Living History at Culloden, Scotland

Cultural Travel Tuesday

Boggy field, Culloden, Scotland
Boggy field, Culloden, Scotland

Destination: Scotland

Inspiration: Museum at Culloden Visitor’s Center

By Jessica Voigts

Imagine the moors of the Scottish Highlands – it’s a rainy, misty day, with a bit of a chill in the air. The sunken bogs are wreathed in fog, and human noise is eerily absent – just a raven’s caw in the air. You almost feel as if you’ve stepped back in time – maybe you have?

You’re at Culloden, the site of the battle that changed the course of Scottish, British – well, truly, world history. On April 16, 1746, the Jacobite army fought the British army, to reclaim the throne of Britain for Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was an incredibly uneven battle – the Jacobites weren’t fully prepared, were starving and cold. A surprise night attack plan failed, and in the day, the exhausted Jacobite soldiers surged to their death.

Culloden tower, Scottland
Culloden tower, Scottland

As the National Trust for Scotland web site says:

Towards one o’clock, the Jacobite artillery opened fire on government soldiers. The government responded with their own cannon, and the Battle of Culloden began.

Bombarded by cannon shot and mortar bombs, the Jacobite clans held back, waiting for the order to attack. At last they moved forwards, through hail, smoke, murderous gunfire and grapeshot. Around eighty paces from their enemy they started to fire their muskets and charged. Some fought ferociously. Others never reached their goal. The government troops had finally worked out bayonet tactics to challenge the dreaded Highland charge and broadsword. The Jacobites lost momentum, wavered, then fled.

Hardly an hour had passed between the first shots and the final flight of the Prince’s army. “Although a short battle by European standards, it was an exceptionally bloody one.

Before we headed to Scotland, I taught our daughter the history of Scotland, the political and personal struggles, the way that the conquering English (and earlier, the Vikings, Romans, Dál Riatans from Ireland) changed everything. She was fascinated, and wherever we were in Scotland, she wondered what happened in history there.

One of the best places to learn about and experience Scottish History is the Culloden Visitor Centre, located just south of Inverness, Scotland.

Opened in 2007, the Culloden Visitor Centre is run by the National Trust for Scotland. It’s a low-slung building made of local stones, and doesn’t impact the landscape as much as enhance it.

Once inside the visitor centre, we learned the small details of history – the spent and flattened bullets, found on the moors decades later; clothing; maps showing troop movements; weapons; an interactive battlefield map; costumed troops wandering the halls; voices and videos.

Leanach Cottage Scotland
Leanach Cottage Scotland

And then…we went outside. We took along the personal audios available from the desk at the door. We walked into the misty rain, along clear paths through the battlefield. We saw Leanach Cottage – an original cottage, still on the battlefield hundreds of years later. I was surprised by the closeness of the sheep, grazing in the farmland nearby.

We wandered the paths, avoided slugs stretched out, listened to history, and FELT the spirit of Culloden, surrounding us. I teared up at the Clan grave markers, gazed at the wet marsh off the path (wondering HOW those soldiers were able to fight there), and honored those that had fought so hard for their country and beliefs. Our daughter stretched her time out, going back to certain parts of the long battlefield, looking off into the hills while listening hard. She did NOT want to leave. We closed the place down, the very last ones to leave – and we had a difficult time exiting. Culloden had a firm hold on our souls.

Clan Fraser Marker, Culloden Scotland
Clan Fraser Marker, Culloden Scotland


All of the photos in this post are the property of Jessie Voigts. Please do not use without permission.


Note from Vera Marie: I have frequently been inspired by a museum to look more deeply into a place. For instance, when I went to Ireland, I was inspired by the  Blascaod Centre in Dún Chaoin (Dunquin) on the Dingle Peninsula and learned about the people of the Blasket Islands.  Have you visited a museum that enriched your travel? Please share, so we can visit, too.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

10 thoughts on “Living History at Culloden, Scotland

  1. thank you, everyone! we rented a home on loch ness, and could see urquhart castle – it was beautiful. we also stayed in glencoe, at the glencoe cottages (where the hagrid’s hut part of harry potter movies were filmed) – another gorgeous location! i LOVE scotland.

  2. What a captivating write up- and I think Scotland as a whole has a way of capturing ones heart. As far as a museum which inspired me to look more deeply into a country- it would have to be the museum I visited in Ankara, Turkey.

  3. I adore Scotland. Few years ago I went to a trip around the Highlands, and except for Culloden another muss see places are the isle of Skye, Glencoe and Loch Ness with Urquart Castle> I love this nature!!

  4. After such an auspicious start at Prestonpans, the Highlanders were full of hope. But the superior strength of the English forces and the lack of the promised help from the French meant the outcome was inevitable.

  5. Perfect timing! Just today I began working on a tour of Scotland for my clients that will include a stop at Culloden. I will share this with them.

    Libbie Griffin

  6. Jessie: Thanks so much for this story and the beautiful pictures. Haven’t made it to Scotland yet, but all that misty green makes me yearn to go.

  7. Thanks Jessie for this story. Visiting battlefields can be such a moving experience, especially when you know something about the battle, and when there are not many people around. Your post made me curious to see if our magazine has mentioned Culloden and I was pleased to discover that a visit to Culloden is included in our Scotland trip with National Geographic Expeditions:

  8. one of the things I’ve read about Culloden is that as they were gathering to start to fight, the highland clansmen kept saying their clan names over and over “I am Fraser, I am MacCrimmon…” and the like. it is indeed a powerful place. thanks for the fine article.

    I’m glad you were inspired to learn more of the Blasket Islands while you were in Dun Chaoin, Vera. that’s another place where the landscape holds power.

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