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.

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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!

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Horsetail

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

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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)

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Foxglove

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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

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

All the best, The Culloden Team

 

The Highland Clearances

A controversial chapter in Scotland’s history, the Highland Clearances are mostly looked back at with sadness and some bitterness. The ‘Clearances’ refer specifically to the period in the mid-to-late 18th century to the mid-19th century in which tens of thousands of Highlanders were evicted from their homes; it is also used more broadly to include the restriction on tartan and other rules that altered the Highland way of life forever. To many, the Clearances are an example of ethnic cleansing but others consider them an economic necessity, a result of the industrial revolution. To the latter set of people, the Clearances are known as the ‘Improvements’.

After Culloden, and the defeat of the Jacobites in 1746 the Government introduced the Heritable Jurisdictions Act 1746, which reduced the powers of the Clan Chiefs to those of a landlord. The Act of Proscription, also introduced in 1746, restricted the wearing of tartan, as well as the ownership of weapons. The Government were brutal in enforcing these laws, with many Highlanders being killed for the slightest deviation from the new laws. Charles Edward Stuart had escaped to France, and the Highlanders attempted to get by in Scotland’s changing climate.

The reduction of the powers of the Clan Chiefs weakened the relationships between them and the rest of the people. Many Chiefs, as a result of attempting to keep up with their acquaintances in the Lowlands, England and other places in Europe, were in debt. Tacksmen (Gaelic: Fear-Taic meaning ‘supporting man’) had paid an annual sum to the Clan Chief for a bit of land, and then let it out to sub-tenants for rents. Wanting to cut out the middleman, the Clan Chiefs phased out the position of the tacksman. Out of jobs, many former tacksmen emigrated to Canada and America.

Wool sold for a high price, and the Highland landlords realised that they could make more money from sheep, specifically the Cheviot and the Blackface, than from people. The rents were increased, and when inevitably many of the tenants were unable to come up with the money, they were evicted. Sheep farmers from the Lowlands and northern England came up to take their place. An addition financial benefit for the landlords was that as there were fewer people to collect from, the administrative costs were lower.

The former tenants moved either to industrial cities in Scotland, other countries or small crofts, mainly located on the coast. The weather made for hard working conditions, and there are reports of the women, while they worked, having to tie their children and livestock to posts to prevent them from being blown into the sea or off a cliff.

Despite the uncertainty and hardship endured by many of the Highlanders, there were still a significant number of people motivated purely by profit. The Duchess of Sutherland had about 15,000 people evicted from the Sutherland estates, ordering hundreds of crofts to be burned in the process; her factor went to trial for presiding over the burning of a croft that contained an old woman who had refused to leave and for letting his sheep eat the other crofters’ corn. For both he was acquitted, which the crofters put down to many of the jury members being landowners.

The population continued to grow. People viewed it as proof of Scotland’s strength, but in reality it was putting increasing strain on everything. In the 19th century, the combination of the failure of the kelp industry in the 1810’s and famine led to more and more Highlanders emigrating, mainly to Canada, Australia, the US and the rest of Europe.

It is believed that around 150,000 Highlanders were removed from or left their homes in the entire process of the Highland Clearances. Of this number, many, either immediately or after further attempts at living in Scotland, emigrated. Today the descendants of these people are now scattered across the world resulting in a massive sharing of Scottish heritage.

We hope you found this article interesting. As always we love to hear your comments and read your thoughts on these topics.

All the best,

The Culloden Team

Grave markers at Culloden

When people visit Culloden Battlefield most will inevitably head out across the moor and stand in front of the large memorial cairn in the centre of the field. Surrounding the cairn are most, but not all, of the grave markers on the field so it seems fitting to turn our attention to the history of these markers.

Old photo of the Clan Mackintosh marker

 

The markers on the battlefield were put in place in 1881, some 130 years after the battle. One of the main question we are asked regards the names on the stones, as many carry the names of one or more clans who fought at Culloden. We have had geophysical tests of the area completed and they show that the area around the cairn does indeed hold many mass graves but how the names on the gravestones were chosen is something of a mystery.

