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Sobering Visit to the 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.

Our next stop was to drink in a little history, as bloody and unfortunate as it often was, at the Culloden Battlefield. We 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.

People walking on the path Battlefield of Culloden Scotland.

Why You Should Visit Culloden Battlefield?

There are plenty of 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?

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland.

Thanks to Outlander…

Just like many of you, I’ve been enjoying the romantic series “Outlander.” I had read a few books in the series years ago, and now that it was on TV, I was thrilled.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the various characters, rooting for the underdogs, learning about Scottish history where it’s safe and easy, on my couch.

Heading to Scotland, I knew that we were going to have to visit some of the filming sites to see and be part of those gorgeous landscapes as well as learn the real stories about the uprising, the massacre, all of it. So, going to Culloden was definitely on the list. If we really wanted to learn more of the history and understand modern day Scotland just a little better, then we decided there’s no better way than to go ourselves.

Clan Mackintosh memorial stone at the Battlefield of Culloden Scotland.

The Culloden Visitors Center

We knew the Culloden 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. It’s full of information, and you can spend quite a bit of time reading the information and taking in the exhibits.

Blue flag flying over the Battlefield of Culloden Scotland.

I was fascinated and could have spent hours in there. Ideally to retain more than the general story line, it’s probably a good idea to visit at least twice. Of course, I would have gone on separate trips to follow the routes of the two opposing sides from beginning to end. I think separate days, or at least morning for one and afternoon for the other would have helped.

If you are traveling, though, you don’t often have that much time to dedicate to one museum. I wandered back and forth between the two timelines to piece together my takeaways.

A large mural depicting some of the soldiers and support personnel at the Battlefield of Culloden Scotland.

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.

Interactive weapons display for children at Culloden Battlefield, 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 information placard.

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.

A couple walk past Red flags flying over the Battlefield of Culloden.

We were lucky to be out in the battlefield 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.

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.

Bonus Shaggy Cattle!

Scottish highland cow poses for the camera.

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.

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

For more information visit:

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

Conclusion

Whether you are a history buff or just looking for background on the fabulous TV series “Outlander,” Culloden Battlefield should be on your to-do list on your visit to Scotland. Take some time to enjoy the visitor’s center and the various walking paths through the fields. You will learn a little more about Scottish history and maybe recognize a few key people’s names.

We’d really been having a great time, lots of fun, while we drove around 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.

Author Bio: Jim Vail, is a travel, food, and video creator and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years he lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands, and he’s visited over 90 countries.

Pin  a Visit to the Culloden Battlefield for later:

Battlefield of Culloden Scotland.

Sandy Holladay

Monday 30th of October 2017

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.

Corinne Vail

Monday 30th of October 2017

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.

arsenalnic

Saturday 23rd of September 2017

That's great that you chose to visit such a historic place that many miss when they visit Scotland.

Corinne Vail

Sunday 24th of September 2017

Nic, We try to get an overall view of the places we visit. History shapes the present and the future...a must.

Sandy N Vyjay

Friday 22nd of September 2017

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.

Corinne Vail

Friday 22nd of September 2017

Sandy, Yes, unfortunately there are too many of these places around the world, aren't there?

Corinne Vail

Thursday 21st of September 2017

Thanks Claire, we enjoy learning the history of the areas we visit.

Edith Rodriguez

Wednesday 20th of September 2017

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.

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 20th of September 2017

Edith, I know exactly what you mean. I love it for the "story" of history.