FRANCES ABBOT tells how the bloody Battle of Culloden from 1746 still haunts the local landscape
The last battle fought on British soil took place at Drummossie Moor in the Highlands of Scotland in April 1746, when the forces of the Hanoverian Government decimated the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden.
The site is not only a battlefield; it is a place of pilgrimage for many visiting the graveyard of their ancestors. Even tourists who visit merely out of curiosity report the melancholy atmosphere of the windswept moor dotted with memorial stones placed over the ground where each clan buried its own.
One of the tales recorded by a National Trust for Scotland employee manning the reception desk, is of two ladies who lived nearby and wanted to know about the route taken by Prince Charlie’s army on the aborted night march to Nairn, twelve miles distant, the night before the battle.
The Jacobite leaders had decided that they would march through the hours of darkness and surprise the Duke of Cumberland’s troops while they were unprepared after a night of drinking Cumberland’s health for his twenty-fifth birthday. A good plan, but it went awry.
At about 8pm, the Prince’s troops set out in two divisions which somehow got separated in the confusion of negotiating unfamiliar woodland under heavy, driving rain. At about 2 a.m. the commander of one division decided the plan was unworkable and returned to Culloden. The other, unaware of this, continued the journey and one hour before dawn was within sound of the Duke’s camp when the news to return reached it.
From 3am, till past daybreak the woods roundabout would have been full of exhausted Jacobites hurrying back to Culloden to sleep and forage for food before going into battle.
The two ladies knew the story, hence their visit. They were on a mission to find an answer to a question that had bothered one of them for many years. They both became animated when a map of the area was produced and they could plot the progress of the march.
One of the ladies pointed to a house on the map and said, ‘That’s my house!’ From the map she could see that one faction of the army had passed right through what was now her garden.
At last, she could account for the being woken in the early hours of the morning by the sound of a large number of armed men going by.
‘It’s only happened about five times in the last 10 years.’ There was never anything to be seen when she went to the window. She had heard only the sounds of a ghost army hurrying on its way to defeat.
FRANCES ABBOT has gone from writing plays to be performed by children and arts/community groups to writing short stories and is now writing a crime novel. You can follow her on twitter @AbbotFabbot.