Visiting Culloden Battlefield


I recently visited the site of the Battle of Culloden, the final battle of the 1745-46 Jacobite rebellion against the British government and Hanoverian dynasty.  Located a few miles east of Inverness, I had long appreciated the importance of this location, having studied the rebellion both at school and at university.  Here – so the narrative goes – the Jacobite Highlanders engaged in a valiant last stand against the British redcoat army, who had pursued them north from their advances into England the previous year.  It marked the end of Charles Stuart’s, or Bonnie Prince Charlies’s, rebellion, and the end of a fifty-year-long attempt to restore the Stuart dynasty to the British throne.  The Jacobite defeat also led to a government campaign to pacify the Highlands, dismantling the clan system of governance and suppressing Highland culture through banning clan tartans and suppressing the use of the Gaelic language.

So, a very important moment in Scottish history.  For a site which was essentially left over two centuries as a field full of mass graves, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  However the visitor centre, opened in 2007, does an expert job of providing the historical background for the battle.  There are the standard museum displays showing Jacobite- and Hanoverian-branded items, 18th-century weapons, clothing and so on, annotated by boards chronologically detailing the events of the rebellion.  These are interspersed with more visual illustrations of the conflict, including an animated map showing the movement of armies throughout the eight-month insurrection, an instalment which particularly appealed to me.  Perhaps the best design decision was to display the opposing narratives of each army on either side of the wall, combining primary sources from soldiers with the wider historical context.  At the end of this rather traditional museum experience, although expertly put together, we entered a room with video footage of a battle re-enactment projected on all four walls.  With surround-sound, it felt as though we were in the centre of the battle itself.  We watched and listened as the armies lined up against one another, began to fire cannons, and finally as the Jacobites charged into the slaughter.


Afterwards, we were able to explore the battlefield itself, guided by useful – if temperamental – audio headsets.  These were helpful as it’s difficult to appreciate how the field would have looked during the battle, a problem worsened by the fact that the battle site was simply a random field neither side had particularly chosen.  I had always imagined a grander setting for the end of the rebellion.  We followed paths cut through the field, including two particularly long paths along the army lines, giving a sense of how many people fought in the field that day (15,000 in all).  These were annotated by flags to illustrate the distance between the opposing forces as they lined against one another.

The most shocking and, for me, unexpected feature of the battlefield were the mass graves.  I hadn’t realised the bodies, overwhelmingly Jacobite (about 1,500 compared to 50 on the government side) had been buried on the battlefield itself.  I was touched to discover that they been buried by clan; at least the governing army awarded them that final respect.  These would have remained anonymous mounds had it not been for the local landowner Duncan Forbes who, in 1881, placed stones marking the clan buried in each grave.  Somewhat amusingly, a stone described these graves as marking the brave Highland soldiers who had fought against the ‘English’, despite many clans having actually fought on the government side, most notably the Campbells.  I found it interesting how Forbes, perhaps along with many of his Victorian contemporaries, had chosen to remember the battle.  Through a celtic romanticist prism, the battle may have appeared as a final showdown between English/British modernity and Scottish traditionalism.


By Shadowgate, via Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, the conflict had even less nationalistic undertones than I had been led to believe.  After seizing Edinburgh, Prince Charles was urged by several nobles to reconvene the Scottish Parliament, abolished in 1707, and to consolidate Jacobite control over Scotland.  Charles, however, had no interest in such an action and instead pushed southward into England.  While there were undoubtedly elements of conflict between Scottish and English identity, it seemed to me that the most useful means of framing the uprising is a dynastic power-struggle precipitated by political disagreement over the role of the monarchy, with the British government favouring a Whiggish, constitutional view, and the Jacobites arguing in favour of the divine right of kings.  It’s fascinating how many different historical angles can be applied to the conflict.  The role of the clans and their relationships with the state must also be considered: did the uprising constitute the final assertion of the dominance of the British state and the end of clan sovereignty?

