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It was not Santa that staff and volunteers at the West Highland Museum welcomed as their own special festive visitor on Christmas Eve but Merseyside pensioner, Carole Abel, writes Iain Ferguson.
Eagerly awaited, 75-year-old Mrs Abel did not need to come down the chimney or even have a magic key to enter the museum in Fort William’s Cameron Square, but was taken by surprise at the welcome when she was greeted by a round of applause and handshakes as she crossed the threshold as the museum’s 60,000th visitor of the year.
Mrs Abel, who was on a Christmas bus tour and staying at a nearby hotel, told the assembly that she was absolutely amazed as nothing like this had ever happened to her before.
She said: ‘This has taken me completely by surprise, but I am absolutely delighted at being such a welcome guest. I have been to Fort William before on bus tours, but this is my first visit to the museum – and I will come again.’
West Highland Museum manager, Colleen Barker, commented: ‘We have been anxiously counting our visitors all week, wondering when we might reach the target and I am so pleased that Mrs Abel was the lucky person. Coming so close to Christmas, it is like an early present for us.’
Visitor numbers have been rising steadily at the museum every year, but 2019 saw the footfall increase by almost 4,000, from the 56,111 recorded last year, many from all parts of the world.
The museum is noted for its extensive Jacobite display, added to earlier this year by the purchase of a snuff box with a concealed picture of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the loan of the Drambuie collection of Jacobite glassware.
It also boasts an extensive range of artefacts tracing the history of Fort William and the surrounding area, from original birching table to fossils and the unique Commando exhibition on the wartime association of the military with the area.
Entry is by donation and the museum is staffed mainly by volunteers who are always happy to guide visitors to items specific interest, as well as running educational workshop for schoolchildren.