Abertarff – The year is 1593…

Abertarff House is the oldest house in Inverness and was constructed in 1593. This was during the reign of King James VI of Scotland, who would go on to become King James I of England in 1603. Five years prior to the house’s construction the Spanish Armada sailing for England was defeated, and both Scotland and England were participating in the Eighty Years War (AKA the Dutch war for independence) on the side of the Dutch Republic, which would end in 1648. 

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Abertarff House

But, this blog post covers some of the other historical events that were happening at the same time as Abertarff was built. What else was happening around the world in the year 1593? 

One event in Scotland that took place was a clan battle called the Battle of Dryfe Sands (6th December). This battle took place in Annandale in the south of Scotland and its lead-up began eight years before Abertarff was built with various feuds the clans of Maxwell and Johnstone. Finally everything came to a head in 1593.  The battle was fought between 2,000 soldiers from clans Maxwell, Grieves and Pollock and between 600-800 soldiers from clans Johnstone, Scott and Graham. Both forces met at the Dryfe Waters, a river that flows near Lockerbie. Despite having fewer men Johnstone’s forces had the height advantage and rushed Maxwell’s troops killing 700, including Lord Maxwell himself, and claimed victory. Abertarff House would have witnessed many clan rivalries like this during it’s time. 

Further south in England William Shakespeare, perhaps the most famous playwright in the world, had just published his first work in April 1593. Called “Venus and Adonis” it was a narrative poem involving a love story between the two gods.  This poem was printed from Shakespeare’s own manuscript and was an instant hit, being reprinted around 15 times before the year 1640. Shakespeare’s decision to publish poetry was the result of the London Plague of 1592-1593. This plague closed theatres and other public venues, which allowed Shakespeare to publish both ‘Venus and Adonis’, and another poem the following year. Given the class of gentry that enjoyed Shakespeare’s work perhaps the original owners of Abertarff read his work too. Maybe they read Shakespeare’s 1593 bestseller in their brand-new townhouse? 

Elsewhere in England Queen Elisabeth I met with a very intriguing person. In 1593 she met with the Irish pirate queen Grace O’Malley (or Grainne Ní Mháille). O’Malley was born in 1530 when the English Tudor monarchs sought more control over Ireland. O’Malley gained a reputation for leading men into battle – her attack on Doona Castle in the North West of Ireland gained her the title of “Dark Lady of Doona.” 
As English power grew in Ireland, O’Malley and her family were captured and she was taken to England to petition to Queen Elisabeth I for their release. The two met at Greenwich and are said to have spoken to each other in Latin. Despite some deals being struck, England would continue to push Ireland and would result in the Nine Years War starting in April 1593. 

Outside the British Isles much was still going on. 1593 saw the end of the “Hundred Years’ Croatian–Ottoman War” between the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdoms of Croatia, Hungary and the Habsburgs monarchy. This war ended with the Battle of Sisak on the 22nd June with a Habsburg victory halting Ottoman expanse into central Europe. The peace that followed lasted a whole thirty-seven days; the Long Turkish War would start on the 29th July 1593 and last for thirteen bloody years.  

The Battle of Sisak

Obviously however the most exciting thing to happen in the year 1593 was the construction of Abertarff House. Despite the fact we don’t know who built it, the house has withstood the test of time and has survived for 427 years – here’s to it withstanding another 427 years! 

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please like, comment, share and tweet!

All the best,

The Culloden (& Abertarff) Team

Abertarff – Prehistoric People

Clava Cairns – a Bronze Age burial site situated about a mile south of Culloden Battlefield (J.Ryan)

When you think about the history of Inverness many would immediately think of the Jacobite risings and the battle of Culloden. Or, perhaps the history of the Covenanters, Cromwell and the Civil War. Maybe the Medieval history of the city, or the town’s past for trading. But Inverness boasts impressive history that goes way, way back to before even the Pictish warriors of old…  

Around 7,000 years ago we start to see human settlement occurring in the area that will one day become the Highland Capital. Work done on Castle Street and Bridge Street close to the Town House uncovered pieces of flint and charcoal dating to before 5,000 BCE (or Before Common Era). These finds suggest that early nomadic hunter-gatherers settled here – perhaps traveling along the river Ness to the coastline. The land they would be travelling through would have been different to what we see today. Inverness back then would have been covered in forest: charcoal fragments found in cores collected from the bottom of Loch Ness indicate forest fires plagued the Great Glen. These forests would have been home to deer, boar, wolves and other large animals – predators and prey to the first inhabitants of Inverness. 

