Culloden Battlefield – Northern Scotland

As I explained to the lovely Canadian tourists whom I conversed with out at Culloden Battlefield, I’m drawn to battlefields and other places where violence occurs, as well as graveyards.

I’d been wanting to get up to Culloden Battlefield for a while, and am really glad that I came to Inverness on this trip to do so. Taking the train from Edinburgh to Inverness afforded me an opportunity to watch the passing landscape that I wouldn’t have had with any other method of transportation. The scenery as it rolls by is truly breathtaking – high rolling hills that dip down into valleys and lochs with lush patches of heather that looked soft enough to make featherbeds out of them.

I started writing this on the train up, while rocking out to Dr. John singing Such a Night.

I woke up early to visit the battlefield, and possibly Clava Cairn as well, but was only able to make it to Culloden Battlefield on this visit. Buses will take you from downtown Inverness right out to the Culloden Battlefield visitor center, where you pay your entrance fee, then walk through a really well laid out museum that snakes through several corridors that provide a timeline of the events leading up to the bloody, final confrontation on the Culloden Moor.

Included in the museum is also a 360 degree panorama film, full immersion re-enactment of the battle itself that is surprisingly vivid and gruesome. It’s startling and frank, the way such a thing should be.

Conflict should never be pretty or glamorous in presentation.

The museum tour pops you out onto a trail that snakes through the battlefield itself, both along the lines of both the British and Scottish soldiers, as well as providing a path through the cairns of the various Scottish clansmen who had fallen in battle. The preservation society is doing what they can to bring the moor back to the original appearance back when the battle was fought.

As it stands currently, the surrounding lands are daunting enough. High tufts of grasses, bushes, heather and frightful bunches of very stabby, unpleasantly painful looking thistles that twist upon themselves in the surrounding thickets. Combine this with the fact that, near the portion of the moor where the Jacobite Army began their charge, the very boggy patches throughout the area, and you have prime territory for easily twisted or broken ankles (possibly legs and arms as well, honestly) – even with good lighting. Signs indicated that the area was actually quite a lot boggier at the time of the charge, which was even more surprising.

As I looked around, I found myself wondering how many men had fallen on that bloody patch of ground, simply because they’d gotten a foot under them wrong. Easy enough to do at night – much less, when rushing an enemy.

Hell, I’d find myself in a bad way if I had ventured off the path into the surrounding scrub to walk five to ten feet, and I didn’t have guns pointed at me or screaming men rushing at me. I had a brief, but vivid vision of myself falling face first into a gorgeous, angry looking spire of thistle, and shook it off. Clumsy is my strong suit, after all.

The night before the battle itself, we were told that the men of the Jacobite Army were sent against the English solders in the dark. It was apparently the Duke of Cumberland’s birthday, and the English troops were celebrating. Thinking that their opponents would be too drunk to fight, they sallied forth – only to be thwarted by the coming dawn. The march to get to the camp had taken too long. The element of surprise gone at this point, Charles Stuart’s troops had to regroup.

our tour guide explained that – well fed and rested the night before, the English troops would have been well ready for the fight, while the Jacobite Army men had spent the night marching many miles, likely having had no food for at least two days before. The morning of the battle, it was freezing, and likely sleeting as well.

The entire confrontation took less than an hour.

The tour guide (who must’ve been an actor – he was completely fantastic. Very appropriately dramatic and grave, gorgeous narrative voice.) further explained that the English bayonetted any bodies they found still breathing. The brutality displayed by Cumberland and his men was horrifying.

The graves of the clans are arranged in hillocks, marked with stone graves, indicating specific clans – or whether the men beneath them were from mixed clans. It’s a breathtaking sight.

The last gasp of the Jacobite revolution, Culloden Battlefield is an overwhelming tribute to the clans that fought and died that day.

[here are the pictures]

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Wandering – from London to Edinburgh

Although this might seem like a fairly obvious statement, travelling abroad with no conversion van with a convenient bed in the back is somewhat more involved and daunting than being able to have your entire house with you as you go. Especially if you’re overseas in a country that you’ve not visited previously.

It’s taken a bit to get my bearing, but I’m feeling more confident and secure at this point. After splitting off from my friend JJ yesterday afternoon, I wandered about a bit, waiting for the rush hour crowds to die out before I finally picked my backpack up from Left Luggage and made my way from Victoria station to Kings Cross. There was no wifi anywhere in the train station that I could connect to, so that was a little troubling, but I pressed on. I figured that I’d be able to get online on the train.

I picked up a ticket to Edinbrough, not knowing what I’d encounter at the terminus. I had no hotel reservation, but was hoping to sort that out on the ride up – having been told that there was wifi on the trains. There was, but you had to pay for an allotment of time, and the only way you could do that? You had to have an internet connection. I tried several times to pay for a portion of time, so that I could at least get on, but by the time I’d entered in all my information, the internet had gone down, and I was therefore unable to actually make a connection to make a payment.

Maddening.