I would highly recommend a visit to the Culloden battlefield to anyone that finds themselves in the Inverness area.  It would be of interest to both avid historians and the less knowledgeable alike, bringing to life this crucially important episode of Scottish history.


2014: My Life

Just realised I forgot to post my regular chart of the year!  As regular readers will know, I give every day of the year a specific grade, then take each month’s average to chart the ebb and flow of my life across the year.  This is the chart 2014 made:

2014 chart

It’s pretty much as I expected.  My Dad’s death in mid January explains the downward curve at the beginning, with February being the first month in negative figures since 2011, while May as ever proved unenjoyable for students everywhere.  The latter half of the year was fairly steady though noticeably a bit below where previous years have been.

New Podcast: The Entellectuals

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A friend and I have recently begun a weekly podcast called ‘The Entellectuals’ (get it?).  We’re hoping to cover a variety of different topics depending on what we’re currently thinking about, or possibly studying in our courses.  Each episode has a general discussion followed by an argument from either one of us, then it concludes with a more light-hearted element.  If this interests you, check out the first episode in which we discuss alcohol, studentsInterstellar and the nature of artistic value.

We have been having some technical issues, unfortunately.  Despite all the online guides saying podcasts are easy to make, it turns out they’re anything but that.  There have been so many problems getting the podcast onto an Itunes feed, something we still haven’t succeeded at doing.  Soundcloud will apparently have to do for now.


Hey Blogosphere,

I’m back from yet another bout of hibernation.  Once again I’m struggling to find a balance between coursework and spare time, leaving me little energy to work on blogs.  Which is a pity, as I’ve had several thoughts and ideas rumbling round my head I’ve wished to put into words but not found the time or motivation to do so.  I also miss reading the blogs I’m subscribed to or browsing new ones, like shining spotlights into different parts of the world, different perspectives of life.

I won’t make any promises of a bold return like I have before as I’ll no doubt fail to meet them, but I do strongly hope I can get back into the rhythm of blogging.  Failing all else I may begin to post more on my sister blog, The Election Stalker, since I often spend my time reading through opinion polls and election results anyway as part of my procrastination; I might as well make something productive out of it.  However I will seek to produce some more thoughtful, analytical pieces as well.

See you in 2015!

How to Help Someone Experiencing Grief

About two and a half months ago I learned that my Dad had died.  The death of a parent, being an occurrence in most peoples’ lives, is the sort of thing you occasionally wonder how you would deal with but never really give serious consideration (not least because that would be unbearably morbid) and certainly isn’t something you can prepare for.  In this instance my Dad’s death was not completely surprising, if still out-of-the-blue, which may have numbed my reaction to it, as well as the fact that I hadn’t had regular face-to-face contact with him for several years – although we’d stayed very much in touch.  Therefore my experience of grief may not be as sharp or overwhelming as that experienced by others who’ve lost a parent, but nevertheless I think I’m in a position to give some advice on the best ways to help someone that is experiencing it.

Because grief isn’t something anyone really knows how to respond to unless you have extensive experience of it.  Our society has quite a strong taboo on the subject of death, I suppose because mortality is scary, and I certainly wouldn’t have known how to respond if one of my friend’s parents had died.  Maybe this is just me but I always felt very awkward whenever someone’s bereavement came up in conversation since I knew I had no way of empathising with their loss.  Then when my Dad did die I suddenly felt as though I could relate to everyone else I know of who’ve experienced similar losses, which I think is an overly simplistic way of looking at it; everyone experiences grief differently.  If you can’t necessarily relate to someone’s individual grief even when you yourself have experienced a loss, no wonder it’s challenging when you haven’t.