Just as it was during the countless wars that Inverness was later involved in, prehistoric Inverness was fraught with danger. Evidence has been uncovered relating to natural disasters that affected the city; in 1839 workmen on the northern part of High Street discovered bits of “…a deer’s horn, 36 inches in length…covered in sea shells.” It is speculated that this antler came from a shell midden – a large heap of seashell often deposited by a flood or tsunami. The early hunter-gatherer societies may have settled here despite these dangers because of the important access to the sea. Pottery found in 1997 during construction of the Raigmore police station bore a striking resemblance to pottery found in Orkney and Fife, suggesting Inverness’ predecessor was used as a coastal trading post on the coast of Scotland. 

Bronze Age Pottery – similar finds in Inverness suggest coastal trading took place here in the past (Am Baile)

As well as coastal trading, Inverness was a place for burial during the Bronze Age (between 3,200–600 BCE). A “cist grave” containing a sitting skeleton was found in Bught Park in 1956. The skeleton was buried alongside a bronze sword of the type dating to around 1,700 BCE. The most famous and spectacular of Inverness’ Bronze Age burial sites however has to be Clava Cairns, about a mile south of Culloden Battlefield. These burial cairns date to over 4,000 years old and would have worked as one large place for gathering and worship. These cairns may have acted as resting places for important peoples in the community, with the possibility that each of the three main cairns acted as a tomb for one or two individuals. The cairns also bear a connection to midwinter with the three cairns forming a line that runs North-East to South-West, implying the builders were focused on the midwinter sunset. During archaeological research on Culloden Battlefield a series of Bronze Age roundhouses were located on the moor – perhaps the homes that these builders used to live in. 

As time went on Inverness became the dominion of the Picts (from the latin “Picti” meaning “Painted Ones”). Within Inverness itself is the hill called Craig Phadrig, which bears the remains of a vitrified hill fort dating to the reign of King Brude of the Picts who ruled Inverness in 560AD. Several Pictish stones have been found around Inverness-shire and other places close to Inverness, one example is the Knocknagael Boar Stone dating to 400 to 600AD. It was found south of Inverness and may have acted as either a grave or a boundary marker – today it is on display inside the Highland Council Headquarters. 

Abertarff House – The Laird’s Home

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Welcome to Abertarff House, the oldest house in the city of Inverness!  

Built in 1593 this house has seen history come and go; from the ascension of King James to the English throne, unifying the crowns of Scotland and England, to the brutal and bloody wars his descendants were forced to fight across their kingdoms. Abertarff House has seen many important events in Scottish, British and World history fly-by but it has somehow remained somewhat unchanged and has stood in the same spot for over 420 years.  

But what exactly is Abertarff House? Through our understanding Abertarff is what is known as a town house. If you imagine the big clan chief lives in his big stately home; if he for any reason has to stay in Inverness for several days he could, as one man described, live in a “miserably low dirty hovel” or he could have a town house – almost like a holiday home but in the centre of town and the owner would live there during their time in Inverness before moving back to their main home further afield. 

To own Abertarff House – a reasonably large house in Inverness in the late 16th century, which back then had four floors – meant the owner would have been fairly rich. As to who the first owners were it is unclear; names like Scheivz, Sutor and Warrand of Warrenfield crop up in the house’s earliest history but accounts vary on the dates of ownership. Abertarff’s history gets interesting however in 1793 when it is acquired by Clan Fraser. 

