Urquhart Castle, Culloden and More

Trip Start May 22, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Leaving Glen Affric we decided to take the scenic route back to Aberdeen. We stopped first a short distance away at Urquhart Castle which was once one of Scotland's largest, but is now a ruin perched on the banks of Loch Ness. Although there's been a castle on the site since at least 1230, it flipped back and forth into Scottish and English hands during the 11th and 12th centuries and in the process was attacked by both sides. It also played a role in the Scottish struggle for independence and in the 15th and 16th centuries was frequently raided and plundered by western clans. Repairs followed, but the castle fell into decline and in 1689 Urquhart Castle saw its last drama when a small garrison supporting the Protestant monarchy of William and Mary held off a much larger Jacobite force. The garrison later left, blowing up much of the castle as they did and so it was left to ruin.

Its now an odd shape, built around two separate rocky outcrops. A beautiful, dramatic but peaceful site where you can lose yourself in the legends of history - it's probably a must see for anyone visiting the area and you never know, you might just spot Nessie swimming in the loch.

Our next stop was more drama and history at the Battlefields of Culloden. Culloden Moor is not far from us but astonishingly, neither of us had visited before. We loved every minute, depite the tragic, bloody history, it is one of the most evocative places we have ever visited.

To understand the significance, we'll try and give you a brief history so bear with us! Culloden Moor was the scene of the last major battle to take place on British soil on 16 April 1746 which ended Jacobite hopes of restoring the exiled Stuart dynasty to the throne of Britain. The army of Bonnie Prince Charlie was crushed by the Government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland. In less than an hour it was all over, signalling the end of an ancient royal dynasty and the distinctive way of life and culture of the Highland clans of Scotland - the end of an era.

Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) was the son of James Francis Edward Stuart and the grandson of deposed James II of England. He landed on the shores of Scotland in July 1745 in an attempt to oust King George II from the throne and thus claim his birthright.

It wasn't a simple case of England versus Scotland as many people believe but more a case of Catholics versus Protestants. For this reason, Charles raised support amongst the Catholic Highland clans as well as in England and France whilst other clans were loyal to George II.

Charles and his army marched South toward London, successfully gaining the control of many major cities along the way. By the time they reached Derby, George was getting ready to flee but they never knew this. Instead, after 2 days they turned back to Scotland as it became clear that the much-promised support of the French and the English Jacobites (those loyal to James Stuart) wasn't forthcoming. It was this retreat, against the wishes of Charles himself, which many historians believe to have been the fatal mistake.

Back in Scotland, Charles was advised to avoid a direct conflict with Cumberland's army, his funds were running short and desertion was frequent. However, Cumberland made the first move by crossing the River Spey and the Jacobites on the other bank retreated without even putting up a fight. Finally, on the night of April 15-16, Charles hoped to gain advantage by a surprise attack on Cumberland's camp - the plan failed and the Jacobites were forced into retreat at Culloden. When Cumberland and his army advanced onto the field the next day many of the Jacobites were already exhausted after the night-time raid and they were heavily outnumbered. The ground was too marshy to suit their Highlander tactics and worse, Culloden lent itself to Cumberland's strength in heavy artillery and cavalry. The Cumberland Army stood firm and blasted the Jacobite army into retreat.

Many of the Highlanders headed for Inverness but were soon hunted down and killed without mercy. Others headed into the mountains and stood a better chance of survival but the government troops were thorough in their retribution. Many of the legends surrounding Culloden involve the clans' attempts to return to home and the brutality of the Cumberland's Army in their reaction. Bonnie Prince Charlie did however manage to escape to Skye with his life and he headed back to the safety of France where he stayed. The history of Scotland was changed forever.

We wandered around the museum and then headed out onto the moor itself where the positions of the clans and armies are marked out amongst all the purple heather. There are also the graves of the clansmen, marking out where they fell.

Feeling very glad that we had eventually visited and learned more about Culloden, we jumped back in the car and continued our convoluted journey back to Aberdeen. We stopped next at Loch Garten which is renowned for it's nesting Ospreys but we didn't seen any, just a couple of red squirrels instead! Kev did his usual and skimmed pebbles across the water's surface whilst Sian threw pine cones at him, then we got back in the car. Our final stop was at a ruined mill near Lecht, set back off the road amongst the heather. We wandered about and found out that they used to mine for lead there. It's actually really picturesque and we learned something new! With that, we headed straight back to Aberdeen as it started to get dark.

Until next time,

K & S
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