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.