Ever since reading Outlander, a novel about Scotland in the mid-18th century, I’ve wanted to see the Culloden Moor battlefield. I was prepared to be quite moved by this devastating defeat—we’ve seen many battle sites and graves from several different wars and battlefronts: The Great War, Gallipoli, and WWII. It is always a shock seeing the reality of the loss and heartbreak that war does to a place. The new (2008) high-tech visitors center is impressive. It is a state-of-the-art £10 million facility. It is also another National Trust site, which saved us £20. We breezed through all the interactive touch screen videos and cases of period weapons and artifacts, planning to come back later.
Our goal was the 4 minute, 360° audio-visual “experience.” We stepped into the room and listened to the whistling wind moving across the desolate moors. Soon, images of men began to appear—on one side, the Jacobites (supporters of King James and his son, Bonnie Prince Charlie), many of them Highlanders in their kilts and tartans; on the other, the “Government” troops in their red coats. [This is the term used in Scotland; we know them as the English.] Almost immediately the first shot was fired and the battle began. It was difficult to watch men being massacred and I found myself fighting tears. This really brought the battle to life and made it real. [Chuck: I found myself politely engaged until the thick fighting began; then I was moved: you know, that catching at the throat and momentary stopping of the heart when something profound affects you.] We made our way out to pick up our free GPS audio guides and walked out onto the battlefield. The weather today was overcast, gloomy and windy. Perfect.
The Battle of Culloden was fought on April 16, 1746 and lasted about an hour. It marked the end of the power of the Scottish Highland clans and the start of years of repression of Scottish culture by the English. At the center was Bonnie Prince Charlie, raised to restore his family to the British throne. He did not succeed—1,000 Jacobites were killed in the first 2 minutes. Another 1,500 died in under an hour. Culloden Moor is their graveyard. In fact, this was just the start. The Government spent the next weeks methodically hunting down ringleaders and sympathizers (and thousands of others in the Highlands who had nothing to do with the battle) ruthlessly killing, imprisoning and transporting thousands (to Jamaica and America), many with their wives and children left to suffer from starvation and disease. They were also forbidden to wear kilts or their clan plaids. This was the last battle fought on British soil and ended the hopes of the Stuarts to reclaim the Scottish crown. Bonnie (handsome) Prince Charlie finally died at 68, in Rome, a broken alcoholic.
The popular impression is that this was a battle between the Scottish versus the English. In truth, Culloden was a civil war between two opposing dynasties: Stuart and Hanover. About one-fifth of the government’s troops were Scottish, and several redcoat deserters fought along with the Jacobites. The Jacobites also included French army with Irish troops serving under them. There were actually 3 large issues at stake: Religion (Catholic vs. Protestant), Union (Scottish vs. British sovereignty), and Rule (Divine Right of Kings vs. Parliamentary powers). Naturally, this made for some very strange bedfellows: Protestant Jacobites and Government troops who were clansmen.
This is the memorial cairn, put in place by a local man, Duncan Forbes, in 1881. He also placed stones to mark the graves of the clans. After the battle, the local people were made to bury the dead by the Government. The oral history carried down through the generations has allowed people to have a good idea where the mass graves were located. Entire clans fought, died and were buried together. The Mackintosh grave alone was 77 yards long.
The GPS audio tour was good but stopped working on occasion, much like our Susan. It is supposed to automatically “ding” when you reach a certain spot, then give a description of that part of the battle. For the most part, it was a good experience but I have mixed feelings about audio guides; they can be distracting at times when I really just want to wander and take in a site. As with other audio devices at tourist sites, there is an option to listen to more detailed information. This was a nice feature. Also, because it was a large touch screen, much like an iPhone, it could show images and maps and even where you were on the battlefield at that moment.
This is a cottage that survived the battle and was used as a makeshift field hospital. It has been refurbished and is furnished inside as it would have been then.
We wandered up to the rooftop, with views over the entire site, then turned in our audio guides and stopped to look at the room with the period weapons and artifacts found in the fields. As part of the exhibit, there were several muskets and pistols that we were able to pick up. This is from one of the information signs next to a pistol that was very heavy:
“Pistols were used at very close range, for hand-to-hand fighting. The small lead balls they fired tended to bounce off their targets, so it was common to jam the muzzle of the gun right against the enemy’s body before pulling the trigger. The usual practice was to fire one round and then use the pistol as a club.”
We found a case with buttons and buckles found in an area of hand-to-hand fighting. It also contained a Celtic cross, probably worn by one of the Jacobites.
We found this interesting, from Rick Steves:
“If you’re having trouble grasping the significance of this battle, play a game of “What If?”: If Bonnie Prince Charlie had persevered on this campaign and taken the throne, he likely wouldn’t have plunged Britain into the Seven Years’ War with France (his ally). And increased taxes on either side of that war led directly to the French and American revolutions. So if the Jacobites had won…the American colonies might still be part of the British Empire today.”
We spent 2-1/2 hours at Culloden Moor. They’ve done an incredible job of bringing this moment in history alive and it is not to be missed. We really feel that we are in the Highlands now, especially with all the signage in Gaelic and English.
On the way to the Culloden Moor Caravan Club site (€18.14), we stopped at the Clava Cairns—Neolithic burial chambers that are 3,000 to 4,000 years old. There are three cairns and the entrance shaft in each passage cairn lines up with the setting sun at the winter solstice. Each cairn is surrounded by a stone circle.
One stone from the circle is located across the narrow road; another is caught in the middle of the fence built around it. It seems that rural folk had little regard for mysterious ancient artifacts. Perhaps they were fully consumed with the business of survival. At least they left them in place, which is fairly unusual. The romantic interest in the past really took off in the 19th century, especially during the reign of Queen Victoria.
We’re taking a vacation in Inverness for the next four days, relaxing and getting caught up on our reading. There is also a lot to see here...Oh, and the weather? Now that we’re in our campground, all settled and comfortable, the sun has come out and our blue skies are back. Perfect.
’S I ’n fhuil bha ’n cuisl’ ar sinnsreadh,
’S an innsgin a bha ’nan aigne…
Our blood is still our fathers,
And ours the valour of their hearts…