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Selection of gravestones at Culloden

 

Clansmen would not have been easy to distinguish from one another. There was no clan tartan back in 1746 so identifying a persons clan relied on smaller things that their cap badge or clan plant that men may have worn. After the battle it would have been incredibly difficult to accurately determine who was from which clan so it is believed that the markers on the field are symbolic of the major clans who fought at Culloden and who suffered significant losses.

As well as the marker by the cairn, there are a few others across the field. Further north are three stones that commemorate the MacDonald’s who fought on the far left of the Jacobite front line. Whilst they did not take part in the hand-to-hand combat that occurred further south they were instrumental in aiding the retreat of the Jacobite army. Each year at the anniversary of the battle the local MacDonald clan and supporters will march down to the stones after the main ceremony to lay a wreath for the men.

Clan Donald stone
Clan Donald Stone

 

Perhaps one of the most annoying and intriguing stones on the battlefield is that of the ‘Field of the English’. This stone lies behind the front line of the Government troops and supposedly marks the site of a grave of the Government men who died during the battle. However, there are two issues we have with the stone. Firstly, research has shown that there is no sign of a mass grave by the stone. The nearest lies some fifty yard to the West of the stone. Secondly, its inscription, ‘Field of the English’. As we know this is not accurate. The Government army was not an English Army, it was made of men from Scotland, Wales and England making it a British Army.

 

Despite some questions on the accuracy of the markers though there is no doubt to how special they are to the site. Many who visit take a moment as they walk past the stones to take in the incredible atmosphere of the battle and remember the history of the site.

We hope you enjoyed this short piece about the marker as always please like, share, comment and tweet.

All the best, The Culloden Team

The Stunning Standing Stones of Scotland

We are lucky enough to be situated just five minutes from the standing stones at Clava Cairns which are proving to be very popular with visitors. But why does Scotland have so many of these intriguing standing stones?

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Aerial View of Clava Cairns from Visit Scotland

 

The honest answer is no one really knows! Throughout Scotland there are stones arranged often in circular patterns that have no clear explanation as to where they came from or why they are placed in such ways. The stone circle at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis is thought to date from 5,000 years ago making it one of the oldest structures in the UK. How they were formed is also a mystery. Some of the stones in these formations can weigh up to 10 tonnes, so how were they transported and placed into position?

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Calanais Standing Stones

Many of the stones are believed to be part of ritualistic sites with many forming elaborate burial grounds used to commemorate the dead. At Clava Cairns there are three such burial chambers which are surrounded by standing stones. These can be clearly seen as the walls of the burial tombs are made from stones which are still standing. Over on Orkney there are the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar which are believed to be all that remains of large ceremonial sites. It is believed the stones were once surrounded by a large ditch with a central meeting point.

 

One of the most interesting things that seems to connect most sites is the relationship they seem to share with astronomical events. Many of the sites, including Clava Cairns, are aligned to the movements of the sun and moon and in particular the event of the  solstices. At Clava one of the burial cairns is aligned so that the sunset perfectly aligns with the entrance to the cairn on the Winter solstice.

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Ring of Brodgar from Visit Orkney

 

Whatever the purpose of these Neolithic sites, whether they be ceremonial, religious or elaborate burial grounds, today they are sites of incredible beauty and fascinating engineering. The stones capture peoples imagination and their sites are typically in peaceful settings with beautiful scenery that allow visitors to escape the modern world for a while and soak in the atmosphere of these incredible places.

We hope you enjoyed this little foray into the standing stones of Scotland. As always please like, share, tweet, comment and find your own favourite set of stones, although with hundreds to choose from it may be tricky.

All the best, K & D

The Might and Majesty of Glencoe

Glencoe is a beautiful part of Scotland that is rich, not just in landscape, but also history so today we thought we share a little bit about why we love the spot so much.