That said, the support I received from friends, other family members and university tutors was absolutely incredible, showing me just how many wonderful people I have in my life.  Without their support I’m really not sure how I’d have got through it.  By writing this post I don’t mean at all to suggest the support I received was in any way deficient; my purpose is more to relay the things I’d have liked to know about grief before I experienced it myself (…if that makes sense!).  So, drawing entirely from my own experiences and in the full knowledge that this may not apply to everyone, here are some ways I would suggest you can help someone experiencing grief:

Be there for them.
An obvious one.  I was astonished at how so many of my friends, many of whom I hadn’t even known for very long at all, rallied round to offer me their company, condolences and support.  My initial reaction upon hearing the news was a fear of being on my own – for whatever reason – and, through the kindness of my friends, I didn’t have to spend any time on my own for the next 24 hours, by which time it had begun to sink in.  I often felt incredibly lonely during the weeks which followed but there was always someone willing to meet up for a chat.  There’s no way you can fill the gap the bereaved person has left in your life, but I found surrounding myself with people did ease the overwhelming nature of that gap.  On the other hand, there will also be times when the bereaved person needs time alone, which most people also recognised.  I think the best strategy, is to tell the person that you’re available if they ever need someone to talk to – and make clear you really don’t mind, as our society also seems to discourage asking people for things.  This lets them decide how much company they need without feeling they have no space to grieve privately.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the bereavement.
This could be entirely subjective, but after my Dad died all I wanted to do was talk about him.  I wanted to remember the things I liked about him, bring back long-buried memories… I suppose I wanted to resurrect him in my mind.  I think the initial reaction most people have – it’s certainly how I’ve always reacted – is seeking to avoid the topic for fear of saying the wrong thing.  Again, this could just be me, but in my experience I think it’s very difficult to say the wrong thing.  You don’t even really need to say anything, just listen.  They’ll talk about as much as they feel comfortable discussing.  I think talking is also a way of simply getting your head around this massive event.

Keep in mind grief doesn’t follow a pattern.
I think there’s an assumption that grief is a process which hits extremely hard shortly after the bereavement, perhaps after a brief period of numbness, but gradually improves over time.  This isn’t wrong, but in my experience it definitely hasn’t been that straightforward.  If you were to make a graph of grief, rather than look like this:

grief graph 1

For me, it looked more like this:

grief graph 2

The massive spike in the middle of the second graph is admittedly artificial – my Dad’s cremation – while the relatively subdued nature of the beginning was due to my attempt to block it out while remaining in Edinburgh before returning home, but the point I’m trying to make is that my experience of grief varied extremely rapidly.  Sometimes I’d be fine when I had no right to be fine, such as during the 24 hours after hearing the news, while weeks later I would break down with no apparent trigger.  It’s definitely improving over time as I’m coming to terms with it, but there are still moments when it feels overwhelming.  So what I’m basically saying is that don’t assume the bereaved person is doing better just because time has passed.  I think in most cases the grief actually has to get a lot worse before it gets better.  So when you’re being there for the person, I’d say make sure they know you’re still there if they need to talk or any other support weeks later – though at the same time without smothering them (grief is complicated and weird)…

Try to follow their needs.
Since none of us can read minds I’m aware this is virtually impossible, but what I mean is that the bereaved person may switch between wanting to do something fun as a distraction and then feeling upset and needing company within a matter of minutes.  This is a natural part of how all over the place emotions can be during grief.  I’d say just try to go with what they seem to need at any particular moment.

Remember grief is confusing.
I think the most noticeable reaction to my Dad’s death was the way it messed with my cognitive abilities.  My short-term memory completely broke down – it felt like I just couldn’t keep remember anything –  while my sleeping patterns became slightly erratic.  I wasn’t acting in entirely normal ways; for instance, one day I made a sudden decision to board a train to the countryside somewhere in Fife, with no pre-prepared plans, which anyone who knows me can testify is not the sort of spontaneous action I generally take.  I just felt an irrational need to get out of the city to somewhere peaceful.  I also found it difficult to communicate things to people in the way I always tended, and occasionally felt quite incoherent in my thoughts.  So just bear this in mind also when someone’s been bereaved.

As I said, grief is a different process for each individual person, but hopefully these are some comments which can at least give you a vague idea of how to help someone experiencing it.