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The first Fraser to own the house was Alexander Fraser. He was a wood merchant and schoolmaster and purchased the house from James Leslie from Orkney. Fraser then sold the house off to another Fraser, Colonel Archibald Campbell Fraser. Archibald Fraser bore an interesting life; he was the youngest son of the infamous clan chief Simon Fraser 11th Lord Lovat (nicknamed The Fox, he met his end being beheaded in London for supporting the Jacobites) and at the age of nine witnessed the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Archibald Fraser worked as a member of parliament for Inverness-shire and was among the MPs who supported repealing the dress act put in after Culloden which banned the highland dress for personal use. When Archibald Fraser died in 1815 the house passed on to his illegitimate grandson who to confuse everyone was also called Archibald (in this case Archibald Thomas Frederick Fraser).  

In 1857 the Frasers of Lovat purchased the parish of Abertarff – this was situated at the southern end of Loch Ness and included the town of Fort Augustus and it is most likely this is when the house gained the name Abertarff House. What is was called before Abertarff House is still a mystery. 

The Frasers owned the house up until the mid-19th century when it was acquired by the Commercial Bank of Scotland (now the Royal Bank of Scotland) and during their ownership it was used for a wide variety of purposes from tenement housing to a dentist. Disney even filmed an episode of “People and Places” in the house. But as time went on the house started to fall into disrepair and became a derelict structure by the 1950s.  

Enter us, the National Trust for Scotland: in 1963 the Commercial Bank gift the house over to the Trust where, with help through donations from An Comunn Gaidhealach, work began to transform this gorgeous and wonderful little building which has seen so much history into … offices. It may seem a bit underwhelming, but it was better than the alternative; some town councillors were happy to demolish the house and build a car park in its place! 

Nowadays the Trust have turned Abertarff House into a small visitor centre where locals and tourists can learn more about the history of Inverness and the highlands. We hope to continue to develop the site and offer walking tours and even weddings at the site. 

French Regiments at Culloden

Contrary to popular belief, the Battle of Culloden didn’t pitch Scotland against England. Both armies were made up of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh soldiers. The British government army also had Hanoverian soldiers, and the Jacobites had two French regiments in their ranks; Royal Ecossais and Irish Piquets (which came from the Irish Brigade). Together they contained around 600 men but of these 600 soldiers, only about 15% were French. 

The Royal Ecossais was made up of Scots sent into exile in France a few years earlier as a punishment; the Irish Piquets followed the same scenario, but with Irish men. 

Memorial stone for the Irish Piquets

Let’s talk a bit about these two French regiments. 

Firstly, their uniforms were different from the rest of the Jacobite army; the Royal Ecossais mostly wore a dark blue jacket, while the Irish Piquets wore a red coat. Knowing that the soldiers of the British army also wore red coats, there was a real worry of confusion. To avoid any misunderstanding, the Jacobites wore a white cockade on their hat or jacket (the white rose being the symbol of Jacobitism), whilst soldiers of the British government army wore a black one. Thus, it was easy to know who belonged to which camp. 

The two French regiments turned out to be very useful and they helped the Jacobites to win the battle of Falkirk on January 16, 1746 by supporting the Highland Charge. 

The Highland Charge was a Jacobite shock tactic of rushing at the enemy, weapons in the air. With the French regiments mostly on horseback, it was easy for them to assist the Highland Charge once the Jacobites had reached the enemy’s army. 

But, at Culloden, the French regiments were in the second line; a line that the British government army attacked even before the first cannons were fired. Busy defending the rear of the Jacobite army, the French regiments were unable to support the Highland Charge. Nevertheless, they managed to reach the battlefield as the Jacobites were forced to retreat and attacked the British cavalry, allowing many Jacobites to escape from the battlefield. 

Memorial stone for the Royal Ecossais

After the Battle of Culloden, thousands of Jacobites, or presumed Jacobites, were arrested and thrown into prison. They were treated miserably: no food, untreated wounds, non-existent hygiene to name but a few. Many died before their trials, others were executed or sentenced to several years of servitude, and some were forgiven. 

On the other hand, the soldiers of the French regiments, being subjects of King Louis XV, were treated as prisoners of war. They received the necessary care for their wounds, were given food and had adequate hygiene. Instead of being executed or banished, they were exchanged for British prisoners of war who were imprisoned in France. 

