A Scottish Vacation – Clava Cairns & Culloden Battlefield

Day One

With the principle of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) we planned on only a couple of activities per day of our vacation.  We don’t do tour groups, we drive our own rental car, and we go to the grocery and buy local sort of food to cook at our self catering apartment. That allows us flexibility with our plans, time to relax at our own pace, and sometimes a bit of unpredictability.

We wanted to kayak this vacation but that didn’t seem to work out with our transportation we rented or the with the local kayak rental companies schedules.

Since I had binge watched and read the entire Outlander series this last winter the first things on the schedule was to visit the actual areas associated with the fictional historical novel about the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 -1746.  I am a history buff, so I spent hours before vacation researching the Rebellion and the associated events and possible ties to my Scottish heritage.  Maybe, I had a relative who fought on the battlefield?

Clava Carins Stones

Clava Carins Stones

First Stop – Clava Cairns

We started out early on Sunday morning heading to the stones.  Having a couple of near religious experiences along the way as we drove on the Scottish narrow roads (left hand side) with our right hand steering wheel and left hand stick shift rental car.  These roads were originally meant for horse and buggy. Although you can’t tell any local driver that these roads are only safe for horse and buggy as they speed down the narrow roads at break neck speeds!  Surely scaring the heck out of none Scottish drivers must be a local pass time. Do you want to drive in Scotland? You must have nerves of steel.

The Clava Cairns date from 2000 BC and are thought to be possible burial grounds.  Featured in the Outlander series as a magical place where the heroine Claire time travels from 1945 to the year 1745,  I could instantly understand why the writer Diana Gabaldon used it as an inspirational site location for her books.

Nestled in a valley, surrounded by barley fields and old trees this place has sat mostly only known to locals and researchers until her fictional novels.  Arriving early morning we were almost alone to explore the area.  The sunlight was perfect to capture the summer solstice.  The placement of these rocks and their purpose are on a much smaller scale than Stonehenge but has the same pagan feel.  Larger flat rocks stand upright in a large circle around the carefully stacked round burial circles.  Shadows are casted onto the ground from these standing rocks. The fact that these rocks/ruins have remained undisturbed for centuries is mostly due to the respect that the locals had for the old ways.  Disturbing the burial areas can bring ill wishes, and who wants that?

Carefully stacked rocks inside one of the burial circles

Carefully stacked rocks inside one of the burial circles

As we continued our exploration, we witnessed first hand the tourist industry that the novels have created.  Large and small tour buses started to arrive with adoring fans and guides dressed as Scottish Highlanders.  As the hubby snapped pictures of the happenings, I watched the tourist caught up in the moment.  They were all checking the block, snap a picture for instagram, half listening to the guide spilling out the history, and then piling back onto the bus/van for the next stop. Are they enjoying it?  Will they remember what they experienced?  These are a strange breed of travelers to us independent self guided types.

One of the local Scottish Highlander tour guides waiting for the next volunteer from his group

One of the local Scottish Highlander tour guides waiting for the next volunteer from his group.

Yes, I got caught up in the excitement too.  Time traveler? or trick of photography?

We spent about an hour at this site and enjoyed the stones, trees, and tourist watching.

Special old tree guarding the stones

Special old tree guarding the stones

Then it was on to our next stop.

Culloden Battlefield

Just a short drive down the road is the Culloden Battlefield.  The visitor center is open seven days a week. The battlefield is part of the Historical National Trust for Scotland that manages over 50 buildings of historical, architectural and social importance.  The entrance price and the revenue raised by the sale of the guide books all goes back into the upkeep and preservation of the properties.

One of the blue flags representing the Jacobite battle lines

One of the blue flags representing the Jacobite battle lines

We paid 11 pounds per person and purchased the guide book of five pounds that describes the history of the Jacobite Rebellion. Culloden was the last battle fought on the British mainland.

The losses on 16 April 1746 on this battlefield are staggering, in less than an hour of battle the Jacobites lost 1,200 with almost as many wounded.  The government forces only lost around 50 with less than 300 wounded.

Red Flags representing the Government battlefield lines

Red Flags representing the Government battlefield lines, The stone structure is the memorial to the battle dead.

After walking the battlefield, I can only imagine the horrible odds the Jacobites were up against that morning in April 1746 as they were cold, wet, and starved.  The cause they fought for and believed in so deeply, to run flat out across the open field of heather into hand to hand combat with the government forces. Each surely hoping for freedom to continue to live as they always did as free Scottish Highlanders by replacing the King in London with a new king, Charles Stuart.

The traditional Scottish Highland way of life died on that battlefield on that day. Members of the Scottish clans who supported the Rebellion were labeled traitors to the British Crown. Many were imprisoned, shipped to the American Colonies as indentured servants to British subjects or killed.  Wearing of the kilt was outlawed by British law.

Group of visitors at the Culloden Battlefield

Group of visitors at the Culloden Battlefield

Old wounds may scar and heal, but even today these very old politics still play out and seem to divide the Scottish people.  With the vote of leaving the European Union three years ago, the majority of the Scottish people voted to stay in the European Union.  We talked with several locals in our travels that feel very strongly about the politics of their current government.  Many expressing that the government is not listening to the common people.  Not listening to the Scottish people. Independent Scotland slogans can be seen across the highlands. The tourist money that flows into the Scottish Highlands from mainland Europe and America could suffer greatly with these new rules of independence from the EU by the British Loyalist. These new rules are already causing economic worries to those who depend entirely on the tourist industry.   It is complicated.  Old politics and new divided policies are opening the old emotional wounds toward an uncertain Scottish future.

We spent about three hours at the Culloden Battlefield.  The visitor center was very busy with tour bus traffic.  Our visit would have been more enjoyable at a less busy time of the year with fewer people trying to see the displays.  The best part of the center was the demonstrations of how to wear a kilt and the use of the flint weapon.

This was well worth a visit and the cost of entrance.  We found that the purchase of the guide book also very useful and informative.

Scottish Highland Cattle at the Culloden Battlefield

Scottish Highland Cattle at the Culloden Battlefield


Day Two: Whisky Tour and more in our next blog.

Have you visited the Culloden battlefield or Clava Cairns?  Planning on visiting?  Do you have links to those to participated in the Jacobite Rebellion?  We would like to hear about your experiences in the comments section below.

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