Having grown up in Scotland I’d always heard of the Battle of Culloden and I also knew of the term Jacobites – it was mentioned a lot! But I didn’t really know a lot about the history there and on our travels around Scotland decided that I really needed to learn a little bit more about it so I could appreciate the sites we were seeing. If you’re visiting Culloden Moor on your trip to Scotland I hope that this guide will help you on your visit and make your time there really special.
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It’s a cold and desolate place with the wind blowing around. Culloden Moor is a wide open space and that only lends to the sombre feeling when visiting. Visitors are quietly walking around, mostly attached to an audio guide as if they are on the phone and hearing awful news, but they are listening and learning about what happened back in April 1746.
The Jacobites fought a short battle here and suffered catastrophic losses and in the end defeat from the English. It’s an important battle for many reasons and the aftermath meant the demise of the Highland clans as they were and of the Jacobite cause.
Culloden is a pilgrimage for many people who have Scottish ancestry to find and pay respect to their relatives who gave the ultimate sacrifice for what they believed in. Many others are visiting now due a resurgence in interest from the Outlander television series on Amazon.
The Jacobite Rising and history around it was always a bit of a gap in my knowledge – it can be quite complicated so if you’re planning on going definitely take some time to familiarise yourself with the basics of what was going on in the country at that time so you can read the exhibits and really understand it all. This is quite a brief overview of the time.
The Jacobites were supporters of the Stuart claim to the throne. Jacobus is the latin for James and is where the name comes from.
James II of England (James VII of Scotland) was King from 1685 until he was overthrown in what is known as the Glorious Revolution in 1688. As was quite common at the time, it had lots to do with religion – James II was a catholic but he had 2 daughters who had been raised Protestant. His eldest daughter was heir and the country felt happy that a Protestant would soon be back. This changed when James’s second wife gave birth to a son who would be catholic – another James (later to be known as the Old Pretender).
James faced uprisings, notably from the husband of his daughter Mary – William of Orange, and he fled to France allegedly dropping the Great Seal of the Realm in the Thames. The dropping of the seal led to Parliament basically saying he had abdicated and so his daughter Mary became Queen and ruled alongside William bringing the country back to Church of England rule. There was also a new rule made that no catholic would ever be able to be King ever again!
James continued to live in exile in France and when he died the French recognised his son as James III, King of England as did some small pockets of loyal supporters – what would become known as Jacobites. There were many uprisings made by him and his supporters, especially when George I came to the throne. They wanted the Stuart line, what they considered to be the rightful heirs to the crown, back on the throne.
What happened at Culloden – a brief history
In 1745 another uprising of the Jacobites began. It was led by the James III son Charles Edward Stuart, otherwise known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or the New Pretender. He gathered highland clans together in support of the his father’s Stuart claim to the throne and they formed an army that invaded England in late 1745.
The invasion was good for the Jacobites in terms of morale but didn’t really achieve much and they returned to Scotland. The English Government then sent troops to Scotland under the Duke of Cumberland, arriving in Aberdeen and a battle was set for Culloden. The English were well rested and outnumbered the Jacobites considerably.
On the day of the battle itself the Jacobites suffered terribly. The battle only lasted an hour but they lost around 2000 men. Some clans were completely wiped out and many of those that were left were captured by the English.
It saw the end of the realistic hopes of the Stuart line coming back – the Hanover line of the Royal family and the Georgian era had begun and was here to stay.
Visiting Culloden Moor
What is there to do there
The Battlefield is the main thing to see here but the National Trust for Scotland has also created an amazing visitors centre with exhibits, information and visuals to help you understand what was going on at the time.
Inside the visitor centre you can learn all about the lead up to the battle and the history of the politics at the time. It can be a little overwhelming and I know I struggled at the time to know what was going on. Take your time round the exhibits and do ask any of the staff if you have questions and they’ll be sure to help. I couldn’t take as much time as I needed because I had our kids with us and they didn’t feel the need to read everything!
While walking around the Battlefield I really encourage you to get one of the audio guides that the National Trust has. It really helps you to understand what you’re looking at and takes you on a journey of what happened on the day as well as giving an overview of what can be seen now.
On the battlefield you can see many of the clan markers that show where the many members of the highland clans were buried along with a large cairn. There’s also a small marker for the dead of the English.
New this year is also a refurbished 18th century cottage that you can look round and see how people lived at the time.
When you’re done there’s a nice cafe and shop to pick up some more books to learn or perhaps a souvenir.
I’d allow a couple of hours at least for a visit but if you’re really interested in the history then perhaps a little more would be good.
Is it kid friendly?
While the whole site is child friendly and they even have some workbooks for children to colour in and find answers to questions in as well as dressing up areas do remember that this is about a battle and keep an eye on sensitive kids. There was one film we saw that felt a little bit violent and my daughter still remembers that to this day! Just bear in mind it’s not all aimed at them and so they might find some aspects distressing.
What is the cost
Culloden Moor Battlefield is managed by the National Trust for Scotland. Members can visit for free.
Ticket prices for non members (correct as at December 2019):
- Adult – £11
- Family – £27
- One adult family – £22
- Concession – £9.50
Tickets can be bought on the day or if you’d like to be organised you can buy in advance here.
There is also a charge for the car park. Again members of the NTS can park for free but non members are charged £2.
How to get to Culloden Moor from Inverness
Culloden isn’t too far from the main Highland city of Inverness, only about 5 miles so getting there by car is really simple. The postcode you need is IV2 5EU.
Buses go from the centre of Inverness. You want Number 5 which will be going in the direction of Nairn and it takes around 35 – 40 mins. Catch it from the bus stop outside the Eastgate Shopping Centre.
Being so close a taxi might be a good option if you want ease but don’t have your own transport.
There are some tours that depart from Inverness so if you’re staying there they could be a good idea to take in some of the other sites in the area.
Tours to Culloden from elsewhere in Scotland
There are many tours that go to Culloden from other areas of Scotland so if you’ve your heart set on visiting but are arriving in Edinburgh or Glasgow then don’t worry.
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