Culloden

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The last battle fought on British soil took place on 16 April 1746 at Culloden, a few miles outside Inverness. Here, the Jacobite rebels led by “Bonnie Prince Charlie” were defeated by the Government Army. A large part of the battlefield is owned by the Scottish National Trust and they have allowed the landscape to revert back to something like it would have looked at the time of the battle. They’ve also constructed a state of the art Visitor Centre which opened in April 2008. It was an obvious place to visit during my recent trip to Inverness.

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There’s a lot of myths surrounding Culloden – the “glorious” rebellion of the Jacobites and the “last stand of the clans” in particular. But the Jacobite uprising really has to be seen in it it’s proper context as part of the wider struggle for hegemony taking place between the European powers.

The Jacobites were bankrolled by the Catholic States (France and Spain) who used them as a way of attacking the British in their own backyard. If victorious, the Jacobites would have been beholden to their paymasters. The rebels were not a homogeneous movement. They were made up of various factions, each with their own agenda, uniting around James the Pretender as a convenient rallying point, but there wasn’t really a common cause. If the Jacobites had been successful and James became king it is likely that he would have tried to establish an absolute monarchy and many of the claims of the disparate groups would not have been achieved, probably leading to further struggles and civil war.

The myth about the clans is also false. There were highlanders on both sides. And the Government and Jacobites both employed foreign allies and mercenaries, reflecting the fact that this was part of the wider European struggle.

Walking around the battlefield it was clear why the Jacobites were so heavily defeated. The original plan was to catch the Government troops, who were camped in Nairn, a small town on the coast some 12 miles from Inverness where the Jacobites were based, by surprise by attacking during the night. But due to poor organisation the plan fell through and the Jacobites ended up gathering on the moor at Culloden where Bonnie Prince Charlie decided to give battle. It was a crazy decision as the terrain was not suited to the main tactic employed by the Jacobites – the “Highland charge”. When their troops charged at the Government forces they got bogged down and were cut to ribbons by musket and cannon fire and the bayonets of the Government troops.

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Source: Wikipedia

Here’s Billy Connolly’s take on the Jacobites and  Culloden – including his “re-enactment” of the battle

Today the battlefield is a popular tourist attraction. There were American, Canadian, French and Italian visitors, and probably other nationalities, in the Visitor Centre and exploring the while I was there.

There are a number of memorials to fallen Highlanders and a large memorial cairn erected by the former landowner in 1881.

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There’s one small monument to the fallen Government troops.

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My English National Trust Membership allowed me free entry into the Visitor Centre, although it would have been worth paying the entry fee. It was excellent, employing new technology as well as the traditional style exhibits to tell the story of the battle and its wider context. There was an “immersion theatre” where visitors are surrounded by screens displaying images from a re-enaction of the battle, which made it seem like you were in the middle of a melee. I also liked the animated battle table which gave a birds eye view of the movements on the battlefield. They also provided an audio guide for the battlefield which used GPS technology to activate the relevant section of the commentary as you reached the various waypoints.

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In many ways, the best part of the visit was walking around the battlefield on a cold, wet, windy May morning. It gave me something of a feel of what it must have been like for the troops on the day of the battle.

Fort George

(image from www.cairngormmountain.co.uk)

During my second visit to Inverness a few weeks ago I took some time out to visit Fort George, a Georgian military fortress which is still used as an army barracks but which is also open to the public care of Historic Scotland, the Scottish equivalent of English Heritage.

The Fort was built just after the battle of Culloden, when the Government forces defeated “Bonnie Prince Charlie’s” army of Jacobin rebels, to replace the original Fort George in inverness. It formed the eastern end of the triad of forts built along the Great Glen to help keep control over the Highlands (Fort William and Fort Augustus being the other two). By the time it was finished in 1769 it was already a “white elephant” as the expected threat from the Highlands never materialised as the Scots settled into being part of the British Empire. So rather than being a bulwark against the savage Highland clans ended up being used as a garrison and training post for Scottish regiments. It’s still used for that purpose today.

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It would be a pretty grim place to be based. Miles away from anywhere, stuck out on a peninsula projecting out into the Moray Firth so that its surrounded on three sides by water. However, it’s a very interesting, completely intact18th century military structure, which, never having seen a shot fired in anger, is in excellent condition. It reminded me of the town walls of Berwick upon Tweed which we visited last year. Although the Berwick defences were originally Elizabethan, the same principles of construction and design were applied to the walls and fortifications of Fort George. The Fort was designed by William Skinner and the construction was supervised by William Adam, the father of the well known architects John and Robert Adam. The defences surrounding the garrison are typical of the period and consist of complex ramparts, massive bastions, ditches and firing steps.

To get into the Fort you first have to pass through a series of outworks before passing over a drawbridge, built over a deep ditch, overlooked by gun ports located in projecting bastions to both sides.