Today on the battlefield, behind the blue flags line (representing the first line of the Jacobite army), you can see a stone, erected in 1994 by the White Cockade Society, commemorating the Scots Royal regiment who fought alongside the Jacobites and beside this is a stone commemorating the Irish Piquets.

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please like, tweet, share and comment.

All the best, The Culloden Team

Life aboard a Prison Ship

Many of the men who were taken prisoner during and after the 1745 Rebellion were held in prison ships. After Culloden ships could be seen in the Moray Firth, with no room in the town to house all the captives the ships were a floating prison.

Even before the battle of Culloden there were merchantmen sailing into Inverness awaiting a Government victory. Knowing that the town would never be able to hold all the prisoners they made sure they were on hand to help the Government contain the captives.


Conditions on board the vessels were unsurprisingly grim. Prisoners were shackled and often left to lie on the stones and earth that acted as ballast for the vast ships. Whilst the men may have been sheltered from the weather the dark tight confines were susceptible to diseases such as typhus and the men would often go hungry with little rations to share between them.

There are reports from the time of men being taken for ‘delousing’. This involved the men being dunked in the water, sometimes with a stone tied to their ankles. This would have no doubt killed any lice that may have existed but could also prove fatal to the men. One Highlander reported at least six cases of this ‘treatment’ occurring in one day.

Men waited on ships for weeks before going to trial and then they could be transported overseas and transferred to another ship to begin the ordeal once again. Many men died aboard the ships. Withing eight months at least two thirds of the men aboard one ship died. These men were usually the lower classes with no financial support or family to help them. Those of more standing were sometimes able to be housed with appointed guardians which offered far more chance of escape.

Only one record is known of someone escaping a prison ship. A man named Stewart Carmichael was held on board the ‘Pamela’ where rations consisted of slaughterhouse offal from pigs and cattle. He was able to find another use for some of the pigs bladders that were intended for food. Inflating four of the bladders he apparently used them as flotation devices and was able to escape and make his way to the Kent shore.

For those who survived the transport overseas they often faced life as indentured slaves. Some managed to eventually gain their freedom and return home to their native lands whilst others stayed in the colonies and made great fortunes. However, the brutal journeys they had taken would surely not be forgotten.

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please like, follow and share.

All the best,

The Culloden Team


The Ceasg, the Saltire and the Thistle – More Scottish Legends

In previous blog posts, we have featured a variety of creatures from Scottish folklore, as well as a couple of legends, such as the tale of King Robert the Bruce and the spider. Today’s post is about another mythological creature, along with the legends behind Scotland’s flag and national flower.



Also known in Gaelic as maighdean na tuinne (maid of the wave) or maighdean mhara (maid of the sea), the ceasg is said to have the upper half of a beautiful woman and the tail of a salmon. Found in the sea, as well as rivers and streams, the ceasg has the ability to grant three wishes if she is captured. Often she will marry a human man (in some versions of the legend the man has been promised to the ceasg), and any sons they have are destined to become fantastic sailors. Eventually, though, the water calls the ceasg back. As a form of mermaid, there are malevolent tales associated with the ceasg. She will sometimes swallow the man whole (or his wife if he is already married), and it takes the destruction of the ceasg’s soul (kept apart in a magical object, often an egg), to stop her and return the person to safety.


The Saltire

Scotland’s flag is a white diagonal cross on a blue background. There are claims that the Saltire is the longest continuously-used national flag in the world, a claim also held by several other countries’ flags, such as Denmark’s. However long it has been in use, its origins are closely associated with Saint Andrew, Scotland’s Saint; another name for the Saltire is St Andrew’s Cross. The legend is that Andrew, who had been one of Jesus’s disciples, was crucified in Greece, but feeling too unworthy to have the same manner of death as Jesus, Andrew asked for the cross to be rotated so that it resembled an ‘X’. In tradition, the appearance of Andrew’s cross in the sky (clouds = white and sky = blue) in the 9th century spurred the Scots to victory in battle, and from that moment it became linked with Scotland.


