A Holiday in the Highlands – Part 3 Memorial to the Clans

And so we are now in third and final part of our Holiday in the Highlands. Part 1 was Inverness itself, the capital of the Highlands. And Part 2 was the Isle of Mists, everyone’s favourite Isle of Skye. And here we have the historical Part 3: Memorial to the Clans. 


Clava Cairns

Of course a trip to Inverness and the Highlands would not be complete without a trip to some magical stones taking you back to the 18th century a la Outlander. We took a taxi to the Cairns which is about a 20 minute drive east of the city centre. There are four cairns and three stone circles dating from the Bronze Ages. One stone circle was apparently a temple and the cairns were used for burials.

The taxi driver informed us that the stones appear as if they are just piled on top of each other, but x-ray results show that the stones were put together in such a way that makes it difficult to take apart – built for millenias worth of longevity. We spent less than 30 minutes here, as the site is quite small, nothing like Stonehenge in Wiltshire. 

And of course I had to take the stereotypical tourist shot of me touching the “magical stones”, potentially entering a time machine into 18th century Scotland, a la Outlander. It didn’t work though. 


Culloden Exhibition Centre

We had planned to walk from the Clava Cairns over to Culloden. But during the taxi ride to the Clava Cairns, we realised that there were no paths or pavements. The taxi driver kindly waited for us at the car park by the Clava Cairns while we looked around and then took us over to Culloden. I really liked the Exhibition Centre here. Our tickets included audio guides which were informative and gave more information than the written signs.

You follow the one way corridor where one side charts the blue Jacobites and the other side charts the red government army. You just read both sides as you walk along the wide corridor. I thought it was really interesting having the two sides on opposite sides of the corridor. You learn about each side’s plans and battle tactics to outmanoeuvre each other – quite insightful. You walk along learning about what led to the battle at Culloden, the night before the battle, and the night march.

The café here was pretty decent and I was impressed with their simple technique of showing whether tables were clean/ ready or not. There were laminated cards on each table where one side stated “this table is clean and ready” whilst the other side stated “this table is not ready for use”. Simple yet effective. The views from the café were absolutely breathtaking – such vast expanse of green patchworks of nature.



From what I’ve seen of Outlander, it can appear as if the Jacobite uprisings were simply the Scottish against the English, but it was not that simple. The seeds were sown for the uprising many generations before. After Queen Elizabeth I died, the crown passed onto James VI of Scotland who became James I of England and united the countries under a single monarchy. His mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had a valid claim to the throne herself but had been bypassed due to her Catholicism. England was by then Anglican and fiercely distrusting of anything Catholic.

The Stuart dynasty, started by James I, saw great struggles between the powers of monarchy and parliament, often fueled by the distrust of Catholics. For James I’s son, Charles I, this culminated in a civil war (which actually started in Scotland) resulting in his execution and the establishment of a Lord Protector (Oliver Cromwell) instead of a monarch. Though after Cromwell’s death the country restored Charles I’s first son, Charles II, to the throne and the monarchy continued.

Charles II left no legitimate heir. His sister Mary produced William III Prince of Orange, but the throne passed to his brother James VII of Scotland and II of England. James II’s first marriage produced Mary II and Anne. But James II was unfortunately a bit too Catholic for parliament, a problem that became acute after his second marriage with the very Catholic Mary of Modena produced James Stuart. 

After it got a bit much for parliament, they invited his very protestant nephew/ son-in-law and daughter, William III Prince of Orange and Mary II, to invade and take the throne. James II fled with his second wife and son, and then the first Jacobite (named after James) uprising began. With a live monarch executed on the throne (Charles I) and a Catholic monarch in exile (James II), it’s not surprising France and Spain were a bit anxious. 

France and Spain did not support the reign of William and Mary, or her sister Anne who succeeded them. Instead, they preferred their half brother, the Catholic James Stuart. His enemies referred to him as James the Old Pretender, due to rumours of the real James Stuart being a stillborn and a maid’s baby smuggled into the palace in his place. 

When sisters Mary II and Anne did not produce any heirs, the English government traced back the family tree to the next available Protestant: George I of Hanover, whose great-grandfather was also James VI of Scotland and I of England. But James the Old Pretender wished to regain the throne, and hence his supporters became the Jacobites.

