Culloden and Clava Cairns, Scotland

Aug 07, 2018 - Lord of the Glens


The Battle of Culloden, fought near Inverness in 1746, was the last armed civil conflict on the British mainland. It saw a decisive victory for the Protestant cause upheld by the Hanoverians—imported Protestant rulers from Germany—whose position as rulers of Great Britain had been contested since their arrival in 1714. The Stuart dynasty had been deposed in 1688 when the last of the Stuarts, James II of England (James VII of Scotland) showed Catholic tendencies that worried the ruling Protestant elites. Supporters of James (known as Jacobites) could be found across the country; the widespread belief in divine-right monarchy made that unavoidable. In Scotland, support was stronger. The Stuarts were, after all, a Scottish dynasty. In the Scottish Highlands, the Gaelic-speaking clansmen were Catholic like their Irish cousins, and the Jacobites could count on reflexive, tribal support.

Defeat at Culloden was a disaster for this Gaelic community. The strategist of Culloden, King George II’s son Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, was vindictive in victory. The Gaelic clansmen were pursued and cut down as they fled. In the following decades, legislation was introduced that proscribed “treacherous” Gaelic culture: The language itself was not to be taught, the tartan was not to be worn, and the pipes were not to be played.

The Gaelic peasantry were systematically removed from the land and replaced by more profitable sheep. Many were forcibly removed from their homes and deported to Canada and later, Australia. This process, known as the Highland Clearances, has resulted in more Gaelic being spoken today in the Atlantic provinces of Canada than in Scotland itself. The Highland Clearances have been described as an early example of the ethnic cleansing that has disfigured the history of modern Europe. It takes an effort of imagination to recall that, before the Highland Clearances, the empty, pastoral landscapes of Scotland were once congested districts with high population densities.

In the morning, we visited the Culloden Battlefield with its splendid interpretative center, followed by a visit to the Clava Cairns, three prehistoric burial chambers dating from the late Neolithic and early Bronze ages, several millennia before the Christian era. The chambers are aligned to the setting sun at the time of the winter solstice and speak powerfully to the significance of the passing of the seasons to Europe’s first settled farming communities.

After a scenic cruise across Loch Ness, we arrived at Fort Augustus (named after Augustus, Duke of Cumberland—“Butcher” Cumberland in the Gaelic tradition) and hiked to the burial ground of Cill Chuimein, a settlement cleared of its population in the years following Culloden.

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About the Author

David Barnes

Expedition Leader

David studied history at the University of York in England and theology at the University of Wales.  Research in the field of religious history (at Cardiff) followed on naturally.  He has spent most of his professional life teaching history, most recently in adult education departments within the University of Wales where he has taught a wide variety of courses pertinent to the wider Atlantic world.  In 1988, he made his first lecture-tour of the U.S. for the English Speaking Union. He has published extensively on Welsh history and topography–his most recent book being the Companion Guide to Wales (2005)–and is a frequent contributor of articles and reviews to Welsh cultural and literary journals.  In the1990s, David was active in the field of international education, traveling worldwide and spending a year in the U.S. (in Atlanta and New York City).  He speaks English and French in addition to his native Welsh.

About the Photographer

Eric Kruszewski

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

An editorial photographer and videographer based in Washington, D.C., Eric Kruszewski's multimedia work focuses on reportage and travel. His work is represented by National Geographic Creative, and he is a regular contributor to National Geographic's Image Collection.

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