Firstly, the landscape. You cant help but love the drama and scale of Glencoe, even if you’ve lived in Scotland your whole life it is still a fantastic place to visit and drive through. A drive through the valley is always enjoyable not matter what the weather is. In the sunshine the hills look stunning and if you’re really lucky you can sometimes catch a glimpse of a golden eagle. Summer is also the perfect time to try some of its many walking routes as the site houses eight Munros. Don’t worry if it’s been raining though. When you get the clouds and the rain Glencoe transforms into an area of classic Scottish atmosphere and the waterfalls through the glens descend from the clouds in a fury.

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Glencoe on a beautiful day

 

The site is very popular with walkers as there are a number of routes and ascents to explore. One of the most popular routes is up the ridge of Aonach Eagach but it is not for the faint hearted. The route travels along a narrowing ridge so anyone with vertigo should certainly avoid it. You can also explore the peaks of the Three Sisters which encompasses the ridges of Beinn Fhada, Gearr Aonach and Aonach Dubh and makes a lovely day of hilltop walking.

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Glencoe looking very atmospheric

 

For anyone who knows their Jacobite history, as we are sure many of you do, Glencoe is also the site for the infamous Glencoe Massacre. It was here in 1692 that members of the MacDonald clan were killed by soldiers of the Campbell clan for not pledging allegiance to William III. The attack was launched at dawn and at least 37 men were murdered in their homes with as many as 40 women and children dying from exposure after they were forced out of their homes. No one was ever brought to trial for the massacre and the site is remembered to this day as a brutal part of Scottish history.

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Memorial for the Glencoe massacre

 

Associated with the massacre is the point of Signal Rock. This spot is, according to legend, said to be the point at which a fire was started to signal the start of the massacre in 1692, however there is no proof of this being the case. The site is also said to have been an emergency meeting point for the MacDonald clan where they would gather in times of danger. Whether either of these are true is unsure but the rock is a beautiful spot to walk out to and would have been a good beacon point for the glen due to its visibility.

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Signal Rock at Glencoe

 

We hope you get the chance to visit Glencoe, if you haven’t already. It is such an amazing place and pictures just do not do it justice. As always we hope you enjoyed reading our post and please like, tweet, share, comment and tell us your favourite parts of Glencoe.

All the best, K & D

80 Years of Care

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the National Trust for Scotland caring for and conserving Culloden Battlefield.

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Culloden Battlefield

 

In 1937 Alexander Munro of Leanach Farm presented the first two small pieces of the battlefield to the reasonably new charity, the National Trust for Scotland. This small start was soon expanded and over the years we have acquired more of this historic site and worked hard to preserve the land and share its story with millions of visitors.

We are incredibly proud to be the custodians to such an important site in Scottish and world history. Today 80 years own, we care for the memorial cairn and clan graves on the battlefield; as well as the Cumberland stone, the ‘Field of the English’ and Kings Stables Cottage. We help protect a large portion of the southern part of the battlefield that encompasses the main area of hand-to-hand fighting, as well as the mass graves of the men who fought and died here in 1746.

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Clan Grave at Culloden

 

The task of caring and preserving such a special site is not an easy one and new challenges are constantly presenting themselves but they are challenges that everyone is determined to meet. We have a dedicated facilities team on site who monitor the land and work to try and restore the landscape to how it would have appeared at the time of the battle.

On site we also have our learning team who produce top class school programmes to deliver to children throughout Scotland and indeed the rest of the world. They share the stories of the battle and the significance of the events that took place here in ways that captivate the younger audience and spark interest in new generations every year.

Culloden, Inverness.
Culloden Moor

 

As the last battle fought on British soil and the battle that effectively ended the Jacobite campaigns in Scotland, Culloden is a part of our history and our culture and we hope to be here in another 80 years still sharing the stories of Culloden with people from around the world and caring for this incredibly important site.

We hope you get the chance to visit Culloden if you haven’t already. As always please like, tweet, share, comment and if you would like to join us in helping conserve this special place head to https://www.nts.org.uk/Donate/ to donate.

All the best, K & D