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Past Times

In pictures: Were you ever at Aberdeenshire pre-history park Archaeolink?

Immersive living history park Archaeolink in Aberdeenshire has become part of dead history, but those who visited made fond memories. reports.
Susy Macaulay
10 year old Victoria Duncan and Alex Gaynor,6, listen to traditional music by the water at  Archaeolink's Celtic Spring Fair. Image: DCT/Kevin Elmslie
10 year old Victoria Duncan and Alex Gaynor,6, listen to traditional music by the water at Archaeolink's Celtic Spring Fair. Image: DCT/Kevin Elmslie

The identity of whoever bought Archaeolink Prehistory Park in Oyne, Aberdeenshire earlier this year remains a mystery, as does whatever they are planning to do with the site.

It’s been a long time coming for something to happen at the centre — after all, it closed its doors all the way back in February 2011.

But was it a design masterpiece and a great idea for a tourist attraction… or a white elephant and money sump?

The now-defunct Archaeolink Prehistory Park at Oyne in the foothills of Bennachie must have seemed like a good idea when it opened in 1997, as it attracted £4m to build it, and £2.5m in council lifeline funding over 14 years to keep it afloat.

Perhaps an immersive living history site was a great idea, but before its time, as there are very successful examples of this sort of thing elsewhere.

Take the Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore or Weald & Downland Living Museum in Chichester.

The concept was appealing.

The Lighting of the Wickerman was part of an old Celtic tradition and a very popular event at Archaeolink. Image: DCT Archive

Visitors were invited to experience a story of sustained struggle, from the days when we got by on berries and boar, through farming, famine, metal smelting and fighting, ending with the north-east’s repulsion of the Romans.

They could get hands on with battle re-enactments, pre-historic cooking and even burning down a wickerman.

Archaeolink nearing completion in 1997. Image: DCT

As an energy-efficient building made of grass and glass, the Centre was immediately recognised for its innovation and creativity. It received a Scottish Design Awards Commendation for Best New Building, and in 1998 it was announced as one of the Design Council’s ‘Millennium Products’ – the only building out of the 202 items included.

Celebrity backing

Actor and Time Team star Sir Tony Robinson backed it to the hilt when he opened the  attraction in 1994.

He said at the time: “When I first saw the building I just thought it was absolutely great and I was really pleased.”

But he later admitted he always feared the attraction was ‘vulnerable’ because it was too remote, and not part of any coherent trail to bring enough visitors to the area.

Actor Tony Robinson enthusiastically supported Archaeolink, but also had reservations about its long term future. Image: DCT

The nay-sayers were ultimately proven correct when they dubbed the place a white elephant almost immediately and questioned how it could attract its predicted 100,0000 visitors a year.

But Archaeolink did welcome many visitors and was a popular spot for school trips.

However, annual numbers coming through the door failed to hit the predicted 100,000 by a massive margin.

Just 10,500 visited the year before it shut.

Kirsty Coombs 6 from Banchory takes a lesson in Longbow at Archaeolink. Image: DCT

So Aberdeenshire Council pulled funding, blaming dwindling visitor numbers for making the site unsustainable.

Local archaeologist Alison Cameron said she thought Archaeolink was ahead of its time.

“Unfortunately it got into money troubles, as it never brought in the number of visitors they originally intended,” she said.

“One big part of that is because it was so far away.

“I volunteered to host events and help reconstruct buildings and it was a fantastic, lively place that has many very fond memories for people.

Demonstrating the catapult at Roman Day at Archaeolink in 2001. Image: Amanda Gordon.

“It’s such a shame, because if it had been built a bit closer to Aberdeen or Inverurie, or closer to a main road, it would have got passing trade in addition to people who were going there on purpose.

“If it was built now, things would be different.

“With the power of social media to bring people in and advertise events, it would have brought in thousands more people.”

Jeremy Cox thatches the roof of a recreated Bronze Age smithy at Archaeolink. Image:DCT

The 13 acres site has finally been bought by ‘mystery bidders’ 12 years after its lifeline funding was pulled.

There’s talk that it might be made into a ‘unique business park.’

To celebrate its undoubted good times, we’ve trawled through our archives and dug out some of the action highlights at the park.

Gallery: Archaeolink photos from over the years

Roman Day, 2001.  Linsey Duffin, 4, from Newmachar takes a closer look at a Roman soldier.

Image: Amanda Gordon.</p> <p>

Camilla Priede rehearsing for the Wickerman burning in 2002.

Image: Kami Thomson.

Alex Shepherd, 7, from Aberdeen enjoying being a Roman with Nick Backhouse at Archaeolink.

Image: DCT

Celebrating Beltain, the height of spring, with Druid Angus Quinn at Archaeolink’s Celtic Fair.

Image: DCT

This youngster is finding out the hard way how long it would take to grind enough wheat to make a loaf on a quern at one of Archaeolink’s activity days.

Image: DCT

Family fun days at Archaeolink would involve anything from making pottage over an open fire to making cave paintings and clay pots.

Image: DCT

Christopher Trestrail brandishes his sword at a busy-looking Archaeolink on the first day of the season.

Image: DCT.

Gary Watt, 8, from Turriff tries on a Roman Helmet at one of Archaeolink’s Romans and Celtic weekends.

Image: DCT

The late Maitland Mackie, right, with Mac Mackie of Mackie’s Ice Cream got into the spirit of things at Archaeolink.  They donated £15,000 towards the development.

Image: DCT

Sculptor and stone carver Andy McFetters giving a demonstration in stone carving at a Bronze Age workshop in Archaeolink.

<br />Image: Rory Raitt.

Fun with the Romans for Eleanor, Amelia and Isobella at Archaeolink.

Image: DCT

Roman soldier Andy Fairgrieve battles with formidable Pict Hilary Murray while mate Puggy watches in the background.

Image: DCT

Struan Sweeney is captured by Roman auxiliary David Stewart — but it all looks like good fun.

Image: DCT

Archaeolink finds a creative place for an egg during one of its Easter weekends. Keren Lovie from Kintore has spotted the cunning hiding place on centurian Martin Fallon.

Image: Colin Rennie/DCT

The Lighting of the Wickerman at Archaeolink drew large crowds and never failed to impress.

 

Image: DCT.

Please feel free to share your memories of Archaeolink in the comment box below.

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