So, I watched a little Firefly, relaxed a bit and checked out some of the beautiful scenery, which finally faded out as the light dimmed. Uneventful trip – didn’t really chat with anybody. It was rush hour – nobody really looked interested in talking much. I arrived at the Edinburgh station at 11:30pm. Tired and a little out of sorts, I wandered through the station, looking for an information counter, but everything was shut down (which I wasn’t hugely surprised by, but I was a little rattled).

Still, no wifi to speak of. I then became a touch more rattled.

My brain engaged in a mild form of panic before I decided to make my way over to a taxi. The poor driver surely thought me insane, being that I’d shown up so late in a city that I’d not visited previously with no plans of where to stay for the night. Apparently the only hotels that he could take me to were 20 minutes away, which didn’t work for me since I wanted to be back at the station fairly early to get on another train to Inverness in the morning. I really wasn’t into the idea of paying for BOTH two taxi rides, AND a hotel room.

He suggested a hotel a block or so away, and I headed toward it. They were full up. At this point, the place in front of a large gate with warm air blowing through it started to seem appealing. Several people were crashed out in front of it in sleeping bags. ‘It MIGHT be comfortable…’, I found myself thinking.

I then considered walking around Edinbough for the rest of the night, more to explore than anything else. I walked back past the taxi stand and, as it turns out, less than a two minute walk in the other direction from the station, I found the Hostel that I ended up crashing at for the night. Since I was pretty exhausted, I simply headed up to my room instead of sitting in the bar for a few minutes.

The guy at the counter was very friendly and helpful, as well as efficient. The room was £19, which was a very reassuring price, considering I was doing all of this by the seat of my pants. Fortune favors the bold, apparently 🙂

I was only able to get a bed in a 4 person room with bunkbeds, and when I opened the door, the lights were out and everybody was asleep. I found an empty bed, upper bunk, with the help of the low light from my celphone, and started packing all my stuff in a pile at the end of the bed, where I could keep my feet by it to kick anybody in case they decided to go through my things while I was sleeping.

Sadly, I still couldn’t get on the wifi to let anybody know that I’d arrived safely, which was frustrating and a touch scary. Ah, internet. What the hell did we do for live-on-the-fly travelling arrangements without you?

I curled my arms around the pouch with my wallet, phone and passport in and tried to drop off to sleep. After a few unsuccessful minutes, I remembered the earplugs that I’d picked up earlier, and after putting them in, was able to finally drift off.

Two of the room occupants woke sometime around 4am, to the sounds of what was quite possibly the most garish and irritating alarm on earth. Which it took them FOREVER to first LOCATE, then turn the hell off. They then immediately turned the full lights on.

Argh, discourteous travelers. You’re not the only people in the frelling room.

It took them about a half hour to get themselves together before they finally took off, and then the room was in darkness again. I drifted back to sleep, eventually waking up a little after 9am.

I then got myself together then went down to the pub, where I was finally able to get online and post that I’d made it in one piece to Edinbrough, reassuring my friends back in the states who had worried about me a bit.

After screwing around online for a bit, I checked out, then went over to the station and caught the train to Inverness. The inital start was a bit quirky, as the train apparently ended up with mechanical issues, and we all had to rush over to another train on the platform next to us.

EXCITING. VIGOROUS.

Turns out that once I’d found a place to sit on the new train, I looked at my ticket again, and it said First Class.

Hey now. 🙂

I showed this to the cabin steward who said, indeed, that it was a First Class ticket. I then schlepped my stuff to a cozy First Class car with 10 seats and sat down across from a very nice older gentleman that I talked with on the train ride up. He explained that at times the railway sold First Class tickets cheaper than regular, simply to fill the carriages.

Yay, unexpected upgrade! Yay, better view of the landscape as it rushes by!

During the trip I had a lovely conversation with the gentleman about things to do whilst in Inverness, and we spoke about the differences between this country and the US and various other things. Great conversation. 🙂 Shortly after he departed, I listened to a little music and checked out the surrounding countryside. I’d been watching the scenery on and off while talking to my companion across the aisle, and it really made for a spectacular, gorgeous ride. The surrounding fields and mountains filled with heather and pine trees were just breathtaking.

I then conversed with a pair of lovely older women who were on their way to Inverness to visit a relative on a day trip. At some point on the train, I started writing this, but the Inverness stop came up quicker than I thought it would, so I packed everything up and headed out once the train reached the station.

I checked rental car prices, but £45 per day with a £600 deposit is OUTRAGEOUS, so I went outside the station and spotted a hotel on my left – The Royal Highland Hotel, just caddy-corner to the station itself.

I went inside, and got a strong feeling that I needed to stay the night here, and so I went ahead and rented a room for the night. I went to a co-op and picked up a small, quite delicious meat pie and some green beans (I hadn’t yet had breakfast, and there was nothing but sweet snacks and tea on the train up).

I then tried to take the bus to Culloden Battlefield, but it was too late, so I figured I’d check it out tomorrow morning before heading back to Edinbrough. I walked around the city for an hour or two, went down to the Ness River and sang to it, then came back to the hotel to get a shower.