The Thistle

The thistle has been a national emblem of Scotland for centuries. There is a legend that in a planned attack upon the Scottish army (perhaps the 13th century Battle of Largs), a bare-footed Norseman stepped on a thistle, cried out and, consequently, alerted the Scottish. The spear thistle is thought to have been the species referred to, being abundant in the country at the time, though others, including the musk thistle and the melancholy thistle, are also contenders. According to the legend, it is this incident that lead to Scotland adopting the thistle as an important national symbol. Associated with it in official use is the Latin phrase Nemo me impune lacessit, which translates to “no one provokes me with impunity.”

We hope you enjoyed this short eclectic post. As always please like, share, comment and tweet.

All the best, The Culloden Team

























Carlisle and the Jacobites

The city of Carlisle, located in the northern English county of Cumbria, has special significance in regards to the 1745-46 Jacobite Rising; then a town belonging to the historic county of Cumberland, Carlisle was the site of two sieges at the end of 1745.

Charles Edward Stuart had landed in Scotland in July 1745. After success at the Battle of Prestonpans, he and the Jacobites marched across the border into England to amass further support and take the throne back for the Stuarts. General Wade, in charge of the Government army, had his troops based in Newcastle upon Tyne. The Jacobites avoided Newcastle, their plan being instead to travel down to London through the North West of England. Capturing Carlisle, the first fortress on this route, would advance their mission.

The Jacobites reached Carlisle and it was soon apparent that the town’s defences had been neglected. More attention had been paid to the towns in the North East, such as Newcastle, which had been prepared for any suspected attacks from the Jacobites for weeks; Carlisle, on the other hand, had had less time and, consequently, was defended by a garrison mostly made up of old and infirmed men, with its Castle and wall being described as dilapidated by the locals. The siege lasted for just under a week before Carlisle surrendered to the Jacobites.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart

Along with its capitulation, from Carlisle Prince Charles also got arms and horses for the Jacobites. With increased confidence, he and his army (excluding the 100 men he left to form a garrison in Carlisle) left and marched south. To the Jacobites’ disappointment, they found far fewer recruits in England than they had expected, although in Manchester 300 men volunteered and formed the Manchester regiment. There was also little explicit support from France.

In early December, the Jacobites turned back at Derby, after reaching the conclusion that it would be unwise to continue on to London. On their way back to Scotland, Prince Charles and the army stopped again at Carlisle, where he left a further 250-300 men (including the Manchester Regiment, who having suffered many deserters, now totalled 118) to garrison the Castle against the Government army.

Carlisle Castle

On the 21st of December, Government troops, now led by the Duke of Cumberland, marched to Carlisle to retake it. General Wade had been replaced due to the displeasure at how he had failed to tackle the Jacobites on their journey to and from Derby. Unsure of when help would come from Scotland, and up against an army using large gun batteries, the Jacobite troops at Carlisle eventually surrendered on the 30thDecember.

They were immediately imprisoned within the Castle, where they were kept in squalid conditions, without food or water. There are accounts of them licking the stones of the dungeon walls in an attempt to obtain some liquid. Some were hanged, with others being transported. There is a legend that the traditional Scottish folk song “Loch Lomond” was written by a captured Jacobite at Carlisle Castle. The line “O, ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road” is the prisoner saying that his “true love” will return to Scotland without him, but his execution will mean that his soul will travel back there straight away.

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please share with friends, comment and like.

All the best, The Culloden Team

Natural History of Culloden

Culloden Moor is a very special location. Not only is it the site of the last pitched land battle fought in the British Isles; but it and the surrounding area act as an important refuge for countless species of plants and animals. Culloden benefits from featuring a multitude of habitats – each with their own unique flora and fauna. Today we shall take a look at these habitats, learn about some of the creatures that inhabit them, and the conservation work undertaken on the moor to ensure that the battlefield remains not just a place for memory, but an important ecological refuge for many rare species.