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Once through the main gate the garrison had the appearance of a model Georgian new town, only with the rows of buildings surrounding parade grounds rather than elegant squares. The larger houses, build for the officers, looked like typical grand Georgian town houses.

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One thing that fascinated me about the buildings was the unusual way the walls were constructed. They were build from irregular stone blocks with rows of smaller stones used to fill the gaps.

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During the visit I got talking with a couple of local Scout leaders, who were there to help supervise a gathering of Beavers being held at the fort. They told me that the stone used to construct the fort was recycled or “robbed” from the original Fort George in Inverness and from other local buildings. I think that explains this unusual style as rather than redress the stone to size (which would waste material and require addition stone) they used the original blocks, infilling with the smaller pieces.

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Like Berwick, the defensive walls of the fort were constructed of earth with a stone outer facing, the earth being better able to absorb the impact of any projectiles that hit the walls. It was possible to make a complete circuit, which gave good views over the garrison buildings and out over the Moray Firth, across to Inverness, the Black Isle and the mountains beyond.

There were a number of artillery pieces located around the walls, including cannon and mortars. None were originally from the fort but were typical examples of armaments that would have been used in the fort that had been brought in from elsewhere by Historic Scotland.

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The small chapel at the north end of the garrison was fairly simple in style, both in terms of its architecture and interior fittings and decoration.

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One interesting feature was the angel playing the bagpipes which formed one of the panels in one of the stain glass windows behind the altar.

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I ended up staying about 3 1/2 hours exploring the fort, much longer than I’d expected.

Inverness–a walk along the river to the Ness Islands

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I visited Inverness last week on a business trip, but went a day early so I could have a look around as I hadn’t been in this part of Scotland before. The town centre is quite small and isn’t particularly attractive – although there were some attractive old buildings, such as the gothic “Town House” and the castle. But it was a lovely day, so I decided to take a walk along the river. There are quiet roads along both banks and its crossed by several bridges, including a number of footbridges. The river is quite wide and fast flowing with some turbulence and on a sunny afternoon looked very attractive.

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Crossing over to the north bank I started to head west. Near the Cathedral (a 19th Century gothic revival style church) I spotted a noticeboard that gave some information about walks around the town. One of the routes went west along the river towards the Ness Islands, a group of small islands in the river, so I decided to follow it.

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I walked along the north bank, past the cathedral and the Eden Court Theatre – a good sized theatre, cinema and arts venue. Although quite a small town, being the main centre in the Highlands it seems to be quite well served with arts and entertainment.  Shortly afterwards, carrying along the path along the river bank, I came to Bright Park and the start of the islands. There was a fly fisherman standing in the river – I don’t know whether he was managing to catch anything!

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I decided to carry on along the river bank past the islands and through another park (Whin Park) where there were children’s playground and sports fields, including rugby pitches where a match was taking place. I stopped to watch if for a short while before doubling back, crossing over the footbridge that took me on to the islands.

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There are several small, wooded islands all connected with footbridges. It was a pleasant walk along the paths through the woods. There were strings of lights above the paths and I later found out that they are lit up at night and was told that it is quite safe to walk along the route at night.

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Crossing over to the south shore, I followed the path back towards the town centre, passing several large stone houses, probably Victorian, on the road alongside the river. They were solidly built and had a definite Scottish look to them.

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Reaching the town centre I climbed up the hill to the Castle. The site dominates the river and is an obvious place for a fortress. The original fortress from 1057 is long gone and was succeeded by other castles.  The current building, from 1836, was constructed as a courthouse and jail and the castle like features are only decorative. Today it houses Sherriff’s Court. Standing on the terrace at the front and north side of the castle provides a good view along the river and over the town towards the sea.

I walked back down the hill and then east along the river, crossing over the next footbridge. Half way across I noticed a distinct wobble!

It was getting close to 5 o’clock and after a very sunny afternoon the sun had gone behind some clouds. So I headed back to the town centre and caught the bus back to my hotel on the outskirts of town.

Inverness Town House

While I was up in Inverness a few days ago, I managed to have a look around the town. I couldn’t help but notice this Gothic revival building – the Town House (town hall). Built between 1878 and 1882, it’s quite different to any of the other buildings in the town centre (although they do have a Gothic style cathedral over the river).

Although it has classic Gothic features – arched windows and doorway and solid walls, it has some distinct Scottish touches – the towers in particular.

Apparently, it’s the only building outside London where the British Cabinet have met. In September 1921 Lloyd George, was on holiday at Gairloch in Wester Ross when he discovered that Ireland had rejected the King and Empire. He decided to call the cabinet at Inverness, rather than travel back to London. (source)

It’s possible to arrange to take a tour of the building. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportuntiy during my short visit. Some pictures of the interior can be seen here.