By Gary Hutchison |

In the first of the series, Gary relates the story of his first visit to a local archive.  If you have visited any interesting repositories, or enjoyed any particularly unusual experiences in archives, please feel free to contact our editor to contribute to the series.

Due to much of my material having been previously digitised, I had managed to make it to my Masters without setting foot in a non-national archive.  The standard procedures and familiar setting of the National Library of Scotland and National Records of Scotland had given me a specific idea of what archival research entailed, and my first visit to one outside of the capital opened me up to the myriad idiosyncrasies and unexpected opportunities which local archives can offer.  I had decided that in order to appreciate the materiality of a source outside of the printed edition, I would need to examine the original itself – an 18th century handwritten Scottish travel account, fittingly titled ‘A Journal, being an Account, of A Short Tour, or Excursion from Edinburgh’.  Several emails to the Nairn Literary Institute later, I had tracked their archives down to the collections held in Nairn Museum.  And so I began a short excursion from Edinburgh of my own…

After contacting the manager of the museum, she very kindly offered to look out the book in preparation for my arrival, but told me I could only visit on a Saturday – the museum was closed for the winter.  And so I made the four-and-a-half hour journey from Edinburgh to Nairn by train, intending to do work on the way but inevitably staring out of the window at the beautiful Highland scenery rolling past my window.  The particular highlight was passing Druimachdair Summit, the highest point in the UK rail network – it’s a very unusual experience having your ears pop on a train!  Finally arriving in Nairn, I discovered the reason it was open on Saturdays was to host a Textile Craft workshop, though the presence of people in the museum apparently did not necessitate turning the heating on.

It was at this point that the experience took a distinctive turn for the better.  I was given a private room to view the manuscript and left to my own devices. The manager, without asking, had brought out a range of related material unknown to me that was to prove invaluable.  Having past experience of viewing material under strict scrutiny and according to set procedures, it was refreshing to be trusted alone with it (and to take photos!).  Having taken high-res photos of the work, and appreciating all that they had been done for me, I offered to provide a copy of the images to the museum, which they accepted.  Moreover, the historical significance to a hitherto overlooked travel account has now been brought to their attention and I hope that others will now take notice of its value.  Given the current funding situation, a great many local archives have been struggling to maintain the truly excellent level of service that they have traditionally provided to scholars and the wider public.  One thing that has not changed, however, is their general abundance of expertise and helpfulness!

(Photo: Invernairn Guest House)