Sobering Visit to the Culloden Battlefield

Why You Should Visit Culloden Battlefield

One of the reasons we travel is to experience the culture and society of the countries we’re visiting. This means seeing everything that has shaped modern society, experiencing the forces that have sculpted the social identity of its people. As we’ve road tripped around the beauty that is Scotland, we’ve experienced natural wonders and beauty in the national parks, visited museums filled with national treasures and artwork, witnessed ethnic treasures such as dance and music performances and other special events such as the Inverness Highland Games, sought out architectural innovations past and present, and, naturally, enjoyed the textures and tastes of the local food and drink.

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Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

However, I also feel that our understanding needs to go deeper, what other forces have been at work molding and shaping the populace? In many ways, it is those darker, dangerous, and trying times that really leave their mark for both better and worse.

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So, of course, when visiting Scotland we explored castles, both in ruins and stately splendor, we ventured out into the wilderness on quad bikes, shot clay pigeons at a shooting club, trekked the emerald paths through heath and hills, were thrilled by the sounds and spectacle of the Inverness Highland games, marveled at artwork both ancient and modern, and nibbled on haggis while sipping whiskey.

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

 

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

I knew so many Americans with Scottish roots that had insisted a visit to the Culloden Battlefield was a must; to pay respects to their ancestors, I thought. But with no Scottish heritage in our families, was their really a reason to visit the battlefield? Well, if we really wanted to learn more of the history and understand modern day Scotland just a little better, then we decided we really had to visit for ourselves.

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

One of the the first things we encountered as we drove up to the expansive site, was a greeting party of Scottish Highland cattle! We had been driving around for a good week up to this point and had seen these cute, fluffy cows in distant fields but never up close and personal. It’s just a coincidence, I think, that the farm is right next to the parking lot but it was a special treat and we took a few pictures before heading in to the sleek, modern visitor’s center.

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

We knew the visitors center had a highly rated immersive exhibit, but didn’t really know much more than that. And, I’ll be the first to admit, my understanding of English, Scottish and Irish history is not very strong. Who were these Jacobites we hear so much about? Who exactly was Bonny Prince Charles? And why did so many Scots give their lives for him in the fields of Culloden? Well, I’m not going to turn this into a history lesson, suffice it to say, the visitor’s center takes you on a walk through the lives and times of people of all walks of life from both sides of the issue.

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

I was fascinated and could have spent hours in the exhibit. Of course, you can move along faster depending on what you already know, or just look for particular story lines to follow on the route, so how long it takes is really up to the individual visitor. Regardless, I think everyone comes out the other end of the Culloden Battlefield interpretive exhibit with a much deeper understanding of Scotland and England.

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

The walk through time exhibit ends at an immersive round theater where you’ll experience a recreation of the sights and sounds of Culloden on the morning of the battle. It’s very well done, much better than other similar multimedia experiences. After the theater you’ll end up in a large exploration room where you can see artifacts from the battlefield, displays of weapons and uniforms from the day, and get your hands on some of the rifles and swords used on both sides of the battlefield. Again, I could have spent much longer here. There were stations where you could dress in the uniforms and watch reenactments of battlefield preparations.

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

From the exploration center, you pick up a GPS based handheld audio tour device and head outside into the fields. The self guided tour takes you through the major parts of the battlefield with stations along the way that tell the tales of the battle from individual perspectives as well as from an historical vantage. The audio tour is done in a storytelling manner that is easy to listen to. I often get bored with these tours and stop listening after the third or fourth station. At Culloden Battlefield, however, I couldn’t stop listening, it was so compelling. Of course, the rest of the family was moving along at a slightly faster pace.

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

We were lucky to be out in the battle field on a beautiful morning, but even still the somber mood of the moor is palpable. Even with the birds singing and the sun beaming down warmly it was hard to not feel the history of the place. You can easily spend two hours or more wandering the different routes, or just soaking in the atmosphere, but plan on at least one hour for this part of the site.

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

When you talk about civil war with most Americans, the only thing that comes to mind is the war between the northern and southern states. Of course, civil war has been a tragic part of human history for much longer than that. A visit to Culloden Battlefield will bring you face to face with one of the United Kingdom’s most divisive periods. If you get to Scotland, you really must make your way to Inverness, and visit the Culloden Battlefield for yourself.

Looking for a great hotel near Culloden? We recommend the Ardentorrie House in Inverness, why not check it out?

For more information visit:

http://www.nts.org.uk/Culloden/Home/
Culloden Battlefield visitor centre,
Culloden Moor, Inverness, Highland IV2 5EU
Telephone 44 (0)1463 796090

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Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland

 

46 Comments

  1. This is very high on my list of places I want to visit. I would also have been wandering very slowly, taking my time, reading stuff. I may need a full day!

