As most battlefield are, Culloden is, at its essence, a field. There are no grand physical features that make it stand out distinctly from the surrounding hillside, though like the rest of the Highlands, it is hauntingly sparse and beautiful.
The day we visited Culloden was a cold and dreary November afternoon, right as the early winter sun was setting over the hills in the background. The actual exhibit (indoors) was closed already, so we went straight to the battlefield. While at first, the timing might seem detrimental to the full experience, we actually preferred visiting when the crowds had left and we were basically alone in the field.
The first "major" structure you see upon entering the field is this cabin:
It is here at the Old Leanach Cottage that the British were thought to have housed their sick and dying during the battle, though that is more rumor than fact. What is known about the cottage is that it was built before Culloden, withstood the battle and survived until today while other similar cottages nearby did not. It is made with the traditional thatched roof and while the homeowners were responsible for the sides of the home, the landowners were said to have provided the wood for the trusses. It is easy to imagine a landowner offering to help with the home construction, but insist the renters collect their own stones to build up those walls, isn't it?
In any case, this cottage is the only true structure on the Culloden battlefield, aside from small memorials put up many years after the battle. The memorials are simple, stoic and straightforward, as I would have expected them to be.
"This is the place they call the Well of Death." Roger stopped by the small spring. Barely a foot square, it was a tiny pool of dark water, welling under a ridge of stone. "One of the Highland chieftains died here; his followers washed the blood from his face with the water from this spring. And over there are the graves of the clans."
The clan stones were large boulders of gray granite, rounded by weather and blotched with lichens. They sat on patches of smooth grass, widely scattered near the edge of the moor. Each one bore a single name, the carving so faded by weather as to be nearly illegible in some cases. MacGillivray. MacDonald. Fraser. Grant. Chisholm. MacKenzie.
(From Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 4 ("Culloden"). Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
It is so ridiculous really, but my heart leapt a bit when I saw the Clan Fraser stone. Of course, that is the beauty of Diana Gabaldon's writing. She makes you feel so deeply for characters rooted in historical events, yet completely fictitious. Those feelings though, they transfer directly onto the true heroes of the Scottish Rebellion and connect random Americans to a Scottish tragedy eons ago.
|I am taking this photo from the blue flagged Scottish line -- do you see how close the red flag/British line is??|
|The red flags mark the British line, while blue marks the Scots in the distance.|
They are so close. The fighting men must have been able to fully see each other, just waiting for the signal to charge. Once the signal was given, I can only imagine the pure adrenaline it must have taken to madden the men into war. Charging straight across an open field, staring into the eyes of men who want to kill you...horrifying.
Overall, I am glad we went. Feeling the weight of this place before watching the depiction of the battle on Outlander this year is an experience I am grateful for. The war though - it just seems so senseless. I cannot imagine a fight to the death based on who holds a silly throne. The death of a culture and the death of the men - all for the Bonnie Price. I will never understand it.
*This is how we watch Outlander - it is an $8.99/month subscription via Amazon and we buy it while Outlander is broadcasting. Alternatively, you can wait until later in the season and just buy a month or two, binge all the episodes at once. I believe you can watch seasons 1 and 2 right now via the subscription if you want to get caught up. Note that there are some "steamy" scenes in Outlander and some violent fighting during the battles, but overall it is a historically based love/adventure story.