Battling through to Speyside
May 25, 2010
|Leaving the Black Isle with slight regret, we headed south through Inverness on towards Culloden moor to see where the last battle on British soil took place. As you can imagine, this last great struggle between the English and Scots (or between the government and the Jacobites, whichever you prefer) made for some interesting conversations in the van. Amidst cries of "Jockanese weirdo" and "Sassenach jessie" we arrived at the fabulous visitor centre and tried to behave a bit more respectfully, considering our surroundings.
The Battle of Culloden took place in April 1746, after the Duke of Cumberland had pushed Bonnie Prince Charlie's army of the clans back up from Edinburgh. Charlie had landed ashore from France on the west coast and had been gathering his army for some time, but once Cumberland was appointed, Charlie was pushed north, and following a tough night march, the two armies faced each other over Culloden moor on the 16th April.
I don't know if the landscape is exactly the same as it was then, but it's easy to imagine the battle when you are wandering on the moor today. All that has been done to the land is that two lines of blue and red flags have been placed to show where the Jacobite and government lines were, and a cairn has been built in commemoration. There are also some simple headstones showing where the main clans fell. There is also one more fairly recent addition, which is a stone showing the "Field of the English", which is where the 50 English casualties of the battle were buried.
The government army numbered around 7500, with Charlie's army around 5500, of which around 1500 were killed. Although the Scots did breach the English line at one point, they were pushed back by the superior fire power of the government troops, and in the end it was a complete rout. Once the battle was won, Cumberland gave the order for all wounded men to be killed where they lay and shown no mercy.
So what does it mean today? We spent quite a while discussing it (in a more adult fashion than we had up until then) and it's not really as simple as it's sometimes made out to be. The battle effectively heralded the end of the clan system in Scotland, but it was former clan chiefs who became the greedy landlords who cleared the highlands to make way for sheep. The battle is often used to rekindle hatred between Scots and English, but it was about religion, about which royal line would rule these islands, and it was the government army who had a bagpiper at their head.
Whatever the ins and outs of this complicated history, I suppose the fact is that 1500 men died here for something they strongly believed in, fighting a centralised government which did not represent them, defending a way of life and a religion that were threatened from all directions. For that, they deserve our respect.
As does the home-made shortbread at the visitor centre. Yum.
Onwards and eastwards, along the south of the Moray firth, past Nairn and lovely Forres, towards Speyside. Home of the fastest flowing river in Scotland, one of the cleanest in Europe, which has supplied the water for the tens of distilleries in this area. Of course that's not why we went there.
We had a great walk along the Spey, which is a truly majestic river, and obviously pretty full as there were loads of fishermen trying their luck. We also visited the dolphin and whale conservation centre at Spey Bay village at the mouth of the river, which was great, definately worth a visit. We didn't see any of the good stuff that was all over the sightings board; dolphin, otter, osprey, seal, but we had another lovely walk around the estuary.
Heading for Peterhead and then Aberdeen, it feels weird, so close to home I can smell it.