The first main habitat to look at is grassland. On the day of the battle the moor was primarily used for grazing – our Shetland cows are a call back to this previous land use. Today the grassland habitat at Culloden is home to a variety of different plants: Thistle, gorse, willowherb and foxglove (some previously mentioned in our posts about medicinal plants).  In terms of animals the grassland is populated by vast numbers of insects and arachnids; when walking the battlefield particularly in spring and summer you may catch sight of a garden tiger moth caterpillar. These hairy caterpillars sometimes walk across the paths looking for more plants to munch so take care not to step on them! Garden Tiger moths have been on the decline since the 1970s so having them at Culloden is important.

Culloden Battlefield cows (01 of 10)
Shetland Cows at Culloden

Conservation wise perhaps the most important species in Culloden’s grassland environment is the Skylark. Chances are you will hear them before seeing them; these small birds fly as high as possible and sing as loud as they can to mark their territories. If you hear a loud bird on the moor look up and see if you can spot it. Skylark numbers have plummeted with numbers dropping 75% between the 1970s and 1990s – with threats including fewer places to nest – making them a red list species. The fact skylarks not only live but also nest on the moor makes Culloden a very important place for these rare birds.

Another important habitat on the battlefield is the quintessential bog/moorland habitat. Moorland is home to many damp-loving animals and plants like frogs and newts which frequent the ponds and pools. A personal favourite plant of mine can be found here – the horsetail. A living fossil that has been around since before the dinosaurs it gets its name from its appearance resembling the tail of a horse. 3000 million years ago Scotland was covered in huge forests of horsetail with some reaching heights of over 100 metres!


This fragile habitat is at risk of a process of “succession” – where it runs the risk of turning into woodland if trees are allowed to grow unchecked. If a forest grows it will dry up the moor and the special animals and plants that live there are lost. At Culloden we help preserve this habitat and halt succession through manual work and grazing via livestock to keep the moorland healthy.

Technically we’re cheating here since this is not on Trust land but the third main habitat found on Culloden Moor is woodland. Until the Trust purchased our part of the battlefield Culloden Moor was almost completely engulfed with woodland. The Forestry Commission today manages the woodland around the battlefield, and is home to animals such as jays, roe deer and, perhaps most importantly of all, red squirrels – whose populations have plummeted following the introduction of the invasive grey squirrel from America.

Next time you visit the battlefield be sure to look out for any of our special flora and fauna that live here, and if you find anything interesting be sure to report it! Who knows what else rare, strange and special may be living here at Culloden Battlefield.

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please like, share, comment and tweet.

All the best,

The Culloden Team

Dundee and the Jacobites

In the past six months, we have written blog posts on Jacobite connections to the cities of Edinburgh, Stirling, Aberdeen and Glasgow; today, here is one about Dundee.

After the deposition of James VII and II in 1688, his loyal supporters felt the need to do something to get him reinstated as King, and the Jacobite cause was born. In April 1689, the Parliament of Scotland, located in Edinburgh, declared for William and Mary. John Graham, 1st Viscount of Dundee, angered at the decision, marched with fifty men to the top of Dundee Law, a volcanic sill, and raised the Stuart Royal Standard. This signalled the beginning of the first Jacobite Rising.

Dundee Law

The immediate response to Viscount Dundee raising the standard was rather unenthusiastic in the surrounding area. Dundee Law was outwith the burgh walls, and when Viscount Dundee attempted to enter Dundee, he found that the gates were locked and the walls were guarded with Government men. Despite the fact that he had just declared himself a ‘rebel’, curiously the garrison at Dundee made no attempt to capture or fight him, and so he travelled north in an effort to rally support for James.

Viscount Dundee would die at the Battle of Killiecrankie a few months later. Though the outnumbered Jacobites won against the Government troops, his absence as leader would be felt deeply. The Jacobites’ loss at the Battle of Dunkeld a month later ended the first Jacobite Rising.

In 1715, there was another rising, with the Jacobites aiming to get James’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart on the throne. The Earl of Mar proclaimed for James VIII and III at Braemar, and at first the Rising was successful, with the Jacobites holding several places, including Dundee. Their success was not to last, and by the time James Francis arrived in Scotland in December, the momentum had been lost. He visited a few places, including Dundee, in an attempt to spur people on, but soon, acknowledging that things had not worked out, he returned to France.

