Some people think I’m psychic, but I’ve never been convinced. No, not me. At least not until today. Today I stand on Drumossie Moor, a desolate, windswept, God-forsaken place; the battlefield of Culloden, seven miles from the newly appointed Highland capital, Inverness.
Here on the 16th April 1746, it took barely 40 minutes to destroy not only the hopes of a young, unrealistic, pretender to the English and Scottish thrones, ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charles Edward Stuart, but also the whole structure of Scottish life as it had been known to-date.
Culloden is managed by the National Trust of Scotland. A bright new visitor centre welcomes you, providing the usual home-made soups, scones, pies and teas, all strangely at odds with what lies outside, the site of some 1000-1500 graves of the Scottish clansmen that fell during the last battle to be fought on British soil.
Here outside, it is raining. Fine, cold, drizzle drifting horizontally to the ground that slowly but surely permeates everything you are wearing. It is February, but apparently even in April the weather was no better.
The Prince’s troops, known as Jacobites, had spent a hard winter retreating from Derby, arriving in Inverness in late February. Most were barefoot, ragged and starving. Seven weeks rest here did little to improve their situation. A Jacobite officer wrote that his men were so tired before the battle that many fell asleep in the parks of Culloden House and did not wake until they found the enemy cutting their throats. After the battle the slaughter continued, allegedly spectators from Inverness, even women and children, were also killed.
From the visitor centre, a gravel path leads past ‘Old Leanoch Cottage’, a surviving farmhouse. It was here, in one of its barns, that 30 Jacobites are said to have been burnt alive. Further along another path stands ‘The English Stone’ commemorating the English dead; their losses, under the Duke of Cumberland, possibly as little as 50 but no more then 300. Further on still lie ‘The Graves of the Clans’.
Small stones mark simply the names of the clans. Here at my feet lay the MacGillivrays, just over there, the Frasers. They lay either side of a narrow paved path, the stones marking slight ridges in the grass that are said to be their mass graves. Whilst heather abounds in the surrounding area, none grows on the grass ridges, nor do I hear the sounds of wildlife. At the end of this path stands a 20-foot high memorial cairn erected in 1881. At the foot of this, someone has laid a few Tesco-bought, cellophane-wrapped, and now very soggy, chrysanthemums. A local mentions that in the summer, visitors lay tributes here all the time.
Culloden is not a happy place, the air seems to sit heavy on you and there isn’t even much to see. But if you want a better understanding of Scottish/English history then I would definitely recommend a visit. For many, a visit to Culloden is a pilgrimage.