    1. Thankyou for sharing your experiences… it’s only been watching outlanders on prime I’ve come to learn about the civil war, and now have a greater understanding how the Scottish people feel…. I know have the utmost respect for them and their country

  2. Hairy coos! I’ve been to Scotland twice and have yet to see any Scottish Highland Cattle. And to make my way to Inverness. It’s on the list!

  3. We first visited 30 years ago when there was only a tiny visitor centre, not much more than a shop and ticket desk, then again last year, though we only walked round the battlefield – we were in Inverness for a family funeral and had limited time. The size and complexity of the visitor centre might have changed, but the sombre atmosphere hasn’t. Next time we are up there we will definitely spend time in the museum.

  4. The story of Culloden and the highland clearances is a fascinating one. There have been some very readable history books written on the topic. I remember visiting Culloden many, many years ago. It looks even more interesting now with all the modern exhibits.

  5. What a beautiful day you had for this step into Scottish history. It’s true for too many of us that we don’t understand our own country’s history, let alone our neighbors. I hope to visit one day.

  6. I’ve wanted to visit Culloden for a long time to. It really was the battle that broke the Scottish rebels (although I guess recently they are trying for a political referendum to leave the UK). I’m not sure about it being a civil war though (the Scot were trying to get their freedom back as the end game even if it mean supporting Bonny prince Charlie as an interim step and it was only the English who thought they were one big happy country). Such a beautiful field now and a complete bloodbath during the battle.

  7. I’ve never been to Scotland but this place would be very high on my list if I go. Since I first visited Williamsburg and Jamestown in Virginia, I developed a fascination for battlefields. The story of Culloden is definitely is quite captivating.

  8. I still haven’t managed to visit Culloden, though I know quite about it thanks to a series of books I read by Diana Gabaldon. It’s a fascinating yet sad time in Scottish history, and makes me like being English that little bit less.

  9. In some way, this reminds me of the forts where the Battle of Puebla was fought. I know that the two sites are totally unrelated but like you, I was very consumed by the exhibits. I think I learned more about Mexican and Latin American there than in all the years I went to school. I have not been to a battlefield per se but would like to experience one.

  10. Step 1: go to Scotland. Step 2: wait, I still need to accomplish step 1 first. Stupid logic. This is why I would no last in any battlefield; though learning about it afterwards is great and safe 🙂

  11. I have the same views about travel – it is like a learning experience. As you visit these sites, you are also taking yourself back to a time when the history that shaped the country or city was happening. I have always wanted to go to Scotland for its natural beauty and attractions. However, these cultural sites can be a worthy addition to my future travel itinerary as well!

  12. Historical places are always a must see on my travel list as it illuminates so much about a culture and its customs. They talk about the Jacobites and Bonny Prince Charles in the Outlander series, but I never quite get everything they are talking about, so this site would surely help me connect the dots.

  13. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t know a huge amount about English & Scottish history, even though I’m born and bred in England! I’d really love to spend some time up in Scotland – it’s always the weather that puts me off, but looks like you had a lovely day for it!

  14. I’m so glad you went to visit to the Culloden Battlefield. It’s true that you should see all sides of a destination, especially those that shaped a country so significantly. Great piece.

  15. Even though I have a hard time remembering what I learn when I visit rich history places, I still enjoy them. This seems like a neat area where you can learn so much about the battlefield history.

  16. A virtual experience of the sights and sounds of Culloden battle must have been an unforgettable experience. I remember going to Ho Chi Minh’s War Museum and it was such a depressing moment.

  17. I must admit I don’t know too much about Scottish history so this sounds like a great day out to learn about some of the history. Travel really is the best way to learn about history

  18. The Culloden Battlefield is a poignant place. These places always touch your very core and shake you up and you think about the futility of wars. Had similar experiences when in Amritsar at the Jallianwala Bagh and later at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda.

  19. I join those who say this wasn’t like a Civil War, it was The Scots against The Brits. The most interesting thing we learned when there about a month ago was how poorly The Scots think of Bonnie Prince Charles. To them, he was not a hero; but a coward and traitor. He got out by wearing ladies clothes while his men were slaughtered, or shot by firing squad. Not an honorable man. The Irish, Northern Irish and Scottish history is very involved, and not something easily absorbed. It was dark, cold, and a bit rainy the day we were there which limited our time outside. We weren’t given head sets to listen to any commentary, nor were there re-in actors like in your picture. Perhaps since we visited in the fall, low season they don’t do that? Like you, we found it a very sobering experience. Had been most anxious to visit there and learn more about The Jacobites after watching Outlander.

    1. Sandy, I find I really get a lot more out of understanding the history of a place when I can walk it. It cements some of the meaning to me, I guess. Culloden is an extremely interesting place and the tragic battle that took place there really makes you think about the past in a more personal way.

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