Following the 1715 Rising a number of Jacobite supporters lost their positions including Mr Wedderburn, the Clerk of Dundee. However, this did not stop his son John Wedderburn, revealing himself to be just as loyal to the Jacobite cause as his father had been when the 1745 Rising began. He fought with the Jacobites at Falkirk Muir and Culloden, and at the end of the latter he was arrested and moved to London for a trial.

John Wedderburn

His signature recorded on tax receipts he collected for the Jacobites condemned him and he was sentenced to death. His young son rode to London to ask their contacts there for help in pleading for his fathers life, but tensions were high, and he was refused by them. His son also tried to convince John to dress up as a woman and attempt to escape from prison but John refused to do so. Afters months in capture John was hanged, drawn and quartered at the end of 1746.

These are just a couple of stories about the Jacobites and Dundee but we are sure there are plenty more to be found.

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please like, share, comment and tweet.

All the best, The Culloden Team


Battlefield Plants and their Uses

In 2015 we wrote a blog post describing the uses for certain plants found on Culloden Battlefield, with particular focus on their medicinal properties; here are four more plants that can be seen at Culloden, along with information detailing what they were used for in the 18th century:

Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)


In Gaelic the flowers are called lus nam ban-sith. This translates to ‘fairy woman’s plant’, and is a reference to the legend that the mottled markings on the inner petals are fairies’ fingerprints. Flowering between June and September, foxglove can be found on rough heath-like ground on the battlefield, towards the Jacobite line.

The leaves of foxglove were used to treat dropsy (painful swelling of the body and limbs). These leaves, usually mixed with other herbs, were chopped and taken as a drink. Foxglove contains digoxin, which slows and strengthens the muscles of the heart. It was also used to help treat arthritis and diphtheria; the leaves, mixed with butter and onion, were applied to the joints and the neck respectively.

Willow (Salix)

Willow Tree By Jdforrester

At Culloden the willow tree grows on areas of wet ground and resembles a large bush. The Gaelic word for willow is Seileach.

The flowering willow’s sap was taken to improve vision. Willow bark contains a derivative of salicylic acid, which once powdered, was mixed with water and taken to relieve pain and reduce fever.

In addition to its medical benefits, willow was also used to tan leather, make baskets, make ropes (out of its saplings) and dye wool; the bark produces a reddish-brown colour, and the leaves produce a yellow colour.

Tormentil (Potentilla Erecta)

Tormentil by Anne Burgess

These are small yellow flowering plants that grow on damp heathery ground. Their Gaelic name is Braonan Bachlay, which means ‘earth nut’. Tormentil flowers from June to September.

Tormentil was used for a variety of medical problems: to treat sunburn, the entire plant was boiled in water and acted as a cooling lotion; to treat a sore throat, the flowers and shoots were mixed in a drink form and gargled; to treat sore lips and gums, chewing on the root of tormentil was recommended; and the root was also used, dried or fresh, to help with stomach issues, piles and ulcers, as well as other sores.

Tormentil was also used for dying wool (its roots producing a reddish colour) and for tanning leather and making fishing nets. The roots of tormentil took a while to dig up, and so they were only used if there was no tree bark available.

Rowan (Sorbus Aucuparia)

Rowan Tree by Eeno11

Rowan has a couple of names in Gaelic: Craobh Chaoran, which means ‘berry tree’ and Caorunn, which means ‘wood enchantress’. Rowan trees were strongly believed to ward off evil, with many people carrying a sprig about with them for protection. At Culloden, there is a Rowan tree beside Leanach Cottage.

Rowan bark, applied as a poultice, was used to treat adder bites, and mixed with apples and honey, Rowan berries were used to soothe the throat in cases of wheezing cough.

Outside of medical use, the wood was used to make dwellings (summer sheilings), coffins, sticks for urging on cattle, wheels, barrels and churns, among other things. The berries, fermented, made a juice resembling cider, and, depending on the pot they were boiled in, produced a black or orange dye.

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All the best, The Culloden Team