Later that night, I wandered around a bit more, only to find myself entranced by the sound of a male voice drifting through the streets. I made my way to the pub at which he was singing, and stood at the door for a few songs before purchasing two of his CD’s. He then sang a Steve Earle song for me, and I waved and smiled to him before heading back to my room to eat a little dinner. (I’d visited the co-op again, and didn’t want to sit down in the pub and not order anything just to hear the guy sing – that seems like it would’ve been rude.)

I’m kinda fell in love with Inverness. It’s a gorgeous city that doesn’t feel as overwhelming as London did. It’s a really lovely change. 🙂

Wookie Hole – United Kingdom

fairydoors

Ah, United Kingdom.

Such vistas you have to offer, such HISTORY. Such grace.

So, why is it that I find myself thinking most fondly of one of the most kitschy places I’ve visited in years?

Because – WOOKEY HOLE.

My friend, Jennifer Kelley, had been living in the UK on and off since 1996, and had apparently been seeing advertisement posters for Wookie Hole for many years. Locally, the damn things are apparently plastered everywhere.

When she mentioned it the other day – the first thing that perked my interest was ‘Wookey’. The second word that drew me in the rest of the way? CAVE.

Those of you who have been following me on my travel blog know how much I ADORE caves.

The two words combined?

I HAD to go.

The village of Wookey Hole, out in Somerset, is very quaint and quite pretty. The tourist attraction, however, is garish to the point of almost being off-putting. Since nothing like that had stopped me in the past, we continued past the ‘little Witch and Wizard’ loos, onward to the ice cream shop, in which the tickets were being sold.

A sign just outside the shop detailed the rather steep price of £18.DSC_0914

It was enough for me to pause, albeit briefly. There was a cave, however, and I didn’t know if I’d actually be able to visit another cave while in the country on this particular trip, so I belive my next words were, “Ah, well. Fuck it. They have dinosaurs too, so that should be fun, right?”

I had no idea.

NO. IDEA.

It needs to be mentioned that the queue for the tickets takes exactly as long as it takes for cold molasses to begin moving to slowly slide along the sides of the jar its currently residing in. I was hoping that this wasn’t indicative of the events ahead.

DSC_0939With tickets finally purchased, we made our way up a paved hill along a really gorgeous path. Lots of greenery and moss covered rocks everywhere. At some point, there were breaks in the fencing, through which you can see the large, fiberglass dinosaurs in the park below. The entire park is in a rather large area that seems to be carved out of the surrounding mountain, feeling a bit Lost World-ish. It was a great deal nicer than Dinosaur Land in Virginia, I can tell you – which both surprised and pleased me.

The winding path up to the mouth of the cave is a short walk, but the tours through the cave only happen every 20 minutes, so we ended up standing for a bit, talking to a pair of local girls who were on their first time visit as well. They had apparently wanted to check the park out for years, but had just not gotten around to it until now.

After a lovely chat, we finally gained entrance to the cave. The tour guide ushered us all into the ‘staging area’, where he proceeded to climb up on a rock and loudly go through the story of the Wookey Witch (so as to be heard over the shouts of the various children in the group). Once you stride past the large statue of the Wookey Witch at the front, the cave was actually impressive. It was far larger than I thought it would be, and our tour guide was suitably hilarious.

There are large pools of water throughout the cave, and at one point we were taken into a chamber at the edge of the Axe River. There was a small boat at the river’s edge that apparently looked just like a scene out of Skyrim. The lighting wasn’t really all that good, and my Nikon is fairly crap at low lighting, because I haven’t yet figured out all the settings and didn’t have my tripod with me – and we weren’t allowed to use flash. The tour also takes you over a gorge-ish slash through the cave, with a steep drop to the river, which was quite exiting.

During the tour, we learned that Wookey Cave was the site of the first cave dive in the world.

Once the cave tour was through, the cave mouth opened into what looked like sewer tunnels with faux pre-historic cave paintings on them, nicely topped off by the playful, comic image of a farting Mammoth that seemed to be vomiting a rather alarming amount of brown goo from its trunk, to form splatty words on the wall.

The rest of the park is also quite nice. Throughout the first area, there are lots of surprising, delightful little tiny faerie doors in and around the river, with a collection of lovely statuary. There is also a rather impressive assortment of Dinosaurs and other Pleistocene epoch mammals (including a somewhat challenged/confused Dire Wolf) as you make your way through. Various animals would make surprise roaring or growling noises as you walked by, which was somewhat entertatining. There was a small ‘excavation’ area, where you could pretend to be discovering new fossils, which looked entertaining.

Near this was an opportunity to endure the Wookey 4d Experience, which we chose to take a miss on.

Once inside the building that provided further ‘attractions’, we encountered a collection of truly morbid and delightful old timey games that depicted Chinese, French, English and American style executions. For 20p, you could watch as Chinese swordsmen chopped off somebody’s head, as somebody was guillotined, hanged, and eventually electrocuted. There were also several ‘naughty’ 20p machines, were you could look at naked women doing what must have been fairly racy things back in the 20’s (one apparently had a women simply eating a bowl of fruit).

We shot rubber balls at each other with large blue cannons for a few minutes before making our way to the penny arcade, which again was full of a rather impressive collection of antique gaming machines.

All in all, it was a spectacular way to spend £18.

[Here is the run of pictures from the visit]