Friday, February 01, 2008

Culloden Battlefield

This is fairly verbatim from a letter that I wrote to my grandmother, so it'll be a slightly different style than my usual posts, but I'm too lazy to recompose it entirely. I didn't have my camera with me, so some pictures can be found at Undiscovered Scotland.

I had Wednesday off, so I went out to the Culloden Battlefield in the morning. The battle took place at Culloden Moor, which is a couple miles out of Culloden, which is east of Inverness by a few miles itself. I took a bus out that left Inverness at 9am and got out there at 9:20am, leaving me some time to wander around the battlefield before going into the musuem which is in a new building (with a new exhibition) that opened up in the last month.

It was really windy, but I think the moor is probably one of those places that are always somewhat windy. The only trees around the battlefield were on the side opposite where the wind was coming from, so there was nothing to block it. The ground is uneven and boggy; there's clumps of grass on the bumps of land, and heather and some other short green plant mixed in, with the occasional gorse bush. The holes between the bumps of land were filled with water and often concealed from sight by plants. I've encountered this sort of bogginess elsewhere in the Highlands; the hills behind Kyleakin were like that. The only place I've ever experienced walking on ground like that was back home where there was boggy ground that had once been plowed and then lots of bushes and grasses grew over it. There the holes were in regular intervals; on the moor it was like someone had plowed it in an eratic fashion, but it's just the natural state of it.

There's a path around the battlefield these days, flags to mark the Hanoverian and Jacobite lines, and stones to mark the places where different clans and military divisions lined up. The path was flooded in one section, which is when I started cutting across the moorland and experienced the joy of sinking into concealed holes. Even watching my footing carefully, trying to step from tuft of grass to tuft of grass, I would still occasionally fall through spongey layers of plants into wet ground. It was slow going, and I can't imagine trying to charge across to fight a battle. When I was in the museum later, it made mention of the difficulty the Jacobites had in implementing their "Highland charge" due to the poor ground, and that the clansmen were slowed down. I'm amazed that loads of them didn't go down with twisted or broken ankles trying to run across that.

At 10am I headed into the exhibition, which started at events leading up to the 1745 uprising, then battles throughout 1745-1745 and then the Culloden battle itself in April 1746. I actually found a mistake in the first bit of the exhibition - it was a world map showing wars that Britain was involved in during 1745, and one was the siege on the fortress of Louisbourg. In addition to Louisbourg being mispelled as "Louisberg", the map indicated Louisbourg as being somewhere around Truro, at the head of the Minas Basin, instead of being on the Atlantic coast of Cape Breton (the map also showed Cape Breton as two islands because the Bras D'or Lakes were made too big). I pointed this out to the woman at the desk, and she grabbed the in-costume historical interpreter on his way by who asked me to explain the mistake and made a note of it.

The exhibit was pretty good, having the usual articfacts in cases and posters on walls, but also some audio-visual stuff like film recreations and audio recordings of actors reading from letters and diaries of the period. What I appreciated most was an animation projected on to a large table that showed the battle from overhead, showing troop movements with individual people represented and a voice-over explaining the tactical decisions made. I've always had trouble imagining battles just from written descriptions and static diagrams, so that was really helpful.

The same historical interpreter I'd spoken to earlier did a presentation on weapons later on, and as one of the weapons he had was a replica basket-hilted broadsword, I asked him afterward if I could hold it just to feel the weight and balance of it (here's an image for you). It surprised me by how light the sword was - it's shorter than my fencing sabre would be, the blade is much wider of course (a couple inches), but the balance of it was so good I didn't find it hard to hold, even though it's heavier than what I'm used to holding (but not too much heavier than an epee I'd say).

I was told by the historian that many of the broadswords that had been found from the 18th century have basket guards that are quite small, implying that the men of the time had smaller hands than the average man today - it's thought that the Highland men were short and stocky. Since we always hear that people are taller nowadays than years ago, that seems sensible.

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