Though much support came from the continent, there were also those in both England and Scotland who saw James Stuart as the rightful monarch. Other issues saw support rise for him amongst the highlanders, including a dislike of the Union of Great Britain that had finally joined the two countries under a single parliament under the reign of Anne.

Uprisings, rebellions, and battles took place in the 18th century as the older monarchs died. George I’s son died before he did, so the crown passed to his grandson, who became George II. And soon attention passed from James the Old Pretender to his son Bonnie Prince Charlie the Young Pretender.

Bonnie Prince Charlie soon launched the fateful final Jacobite invasion, which started in Scotland and got as far down as into Northern England. However, indecision saw them return back to Inverness and the fields of Culloden. There they would meet in battle with the government army under the Duke of Cumberland, King George II’s favourite son.


The night before the battle and the night march

The night before the battle was the Duke of Cumberland’s 25th birthday. So the government army were replenished with food and drink celebrating the Duke’s birthday. Meanwhile the Jacobites wanted a night time ambush, but they didn’t expect the government army to be resting after the birthday celebrations 12 miles away. It was a dreary walk in the dark, only to turn back the next morning to Culloden for the battle.


The battle

There was an immersive room with four screens on the four walls. Whilst standing in the middle of the room, the screens show a reenactment of the battle. The battle lasted less than an hour but obviously the reenactment was much shorter. It was really well done, vividly showing the slaughter of the Jacobites that occurred. Be sure to watch all four screens as they all show different viewpoints. It might be a little graphic for some though.


Culloden Battlefield


On the battlefield there are red and blue flags representing the army lines of the government army and the Jacobites, respectively. During the battle, the Jacobites enacted the famous and ferocious highland charge. However, the government army had thought of a simple yet ingenious tactic. When the enemy gets within bayonet stabbing distance, instead of stabbing at the man in front, stab at the man to your right who would have their right sword arm raised exposing their side.

With brutal yet effective tactics like these, the government army claimed a quick and bloody victory. We had briefly learned about the highland charge and the government army tactic from the TV documentary Men in Kilts. Hilariously hosted by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish who play Jamie Fraser and Dougal Mackenzie from the TV show OutlanderMen in Kilts is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.



On the battlefield there was a stone cairn, or monument, for the fallen that was built in the 1800s. Nearby there were also a row of gravestones for clans. Other memorials were dotted around further afield too. As you walk along the perimeter of the battlefield you can see cows and horses. It’s quite a peaceful walk and there were many dogs around too.

Closer to the Exhibition Centre there is a cute little cottage, though the significance of this cottage wasn’t marked or mentioned in the audio guide or maps provided. 


After the battle

After the battle, the Duke of Cumberland became known as the butcher due to his overzealous treatment of the Jacobites. Eager to stamp out future uprisings, kilts and tartan were banned for any men not serving in the army.

It was Queen Victoria and the Victorians, only a few generations later, who brought back highland culture. The Jacobite cause was romanticized and the Victorians became obsessed with it. Queen Victoria bought Balmoral, fell in love with the highlands, and frequently wore tartan. The romanticisiation of this culture brought it back again in full force.

The Duke of Cumberland never won another battle, whilst Bonnie Prince Charlie managed to escape Scotland, never to return. Part of his escape involved being transported to Isle of Skye disguised as a maid, memorialised in the famous Skye Boat song. He later became an alcoholic, and the Jacobite uprising effectively died with him. Though it lives on in the imaginations of many today.



Of course if you’re into history, Outlander, or even Men in Kilts it would be worthwhile visiting the Clava Cairns and Culloden. We spent a fair few hours engrossing ourselves in the rich history, lead up, and aftermath of this short battle. Bear in mind that public transport isn’t great in this region and you may need to consider taxis, but I would say definitely worth a visit. 

And so that concludes the third and final part of our Holiday in the Highlands. I thoroughly enjoyed Inverness, Isle of Skye, and the various day trips we managed to squeeze in. Hiring a car would have been more timely, but it was lovely looking out the windows, listening to personal stories, and taking in the rolling hills. 

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