Culloden Moor and the Clava Cairns

This post details a 2014 trip to Culloden Battlefield and the nearby Clava Cairns.

Off We Go

A bright blue sky day. Good for a journey up the coast and into the past. I stopped to take a picture of the anchor on the hill in Macduff.

Macduff, anchor and church

A couple of hours and many miles later, the skies had clouded.

Culloden Moor

Culloden Battlefield

The visitor centre at Culloden is high-tech, swish, clean and pristine, all the things the bloody battle of the past was not. The contrast always gets me. I sit on a soft red sofa looking out at the battlefield, eating my delicious lentil soup and enjoying decadent chocolate cake in comfort and warmth.

Compare that to being one of the Jacobite clansmen, having marched across boggy rough terrain in the dark all night, exhausted, starving, about to be slaughtered in a fight so unfairly matched that it was all over in one hour. What would he think of Culloden Moor today and the nice day out it provides for families and tourists?

Out on the battlefield, things feel more authentic, more memorial. Red flags mark the government line:

flag on Culloden Moor

Clan stones over mass graves:

clans stone
field of the English

Old Leanach Cottage is dated about 1760, several years after the battle, but is said to stand on the site of an earlier cottage that was used as a field hospital for government troops:

cottage at Culloden

People leave offerings:

tartan offering at Culloden

After a little look at the peaceful, cud-chewing, Highland cattle, it’s time to visit some ancient standing stones.

The Clava Cairns

Victorian Grove

Here ancient burial cairns (estimated at about 4000 years old) are surrounded by circles of stone and trees. It’s the perfect peaceful place to visit after Culloden.

Clava Cairns

You can walk right into two of the three cairns, though the entrance tunnel would have been covered in the past: you would have had to crawl.

into the cairn

Some of the standing stones are high and shaped, rather like enormous graves:

standing stone rectangular, at Clava

Let’s finish with one of the aforementioned Highland Coos. There’s four of them in a field next to Culloden.

Highland Cow

Also see the post about the Cumberland Stone.

Cumberland Stone, by Culloden in the Scottish Highlands

Historical Fiction

Sisters at the Edge of the World by Ailish Sinclair

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodivergent main character and some rather complicated romance!

“Ethereal and spellbinding…” Historical Novel Society

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

See the press release here

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

Taking place mainly in a fictional castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR blends an often overlooked period of history, the Scottish witchcraft accusations, in particular the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story.

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE, out April 1st, is set at the time of Culloden and inspired by the kidnapped children and young people of Aberdeen. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!

See the publisher’s Press Release here

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Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

A Dancer’s Journey – unconventional romance

A Dancer's Journey, a 3 book series by Ailish Sinclair. Unconventional romance.

My dance background and love of history and spicy stories are what inspired this wild mix of romance and ballet set between a Scottish castle and London.

There are no cliffhanger endings in this series; each book completes a story, but then there is more. So much more. Read all the blurbs here

When dance student Amalphia Treadwell embarks on a secret relationship with her charismatic new teacher, she has no idea of the danger that lurks in his school in Scotland…

Series on Amazon UK

Series on Amazon worldwide

Book covers of A Dancer's Journey series by Ailish Sinclair: celebratory dance.

Posts on the inspiration behind these stories:

A Dancer's Journey series by Ailish Sinclair

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28 Replies to “Culloden Moor and the Clava Cairns”

  1. Gorgeous! Such an emotive place, stirring up stories of centuries … strange how such an iconic battle was fought in the shadow of the cairns reminding us of a sense of place and belonging: the identity of the landscape and its people. Thanks for this, makes me want to visit even more now!

  2. Having slogged through rain for a couple of hard miles at the other end of our extraordinary island, just to find some shards of Roman pottery (which I did – cheers), while you have enjoyed glorious sunshine and fabulous Celtic history, I feel I have a tiny weeny right to a little jealousy! Beautiful. Your pictures knock him into a cocked hat, too! And you had coos whereas I had moth eaten New Forest ponies. Grrr! The poignancy though, with you in Culloden has echoes too. As I held a small piece of earthenware I had an odd sensation as I imagined who last held it 2000 years ago and what they might well have gone through. Lovley post Ailish

    1. Wow, finding Roman pottery, that’s amazing! Objects and places can connect you to the past though… I love those new forest ponies, I lived near them for a short while several decades ago!

      1. I had a near death experience (well, one nearly bit me the first time I came cross them as a boy!) and we’ve never warmed to each other. And where we lived in the Forest meant dodging them and their left overs on my bike on the way to school. The Roman kilns though, now that is neat and I’m with you n the connections – holding these pieces just made me stop for moment and appreciate the timelessness of the place. The Romans used an iron age earthwork as their base rather than build a new one. .

  3. Oh! So lovely! And so nice to have you back. I have such amazing photos of Culloden and Clava. We hiked all over there four years ago. Culloden, the battle field itself, is filled with sadness.. Clava with, well, I guess I can only say ancient spirits. We were there almost exactly this time of year. The light looks the same. How wonderful!

  4. Totally agree, it’s really weird to come across that ultramodern (even though it must be quite old now) visitor centre at Culloden, but so many places with a grisly past get turned into a place to sell ice cream.
    But only 4 Highland cows? Down here in the Peak District, we’ve got dozens.

    1. The visitor centre is really new, they knocked down the old one…

      But I know! Highland cows are relatively rare here, what’s with that?

  5. Very moving, especially seeing the Maclean name (one side of the family) on one of the stones. Brings back memories of having visited the battlefield in 1976 and taking a photo of that particular mass grave stone, along with many others.

    I was unaware of the cairns at Clava then. Another reason to return.

  6. Lovely photos. Vistied Scotland 50 years ago and your photos bring back great memories. Would love permission to use Old Leanach Cottage as the subject of a graphite art instructional video (with credits of course).

  7. This looks like such a lovely place to walk!

    Ontario is quite cold and covered in snow and ice at the moment. I dream of warmer days to come this spring when I can go tromp around again. 🙂

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