Monday, May 26, 2008

The last battle

View of Cumberland's lines
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
We were in Inverness at the weekend, for the 20th anniversary celebrations of Cursillo in Scotland. However, before partying with the fifty or so who turned up on the Friday evening, we visited the site of the Battle of Culloden, the last battle of the '45 rebellion, the last battle to be fought on British soil. I've been here twice before, and on both occasions was really unable to get any feel of the battlefield, though on my first visit, in 1970, I looked at the three huge graves of the Mackintosh clan and wondered if I was to be called upon to an act of repopulation.

This time it was very different. The forest which had completely covered the battlefield on that first visit is gone, and the NTS are currently restoring the land to its original boggy state after the years of drainage since the battle. The positions of the two armies are marked by lines of flags - red for the Government troops, blue for the Jacobites - and gravelled paths lead you on a guided tour with a sat-nav triggered commentary telling you through an earpiece what you are looking at and incorporating contemporary comment.

On a grey, chilly day such as Friday, this is a sobering experience. When we stood where the Mackintosh clan had stood, we could see clearly the impossibility of their advance: the lines had not been parallel and they were at the furthest distance from the enemy, with great tracts of bog and tussock to cover under fire before they could engage. The photo above shows this part of the field - you can't actually make out the red flags of the opposing front line except on the largest possible format.

The new Visitor Centre is a huge improvement too, with convincing audio-visual displays (to which it is suggested you do not take young children) and weapons and personal effects found on the field, as well as contemporary accounts of the events of the '45. I learned a great deal - hardly surprising for someone who picks up her history mainly from fiction. We spent four and a half hours here and on the battlefield, and felt our NTS subscription had been well justified for another year.

This is a sobering and thought-provoking place, and well worth a visit. I couldn't help feeling that if one of the dead had been able to return today to this field, he might have taken some pride in the knowledge that his story was being well told.

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