Travel

Culloden: Maggie Craig on poignant secrets of Scottish battlefield

EACH weekend we ask well-known faces from across public life to share their favourite place. This latest instalment sees author Maggie Craig, whose book Damn Rebel Bitches is being re-issued in a special 25th anniversary edition, share why Culloden has become such a big part of her life.

Where is it?

Culloden. About four miles east of Inverness and well-signposted from the A9 and the A96. Reachable by car, bus, bike and foot.

Why do you go there?

To remember those who fought, died, were wounded and captured at Culloden, along with all the men and women who took part in or found themselves caught up in those interesting times of the last Jacobite rising of 1745-6.

Also to drink in the beauty of the place, with its big skies and panoramic views all around and across the Moray Firth. And to say hello to the heilan coos, ponies and other beasties which graze the battlefield and keep the heather and grass controlled in a natural way.

What first drew you to the subject?

Visiting Culloden and Glenfinnan. I have very fond memories of a Craig family holiday spent in the camping coach there.

HeraldScotland: Author Maggie CraigAuthor Maggie Craig

What fascinating things did you uncover during your research?

A box of letters from Jacobite soldiers to their wives, families and sweethearts, sent from Moffat when they were on the way to invade England in late 1745. All full of longing for home and loved ones. Heartbreakingly, the letters were intercepted by the other side, so were never read by their intended recipients.

A petition for clemency for a young Glasgow shoemaker who was a captain in the Jacobite army, sent by Lord Provost Andrew Cochrane of Glasgow and counter-signed by many other citizens. Glasgow was very anti-Jacobite, but the shoemaker was one of their own.

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He was captured at Culloden, taken by sea to London and tried for treason. The petition was refused and he was hanged. I also have a halfpenny he gave to his gaoler at Southwark, which the man later had engraved in memory of him.

How often do you go?

Every year on the annual commemoration held on or around April 16 – the anniversary of the battle. Usually also in high summer when all the lovely wee wildflowers on the field are in bloom.

HeraldScotland: Culloden. Picture: Steve CoxCulloden. Picture: Steve Cox

How did you discover it?

My father took me there when I was about 10 or 11. Back then, the road ran very close by the memorial cairn and there was a layby just across from it. We got out of the car and walked over to the cairn, where he told me the story of the battle with tears in his eyes.

What’s your favourite memory?

There are several. That first visit with my Dad. Also being there with German visitors when I was a Blue Badge tourist guide and them listening so attentively to the story and being keen to discuss it afterwards.

My 60th birthday when I went with my nearest and dearest. My birthday happens to fall on April 16, so I think I was probably fated to be passionate about Jacobites. Watching the clan and other groups marching out to the cairn, flags flying and dressed as people would have been in 1746.

Being invited to carry one of the Cameron flags. Last summer, when we met a grandfather who was passing the story on to his seven-year-old granddaughter.

HeraldScotland: Maggie Craig leading out the Camerons at CullodenMaggie Craig leading out the Camerons at Culloden

Who do you take?

The people who are special to me.

What do you take?

My imagination.

What do you leave behind?

My customary modern cynicism.

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Sum it up in five words.

Heart-rending. Echoing. Poignant. Beautiful. Peaceful.

What other travel spots are on your wish list?

Having been more or less confined to barracks over the past two years, I’m desperate to get back to Oban and the west coast of Scotland. God’s own country.

A special 25th anniversary edition of Damn Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45 by Maggie Craig is published on Thursday (Penguin, £9.99). A re-issue of Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ’45 (Penguin, £9.99) will be released on the same day.

Culloden Visitor Centre is running a special event with the author on Saturday, April 16 at 1.30pm. Visit nts.org.uk/culloden

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