A dreich and dreary summer day in 2016. The Scottish moor seemed seeped in moisture, contrasting heather in golds, ochres, reds and brown around me. Small wild flowers, many like my Pacific Coast homeland. I found myself pondering how many seeds had come with migrants from this Scottish landscape. We have the invasive broom and other plants that came from there. The land was lonely, even with vibrant colors. I stood on a path with massive graves beneath me. I felt the presence of the bones, the loss of life. Not a big battle by today’s standards, but at the time and place, a hard fought battle with Scottish soldiers fighting for the king they wanted, following a prince with little battle experience.
Visitor Centre Opening Times:
1 Feb – 31 Mar, 10:00-16:00
1 Apr to 31 May, 09:00-17:30
1 Jun to 31 Aug, 09:00-18:00
1 Sep to 31 Oct, 09:00-17:30
1 Nov to 23 Dec, 10:00-16:00
The feeling of remorse and remembrance can be felt, even if you do not come from Scotland or the area and did not grow up with the history. I read of the Battle of Culloden when I was at university and had been reading on the history of Ireland and Scotland, determined to someday get to see where the battles actually took place. Even with all of the reading, it had not prepared me. To stand on the moor and see that these men faced great odds, they may have been native to the landscape, but the landscape provided no shelter and with the might of the Government army bearing down with heavy artillery. Despite what many thought and portrayals of the Highlanders during Victorian times, the Jacobite Army did indeed have it’s own artillery and modernized weapons. The fighting of the location made it difficult to get some of the equipment there. The army was defending its food supply in Inverness. They say the battle was little more than an hour.
On a dreich July morning I boarded a public bus in Inverness to make the trek to the Culloden Battlefield Blàr Chùil Lodair Visitor Centre. I figured it was fitting weather and since the battle site had such tragic history involved, the weather really got me in the frame of mind to ponder on one of Scotland’s tragedies and great loss of life and culture. Many have recently become familiar with the battle through the recent TV series and books, Outlander, written by Diana Gabaldon. In Dragonfly in Amber, the heroes try to thwart a terrible battle that saw the loss of over 1500 men in April of 1746. The popularity of the books and then the series has sent massive amounts of people to its visitor center. And they have not been disappointed. The center may seem small, but the exhibit is very submersive and the field itself with it’s clan markers leaves a lot to the imagination, and yours will be filled. You may want to pick up some flowers and many visitors bring flowers to mark clan sites. If your family clan is not listed as being known to have been there, you can still leave them. Some came and fought with other clans and were not identified. Many had come from France and some Spanish to fight in support of Prince Charles.
I have to say that it was one of the best exhibits I had been to in Scotland, very real and the access to the moor with a walking tour narration helps you feel the presence of so many ghosts. The narrations are done from both the perspective of the Government and Jacobite Armies. You will see how open the space is, the fact that the Jacobites had ground to defend that could be soggy at best. The fields are currently much drier than in the past. Spend some time looking at the clan maps that show where the officers and their men stood to help give you a visual of how the battle went.
Below is my interview with Catriona McIntosh at Culloden Battlefield Blàr Chùil Lodair Visitor Centre
How did your museum get it’s start, and how have you seen it grow in the last five years?
Culloden Battlefield has been a site of interest since the time of the battle. From the 19th century the Gaelic Society for Inverness raised money and preserved aspects of the battlefield; and the Forbes of Culloden family added the iconic memorial cairn and headstones in 1881.
The National Trust for Scotland became involved in the conservation of the site from 1937, when Mr Alexander Munro of Leanach Farm presented two plots of land, and then later in 1944 Mr Hector Forbes of Culloden gave the memorial cairn, Kings Stables and the Graves of the Clans to care the National Trust for Scotland, and over the next decades the area expanded and changed.
As it now stands the current Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre officially opened in 2008. We have a permanent exhibition which takes the visitor through the Jacobite Rising of 1745 campaign from the roots to the culmination on the moor.
What do you consider the most challenging part of running a museum of your kind?
Culloden Battlefield is an emotive site and means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. One challenge that inspires us is talking to people about the realities of the conflict– we look after a site which has around 1500 people buried in mass graves, through our exhibition and learning programming we deal with the themes of women in conflict and child soldiering. Culloden and the Jacobite Rising can be highly romanticised both in popular culture and in history books.
What is the planning process for creating new exhibits? Do you have any behind the scenes video or articles that future visitors can look at?
Our exhibition is permanent with programming and events varying within the season. The sites amazing volunteer team run costumed presentations and handling kits during peak season, these kits, highlights tours and presentations are updated and tweaked and each volunteer brings their own flair.
Sadly we don’t have much in the way of ‘behind the scenes’ on site other than staff offices.
A great place to look at in advance of coming to the site is our blog looking at everything from the battle to historical figures; and also check out our events page www.nts.org.uk/culloden/events.
It’s the 2017 season coming and what are your plans for exhibits this coming year?
Our visitor numbers are projected to increase this year and we build annual plan of events 6-8 months in advance of the next season – currently we are planning 2018 and beyond.
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