My husband and I recently returned from a trip north to Inverness. I was attending an academic conference, and giving a talk there, and we used the opportunity to have a break in the Highlands and a small holiday. On our way back to Dundee we called into Culloden, and then drove down the west side of Loch Ness for the scenic route.
Culloden battlefield lies to the east of the city. It’s near a small village of the same name, so there are a lot of modern houses around. But the battlefield itself is undeveloped, and stands as a permanent memorial to the lost in 1746. In 2008 a new visitor centre was opened at the site. It’s not the prettiest building by any imagination, but it’s very functional, and I was impressed at how it houses the exhibitions and information for visitors.
Once inside there’s a shop to the left, and a cafe with free Wifi, and then you are at the tickets desk and on your way in to the exhibition. There are scooters and wheelchairs available for people to use who need them, especially when going out onto the battlefield, but they could also be useful for people with mobility problems when going through the long winding exhibition.
The exhibition is based around a series of linked corridors, with display cases and exhibits in the centre and on the walls, and the two side walls telling respectively the stories of the Government forces and the Jacobites. This covers the background to the battle, the run up to it, with the Jacobites marching south into England, and then the time before Culloden itself, the battle and the aftermath.
It’s a very difficult story to tell. It’s complex, there’s a lot to take in, but I was impressed with the information boards and displays, and felt that they communicated things pretty well. I also liked the exhibits. As well as lots of maps and for example Stuart family trees there were clothes from the time, of course weapons, medallions, Jacobite emblems, books, basically lots of interesting personal items that made you feel close to the time.
It took us quite a while to work our way through this section of the visitor centre, taking in the information. Both my husband (English) and I (Scottish Borderer with Jacobite ancestry) drifted inevitably towards the Jacobite side each time. My main emotion was anger, growing all the time, at the inept decision making of Bonnie Prince Charlie which led to the huge sacrifice. We both learned masses. I also wondered if my Border Jacobite ancestor James Veitch was at the battle. He was apparently a life guard for the Prince, so may have been there.
After working through the visitor centre we reached the back door, where you can walk out onto the battlefield. There are regular guided walking tours around the battlefield, and one was about to start as we got there. I passed on this – due to my MS-like illness it was never going to be that feasible a thing for me to do, even if I’d used a scooter. Instead we went outside ourselves, and made our way up to the custom-built viewing area on the visitor centre roof, that gives you a 360 degree view of the battlefield. On the downside there were no seats there – I suggested afterwards to the visitor centre that they might like to add some. But we spent some time there, taking in the landscape. I also bought a guide book to study at home.
I’m very glad I went there. It’s horrific, and highly moving, but an important site. And I think the new visitor centre does an excellent job of communicating the history to visitors.