“Drumossie moor—Drumossie day— A waefu’ day it was for me! For there I lost my father dear, my father dear, and brethren three.” R. Burns – Lament for Culloden
If you’ve ever read one of those cheap books with sexy Scots in kilts on the cover or seen a historical TV series dealing with Scotland (Outlander, anyone?), you’ve probably heard of the battle of Culloden. Although it’s been wildly romanticised in popular culture, this battle is among the most important events in Scottish history and the Culloden moor where it took place is now a national monument.
The battle of Culloden on 16th of April 1746 marked the final act of the Jacobite uprising, where about 1600 men lay dead within an hour in one of the most harrowing battles on British soil, 1500 of the Jacobites. For a quick crash course, the Jacobites were a political movement, which sprang from the French revolution and manifested in the UK as support for the exiled Stuart dynasty. In 1745 during the last and most formidable rebellion, the Jacobites were trying to restore Charles Edward Stuart a.k.a Bonnie Prince Charlie to the British throne and brutally failed at Culloden at the hands of the Duke of Cumberland’s British Government army.
After prince Charles failed to secure the support for his cause in France, he rallied the Scottish Highlands, so the defeat at Culloden also effectively meant the end of Highland clan life as they knew it, which is why the battle of Culloden has been so heavily romanticised through ballads and legends. The Skye Boat Song is one of my favourites and tells of Charles’s flight to the Isle of Skye.
Today the battlefield at Culloden is a memorial site and as you can imagine, this is still a sensitive historical topic in Scotland. The entire area is well maintained and they even keep goats and Shetland cows grazing there for authenticity. There’s a memorial cairn in the centre of the battlefield, with flags marking the battle lines and markers with clan names for the graves of the fallen. The scenery is beautiful and wild as befits a moor and coupled with the moody Scottish weather, the experience of walking the field is solemn, atmospheric and oddly emotional, particularly if you’re there alone during winter like I was.
Impressions of Culloden
There’s also a restored 18th century Leanach Cottage with thatched heather roof and a Visitor Centre with a really good interactive museum. I loved that it shows the conflict from both the Jacobite and the Government side and is full of artefacts and well-researched historical testimonials from the battle. Of course there’s a souvenir shop too, and of course they sell Culloden whiskey and Scottish clan paraphernalia, and of course it was full of American tourists claiming dubious percentages of personal Scottish heritage.
Like Stirling castle, the Culloden battlefield is the essential Scottish attraction and can be easily reached by public transport from Inverness. It’s open daily all year round + you can even book a tour. While you’re at it, go check out the nearby Bronze Age Clava cairns as well, I thought they were absolutely magical.