App is hot on the Clearances trail

4th May 2012 at 01:00
An interactive tour guide helps young historians to get to grips with the plight of the 19th-century emigrants of Kildonan. Henry Hepburn reports

An app for iPhones and iPads will allow users to relive one of the most notorious episodes in Scottish history.

Interactive tour guide Museum Without Walls: Scotland's Clearances Trail will be launched on 19 May in Helmsdale, Sutherland, by the Timespan Museum and Arts Centre.

The app, costing 69p, takes virtual and physical visitors around one of the country's most beautiful and historic areas, the Strath of Kildonan, at the northernmost tip of Scotland.

Its potential in schools has been boosted by the inclusion of a Sutherland Clearances topic in the new National 5 qualification for history.

The voyage made by families cleared from the Strath of Kildonan has been described by historians as one of the most demanding of all those faced by European emigrants to North America.

Around 100 people were displaced by thousands of sheep and left in 1813. A boatload sailed to Hudson Bay, in north-eastern Canada, where they had to build their own shelters as the winter closed in.

The following spring, they began a 1,000-mile journey, many walking in handmade snowshoes, to the Red River settlement - later to become the city of Winnipeg - where Scottish aristocrat the Earl of Selkirk had promised them land.

The story of one emigrant, Catherine McPherson, comes alive on the app. She nursed the sick after typhoid broke out en route to Canada and survived a flood that carried away her log home.

Museum Without Walls project manager Jacqueline Aitken said the e-trail has been completed before an expected influx of overseas visitors to commemorate the Clearances' 200th anniversary next year.

The app had funding from Museums Galleries Scotland (pound;22,407) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (pound;45,900). All monies raised will go to Timespan and the trail's maintenance.

The app's launch coincides with this year's Festival of Museums, taking place throughout Scotland, 18-20 May.

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