Our Travel blog
Friday 20 May
We met up with old friends of Alison's today. In fact it was her old primary school teacher and her husband from the village where Alison grew up. Both Scots, they returned to the land of their birth and have made Inverness their home. We enjoyed a delightful lunch with them, reminiscing and learning about the local area. They were charming, hospitable, great company and generous with their time, the very essence in fact of the Scottish people we've met on our brief sojourn North of the border.
After a cuppa with them in Mavis they were kind enough to drop us at the visitors centre on the site of the Culloden battlefield. Alison particularly wanted to visit as she's a fan of the Outlander series of books which are set around the time of the Jacobite rebellion. I must confess I wasn't familiar with the details of the battle or events around it. The visitors centre does an excellent job of telling the tale from both sides. As you pass through one side tells the story from the Jacobite perspective while the other tells it from the governing Hanover's position. Its a fascinating telling of the story, brought to life by artefacts and a short immersive film that puts you in the midst of the battle.
It was at Culloden that the Jacobite rebellion, hitherto undefeated and having got as far South as Derby, was crushed. Led by 'Bonnie' Prince Charlie Stewart and backed by those pesky French, the Jacobite's believed the Bonnie Prince was the rightful heir to the crown, whereas George II had his royal posterior on the throne as the second Hanoverian King. Of course there's a lot more to the build up than this but on 16 April 1746 the Jacobite cause was all but wiped out by a well prepared and disciplined royalist force. On the evening of the 15 April the Jacobite's had hoped to take the Duke of Cumberland's redcoats by surprise and undertook an ill fated march to their camp which ended in disarray. Thus with a depleted and fatigued army and lacking the promised reinforcements from France, the Prince fatefully chose to fight. Meanwhile the Duke's men enjoyed a measure of spirits and some extra cheese in honour of the Duke's birthday. Here was a man who clearly knew how to party! Sadly for Bonnie Prince Charlie the Duke also knew how to fight and the next day with a refreshed and disciplined army he won a decisive victory for the Hanoverian cause.
It was the aftermath of the battle however that really lives in the memory. In an effort to wipe out the Jacobite cause once and for all the Duke's men took a bloody revenge on anyone associated with it, women and children included. This led to the suppression of what we'd think of now as Scottish culture. For example tartan was outlawed unless you were in the Royal family, bagpipes were declared an instrument of war, land was taken and given to the English and the Gaelic language forbidden. The effect of this was to punish not only the rebels but also those clans that had been loyal to King George and fought with his army. Many of the lowland clans had prospered under the 1707 Act of Union which brought a common sovereign, currency, parliament and tax system to Scotland and England. The Highlands however suffered under the Union and it was from here that the Jacobite cause had established itself. Today its still a Gaelic speaking area, road signs are bi-lingual and fading YES stickers from the independence referendum are liberally dotted about. This disparity; and the barbarity of the Duke's reprisals sowed the seeds of simmering tension and religious division that still linger in part today.
I suppose most of all I learnt that no one really wins wars. A declaration of war is of itself an act of defeat. By the time the first shot is fired the damage is already done. Irrespective of who claims victory, when the bodies start to stink no one cares what religion they were or what flag they fought under.
Leaving Culloden in a sombre frame of mind we caught a bus into Inverness and wandered through the city centre and over the broad fast-flowing River Ness. Here we took a leisurely stroll along the bank past severe granite hotels, cosy restaurants and the squat cathedral, its soft rose coloured stone bathing in watery sunlight. We entered into the riverside park alongside the Ness Islands. These form a picturesque quarter of immense charm. Iron footbridges and tree-lined paths gave the area a Victorian feel. We felt we should be promenading arm in arm. A noisy funfair was under way on the green but we gave it a wide berth and found the canal which led us gracefully back to the site.
During our walk we agreed that we liked Inverness. It seems a city of compact charms with a stately presence reminiscent of a bygone era, like a favourite jumper, warm and comfortable. Certainly worth a return visit to explore more.
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