Trip to Culloden


Notes from my school project: People believe that in the Highlands everyone in a clan had the same sir name surname but this is not true. There are a lot of different names in each clan, but the clan takes the name of the chief. It is also believed that the people in the clans used to wear kilts. They really wore a belted plaid which was a long piece of tartan that they tied up round their shoulder. They sometimes wore trews which were tartan trousers. A lot of people also believe their there was one tartan per clan and that everyone wore that tartan but they wore different tartans. It is not true that all the clans supported Bonny Prince Charlie, many fought against the Jacobites.

The bus departed from the school gates, passed the burn and took a left for Inverness. Then over the river, bloated due to recent rain. I cast a furtive glance at Joe whose cousin was recently killed on this bridge; the car exploded into a fireball. Kenny claimed to have seen the accident and said it was like something out of the Dukes of Hazard. Highland cattle huddled in the corner of a field chewing the cud as our bus went by. An argument soon developed over whether the hillock in the distance was really the one in Macbeth.

Mr Richie smiled.

“You still believe in witches do you? That’s what the locals say but it’s nonsense. Macbeth was a play; a work of fiction. The witches didn’t exist, except in Shakespeare’s mind. I doubt if he even set foot in Scotland, never mind wandering around in the sticks outside Breogan.”

There were a lot of witches’ stones in the area. Two in Breogan alone, where they rolled them down the hill in spiked barrels. We passed through another village. Richie said a major witch trial had taken place there. After Isabel Gowdie confessed under duration she and another twelve witches were hung and burnt. Martin told me that Gowdie could turn into a hare and had it off with the devil. Richie overheard and chuckled: “So they say. Those were the accusations. Mumbo jumbo of course. And remember that all this occurred long after Shakespeare’s time.”

We left behind strawberry farms and the huddle of pines that my grandfather had planted, before exiting malt whisky country. Then it was on through the town where Butcher Cumberland stayed the night before the battle. Golf links, amusement arcades and the smell of fish and chips. The Butcher wouldn’t have seen any of that. At the police station, angry gulls perched on the wall patrolling their beat like bossy coppers.

“Can we stop in this toun on the way back? It’s got one of the best chippers in the north.”

“Chips?” said Richie to Willie D. “You’ve got packed lunches and there’s a barbeque later. Is your stomach a bottomless pit, laddie?”

Back into the countryside. Flat, fertile farmland, the sea in the distance, black hills on the other side of the firth. We ignored the turn off for the oil yard where many of our fathers worked and approached Culloden. I kept an eye out for stunned and bloody Jacobites staggering through the woods but even the ghosts had accepted their fate. RIP Cameron, Mackintosh, Macdonald of Clanranald, Fraser, Macdonald of Glengarry, Macgregor, Farquharson, Stewart of Appin, Macpherson, Maclachlan, Robertson, Chisholm, Macdonald of Keppoch, Macdonald of Glencoe, Grant of Glenmoriston…

First stop, the Butcher’s Stone, located in the spot from which the Duke of Cumberland surveyed the battle. I opened my egg and tomato sandwiches. Forsyth was eating raw sausages. Willie asked who had farted. Probably himself. At a push, all twenty two of us managed to squeeze on top of the stone for a class photo.

A few spits of rain tapped at my cagoule. We got back on the bus en route for Leanhor Cottage, a straw roofed hut in the middle of a bleak moor. This flat piece of wasteland a few miles outside Inverness contains more than meets the eye. Here are the bones of our ancestors and our history.

“Our nation still bears the scars of what happened here,” said Richie.

Forsyth started to sing Flower of Scotland and we all joined in. Those days are gone now, And in the past they must remain…

Culloden Revisited, 2008

I park my wheels between a bus from Hannover and one from Derbyshire. People say the birds don’t sing here. Rubbish. The minute I get out of the car, there’s a couple of disrespectful jackdaws fighting over the remains of a bag of Golden Wonder – cheese and onion flavour judging by the green colour of the packet.

The battle map on Drumossie Moor is clearly drawn now with red flags marking the position of the Government troops with these clans among them: Campbell, Mackenzie, Grant, Macdonald of Sleat, Macleod, Mackay, Munro, Ross, McDougall and McKinnon. The blue flags representing the Jacobites tremble in the distance at the city end.

Across the moor, I hear the distant sound of bagpipes; a “subversive” instrument banned in the aftermath of a rising. Later, it would become a British musical emblem used to rally British troops in far flung places like Corunna, Atbara, Sevastopol, Pretoria and Saint Valery.

Unable to endure the raw wind for long, I head into the exhibition centre, stepping on the names of international clan societies embedded in the pavement. The timber interior reminds me of the Scottish Parliament building. Sponsors names are engraved on the walls and ceiling. In the shop you can buy books, tea towels, coasters and even a Battle of Culloden chess set.

I go into the exhibition to watch a clip from Peter Watkins’ film about the battle. “This man’s name is Chisholm. James Chisholm. A private in the government army, he is also a Highland Scot. This man’s name too is Chisholm. Roderick  Chisholm, fifth son of the clan chief, he stands before his men in the Prince’s army. The Chisholm five hundred yards away is this man’s brother. Charles Edward Stewart’s war is a civil war.”

Afterwards, a table of Americans sit in the café sipping at plates of broth and discussing their Scottish roots. They are here to trace their ancestry. A Jacobite surname has more romance about it. Stuart wins all the bragging rights. Who in Wisconsin is going to argue with anyone claiming direct lineage to Bonnie Prince Charlie? Having a a clan surname is really no proof of bloodline but why spoil their holiday? Just listen to a wee bit of family mythology and nod as you take their money.

From Countries of the World © Steven Porter/Breogan Books 2011



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