Culloden Battlefield
Culloden Battlefield
Culloden was the last tragic roll of the dice in Bonnie Prince Charlie's attempt to wrest the throne of Britain from the Hanoverian dynasty. On these fields near Inverness the Jacobite army met the English under the Duke of Cumberland, on 16 April, 1746. The Jacobites were routed, and the Prince was forced to flee.
History
The exhausted and ill-nourished Jacobites were backed into a corner on Culloden Moor. Cumberland's army bombarded them with a deadly barrage of grapeshot. Their only hope was a quick attack, but Prince Charlie was indecisive at the crucial moment, and by the time he gave the order to attack, it was much too late. The Scots charged the 'English' line (Cumberland counted many Lowland Scots among his troops) and pushed them back in places, but the outnumbered Jacobites were no match for their foes. The Highlanders were massacred, and no quarter was given.

Culloden Moor
Culloden Moor
Culloden spelled the end of the Jacobite dream, and Bonnie Prince Charlie spent the next few months on the run, before eventually escaping to France.

For more background, see our Battle of Culloden article in our British Battles section.

The Battlefield Today
Visiting Culloden is not a modern phenomenon; people began coming to the battlefield from the mid-19th century. It is almost a modern equivalent to a medieval pilgrimage, instead that people have been drawn - usually - by Scottish nationalism rather than religious conviction. Many visitors are descended from people who fought at Culloden. It wouldn't surprise me if my own ancestors fought and died here - with a name like Ross, that wouldn't be surprising.

The Memorial Cairn
The Memorial Cairn
The Memorial Cairn
The most easily recognisable feature on the battlefield is the huge stone Memorial Cairn. This was built in 1881 to a design by Duncan Forves. It stands 20 feet high and is built of large stones, rather like a large beehive. One thing I noticed is how much this cairn looks like the memorial cairn on the shore of Loch nan Uamh, where Prince Charlie finally took ship for France.

Graves
Duncan Forbes was also responsible for the Graves of the Clans; grtavestones bearing the names of all the clans who lost men here in 1746. A single 'English Stone' monument commemorates men of Cumberland's forces who fell in the battle. No one knows where the 'English' dead were buried, so the stone should be taken as symbolic rather than an actual grave marker.

The Well of the Dead
A short distance away is the Well of the Dead, where Alexander MacGillivray of Dunmaglass died while leading the men of Clan Chattan. MacGillivray's body was found here after the battle by a local woman. Reports of the battle state that the fighting was so fierce in this area that the Highlanders had to climb over their own dead to reach the enemy lines. Wounded soldiers crawled to this small well in a desperate attempt to quench their thirst.

The well itself is little more than a small stone-lined cistern dug into the earth. A stone slab commemorating the place was yet another marker erected by Duncan Forbes in 1881.

The Well of the Dead
The Well of the Dead

The Cumberland Stone
This boulder in the eastern corner of the battlefield is traditionally held to be the Duke of Cumberland's observation post, where he stood to survey the battlefield during the combat.

Old Leanach Cottage
The most easily recognised historic feature at Culloden is this very small thatched cottage. The cottage amazingly survived the battle, which raged all around it. It has been restored several times since then, but is essentially the same as it was in 1746, and Bonnie Prince Charlie would recognise it if he saw it today. The roof is thatched with heather in traditional Highland fashion.

Old Leanach Cottage
Old Leanach Cottage
Thatching on Old Leanach Cottage
Thatching on
Old Leanach Cottage

Visiting
There is a very good modern visitor centre, which our family enjoyed. There are displays giving the background to the battle, the course of events, and information on Highland culture. Children - and adults - can dress up in Highland costume; our 5 year-old daughter loved that part!

I found Culloden fascinating from an historical viewpoint, but at the same time poignantly moving and unutterably tragic. Trails lead here and there across the almost featureless moor, and you suddenly find yourself coming unexpectedly upon a marker that tells of this or that valiant last stand or heroic death. The fields are still, almost barren in places, yet it is not hard, especially if the weather is grim and grey, to imagine the sound of the battle all around you. This is a place for people to explore their Scottish roots; to feel a connection with the past.

Less than a mile away from Culloden is Clava Cairns, a wonderful Bronze Age burial complex, and one of the best-preserved prehistoric sites in Scotland.

Mixed Clans gravestone
Mixed Clans gravestone
Mixed Clans marker
Another mixed Clans marker
Clan Cameron gravestone
Clan Cameron gravestone
A young 'Highlander' in the visitor centre
Dressing up as a 'Highlander'
in the visitor centre