Forget American Independence Day; July 4 this year will, in fact, mark the 50th anniversary of a much-loved Fife attraction.
The Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther opened its doors on July 4, 1969, with the aim of preserving the history of a declining Scottish industry.
And it has certainly managed to achieve that, as well as attracting 14,000 visitors per year – or up to 95,000 if you include the cafe, shop and visitors who board the touring Reaper, a Fifie sailing herring drifter.
On July 4 this year, the Reaper’s return to the museum will herald the start of this very special anniversary year.
It will lead a flotilla of fishing vessels to the harbourside in Anstruther as the museum, its eight-strong workforce and 50 volunteers celebrate the museum’s golden milestone with the public on July 4.
For the past 18 months, the Reaper has been docked at Rosyth for a major refurbishment, funded by the Scottish Government.
Now everyone at the museum is looking forward to her return.
Simon Hayhow, the museum’s development director, said: “We visited her about a week ago and the work is on schedule for sea trials to take place in May and her return on July 4.
“She’s never had a restoration of this scale since she was built, back in 1902.
“As is often the case with old boats, when we started doing the work we realised more needed done.
“Some 75 per cent of the timber has been replaced. While we were keen to keep the original timber, the Reaper has to be sea-worthy too as she is a working boat.
“She regularly tours fishing communities around Scotland, letting people know about the museum so, for safety, a lot of the timber had to be replaced.
“The Scottish Government has paid for the first phase of restoration but we’ll still need to replace the electrics and fit out the cabins when she returns, which we will fund.”
The celebration on July 4 will mark the start of the museum’s 50th party celebrations.
For the staff, it’s a chance to not only look back at the many achievements over the years, but also to start looking to the future.
Simon explained: “We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years but we want to ensure the museum survives for another 50 so we have some ambitious plans we want to share with the public too.
“This year we will be focusing on celebrating the museum’s long history and next year we want to look towards the future.
“The boatyard has really taken off and we’re restoring not only our own fleet of about 22 boats but customers’ boats too.
“Not only does that help keep traditional skills alive, but it’s also a source of revenue that can be ploughed back into the museum.
“There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at the museum, even if you’re not interested in restoration.
“Volunteers help out in the cafe and shop and with our publicity, which will be key this year, so we’d be delighted to hear from anyone who is interested.
“In addition to the 50th celebrations on July 4, we’re planning two national scale events – one in October and the other in spring 2020.
“These family events will be on a scale we’ve never tackled before as we want to attract visitors from all over Scotland.
“In October, we’ll be asking schools and community groups to create lanterns for our Light at the Museum event and in spring next year we want to stage a massive open day.
“This is a big opportunity to put the museum on the map and to let people see all that we do here.
“It will be a celebration of what we’ve already achieved but also what’s to come.
“We have some ambitious plans in the pipeline to equip the museum for the next 50 years and we want to use our anniversary as a launch pad for those plans.”
The Scottish Fisheries Museum is a registered charity which is graded a four-star visitor attraction by VisitScotland.
It holds 65,000 artefacts, with collections deemed of national significance.
Founded initially at a property known as St Ayle’s, now the oldest on the Anstruther site it occupies, the museum has also expanded to include adjacent 18th and 19th century domestic properties.
In 1997, the former Smith & Hutton Boatyard was developed to house most of the museum’s impressive collection of fishing vessels. And in 2000 the Zulu Gallery was added to house the 22m Zulu drifter, Research.
Events to celebrate 50 years
Visitors to the Scottish Fisheries Museum are in good company. For the attraction has also been given the royal seal of approval.
The museum has hosted a number of royal visits, including HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, HM The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
But HRH the Princess Royal has been the most loyal supporter – she visited the first phase of the Historic Boatyard project in 1994 during the museum’s Silver Jubilee, then returned to see the completed works and subsequent Zulu Gallery in 2003. She also visited during the museum’s 40th anniversary in 2009. It’s not yet know whether the Princess Royal will return for the 50th celebrations but members of the public are definitely invited!
The first event will be held exactly 50 years to the day since the museum opened, July 4.
The Reaper, which made an appearance on Outlander carrying Claire and Jamie Fraser over to France at the start of Season Two, will return to the harbour in Anstruther, leading a flotilla of boats from Rosyth back home.
On October 25, there will be a paranormal evening at the museum aimed at adults, followed on October 26 with a child-friendly ghost tour.
The museum team will also soon be contacting schools and community groups across Fife, asking them to take part in a lantern parade in October, followed by a show of pyrotechnics at the museum.
And next spring, ambitious plans for the museum’s future will be unveiled as part of a massive open day event at the attraction.
To find out about volunteering, visit the website at www.scotfishmuseum.org.
Keep a close eye on the website too for more information about the 50th anniversary events – further details will be released nearer the time.