Culloden

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
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Imagine an expansive field, filled with grassy areas, bogs, wet moors. Off to the side, sheep graze. Occasionally, you'll see a flag posted. There are a few benches, alongside the paths. There's a old thatch-roofed Leanach cottage off to the left. And, inexplicably, an air of sadness infused with every breath you take.

Culloden

You're at Culloden, the site of the battle that changed the course of Scottish, British - well, truly, world history. On April 16, 1746, the Jacobite army fought the British army, to reclaim the throne of Britain for Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was an incredibly uneven battle, where the Jacobites weren't fully prepared, were starving and cold. A surprise night attack plan failed, and in the day, the exhausted Jacobite soldiers surged to their death.

Culloden

"Towards one o'clock, the Jacobite artillery opened fire on government soldiers. The government responded with their own cannon, and the Battle of Culloden began.

Bombarded by cannon shot and mortar bombs, the Jacobite clans held back, waiting for the order to attack. At last they moved forwards, through hail, smoke, murderous gunfire and grapeshot. Around eighty paces from their enemy they started to fire their muskets and charged. Some fought ferociously. Others never reached their goal. The government troops had finally worked out bayonet tactics to challenge the dreaded Highland charge and broadsword. The Jacobites lost momentum, wavered, then fled.

Hardly an hour had passed between the first shots and the final flight of the Prince's army. Although a short battle by European standards, it was an exceptionally bloody one." http://www.nts.org.uk/Culloden

Culloden

I'd read of this battle for many years, being intrigued by Scottish history and culture. But nothing, NOTHING, compares to actually being there.

In 2007, the National Trust for Scotland opened the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre - an extraordinary multimedia experience about the Battle. The building itself is extremely well-designed. Low-slung and made of stone, it blends right into the desolate landscape of field and mountain. There is free parking near the entrance, if you just want to head to the battlefield itself (also free). If you choose to experience the exhibit and recorded tour, you'll need to park closer, pay a parking fee, and also pay to enter the Exhibit. It's worth every penny.

Culloden

When you first enter the exhibit, you'll learn of the history of the Jacobite rebellion. You'll see actual clothing worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie, track his movements from France up to the West coast of Scotland, down near London, and back. You'll hear voices, recreating the thoughts and experiences of soldiers on both sides of the battle. You'll hear sounds (songs, English, Gaelic) of both soldiers and everyday people's experiences. Most moving is a short movie in an immersion theater, where you are surrounded on all four sides by videos of the battle recreation - an explosion of sound, visuals, and a glimpse into the horrific scenes of Culloden.

You will see weapons used, both cannon and guns. Archaeologists have found bullets from the battlefield, and you can see how they change when they hit someone. Kids can dress up in costumes from both sides. Near the end, there's an incredible visual of the battle on a huge Battle Table.

Culloden

There is also a portable audio (and one for kids) to take with you, when you tour the battlefield itself. The battlefield pathway is paved, and takes you along the key areas of battle. The landscape is desolate, and eerie. Off to the side, farms still graze their sheep. On the other side, there's an old Leanach Cottage, still standing. At the end of your walking tour, you can head to the roof of the Visitor Centre, and get a bird's eye view.

Culloden

Culloden

Culloden

What most struck me was the difficulty of the battlefield landscape - wet moors, open ground - that made actual fighting and forward movement almost impossible. The stones set up to mark where entired clans were decimated were haunting, and a visible reminder of the human toll of war. We came away changed.

Culloden

Culloden

Culloden

We had planned to spend an hour there. We were surprised to find that we were the last visitors to leave, having spent over five hours there. It indelibly marked us, and our 8-year old daughter said that it was the most important thing she saw in Scotland.

Culloden

Culloden

Culloden Battlefield visitor centre,
Culloden Moor,
Inverness,
Highland
IV2 5EU

Tel: 0844 493 2159

http://www.nts.org.uk/Culloden/

 

 

All photos copyright Dr. Jessie Voigts

 

 

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