{Scotland} Doon the Watter

January 19, 2016


It seems that when it comes to museums, I am an open book. When we visited my mother-in-law las year, for the first time after she’d moved to Dunoon, she had a leaflet for the town’s one-and-only museum waiting for me on her kitchen table!

Dunoon Museum 15

Castle House Museum is housed in the former holiday home of Lord Provost Ewing of Glasgow, built in the early 19th century on the land around Dunoon’s ruined medieval castle. The museum’s mission is to stimulate interest in the history, lore and tradition of Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula, on which the town is situated.

Dunoon Museum 13

As you enter, an old shop display, vintage toys and books, and historical photographs of Dunoon immediately put you in a nostalgic mood. A 12 minute film display shows historic postcards from 100 years ago alongside new digital images from the present day – #MuseumBoy was quite fascinated by the ‘before and after’ slideshow.

Dunoon Museum 10

Dunoon Museum 09

Dunoon Museum 08

In the centre of the room, a display about the natural history of Cowal lets visitors lift and pull and array of flaps to try their hand at naming wildlife, matching leaves to trees, and identifying bird sounds. A bit challenging in parts for a city kid, but hands-on activities are always appreciated, and it was a great example of how something can be engaging and interactive, without having to be all-singing-all-dancing.

Dunoon Museum 11

Next door, we learned some more about the geology of Cowal and a Bronze Age round house site – here, a interactive flap display let us ‘dig’ beneath the surface, and a 3D model showed us how the site would have originally looked. Again, all without the aid of bells and whistles. As the you can see from the photo below, #MuseumBoy was very interested.

Dunoon Museum 06

Dunoon Museum 05

Next, as we found out about how hard it was to work along the cattle drove routes, or how dangerous it was to work in a gunpowder mill. Dioramas with mannequins recreated scenes from local history, such as a Victorian schoolroom, or the tragic story of Highland Mary, who died age 23 of typhoid fever, contracted when nursing her brother. She was linked to Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns, who dedicated several poems to Mary.


Dunoon Museum 01

Dunoon Museum 04

Then our journey through history moved forward in time, with a focus on the growth of Dunoon, local business in the 20s ans 30s, the development of electricity and the history of entertainment in Cowal. Whilst interesting to us adults, none of it really grabbed #MuseumBoy until we reached a display case full to bursting with model steam boats. Up until the 1960s, fleets of steamers brought holiday makers from Glasgow ‘doon the watter’ to Dunoon, which in its hay day was a thriving seaside resort. More mannequin dioramas, alongside historic footage, give an insight to what the town would have been like then, and #MuseumBoy was fascinated to hear granny’s stories of how granddad had taken her on a trip on The Waverley paddle steamer.

Dunoon Museum 03

Dunoon Museum 02

The exhibition closed with a look at Dunoon at Cowal during Wartime, but before we left, there were some Victorian room settings to discover around the corner, including a kitchen, study, parlour, and #MuseumBoy’s unsurprising favourite, a playroom full of wonderful toys!

Dunoon Museum 12

Also, this little display in the toilets made me smile – never miss an opportunity to teach your visitors some history :)

Dunoon Museum 07

It’s perhaps not a museum you would go out of your way to travel to, but if you find yourself in Dunoon you should definitely set aside an hour or so for a visit. As far as local history museums go, it gives an excellent overview and insight. The displays are, without a doubt, lovingly created, and the effort to include some interactives to make it more engaging for children was much appreciated. The staff were all very friendly too, and very eager to answer any questions.

Castle House Museum is open Mondays to Saturdays from Easter to October. Admission is just a couple of pounds, concessions available, kids go free. The exhibitions are upstairs, but there is lift access, though be aware that it’s not a huge space so you may want to leave any prams etc. downstairs. When the weather permits, the Castle Gardens are perfect for a picnic – with stunning views of the old pier – or there are also a couple of cafés nearby. You can find all up to date information about opening times and prices on the museum website.

Dunoon Museum 14

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