rocks and Scots Dumpies, the latter being classed as an endangered breed by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. It’s reassuring to know that the museum is doing its bit to preserve these threatened, short-legged birds.

The pig sty is where you’ll find the rare breed pedigree Tamworth pigs including three piglets born in June last year. With their long snouts, curly tails and big, floppy ears, the cute piglets attract plenty of attention from children and adults alike, despite the less than pleasant smell!

The farmhouse itself was home to the Reid family from 1567 until 1992 when it was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland. The rooms are exactly as they would have been in the 1950s with a drying rack in the kitchen, a square piano in the dining room and black and white family portraits throughout. Stepping into the house is like stepping back in time and offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of the farm of Wester Kittochside.

A bothy sits adjacent to the main farm house. Originally home to farm servants it was later used as a tack room. During World War II it housed prisoners of war and is now laid out as it would have been when a certain Heinrich Lueckel stayed there. The German POW spent two years in the bothy during which he also worked as a farm labourer.

There’s no escaping the historic atmosphere in both the farmhouse and the bothy. It’s as though you can sense the presence of the generations who stayed there before. Being able to trace their footsteps through the house is a privilege indeed and testament to the museum for recreating and maintaining a fine example of yesteryear.

Back in the main museum building, refreshments are available in the café which is ideally situated for countryside views. There’s also a shop for those essential souvenir, gift and toy purchases. Outside, you’ll find a play park and a designated picnic area and there’s ample (free) parking. All in all, everything you need for the perfect family day out.

The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm (last admittance 4pm). Day tickets cost £9 per adult and £8 per child (under 5s free) although substantial savings can be obtained by purchasing an annual pass.

Group tickets are also available.

For more information visitwww.nms.ac.uk/national-museum-of-rural-life.