My trip to Scotland, Part 3
This is going to be a fairly lengthy blog post. Lots to talk about! It was one of the best days on the whole tour. (Click on any of the pictures to enlarge them.)
We spent most of the morning on the coach, headed toward Culloden. Stopped at a kirk called Cille Choirille, that looks remarkably close to what you might imagine St. Kilda's must have looked like, in DRAGONFLY.
The path leading to it turned out to be too steep and challenging to manage with either the scooter or the folding manual wheelchair we'd brought along, so my mom and I went back to the coach to wait, while my sister Alice went with the rest of the group to take pictures. The midgies were out (only time I noticed them the whole week), but I don't think I got bitten. While I waited, I took a picture of some bracken by the roadside.
We arrived at Culloden around 12:30 and were met by a private tour guide named Ian, who took us on a long walk around the perimeter of Culloden Field. Weather was cloudy and a bit windy but not raining. He described the positions of the Jacobite and government forces as we walked around, and made a point of emphasizing how boggy the ground was.
It seems a strange place to fight a battle, given how hard it would be to get around on the moor, but I gather the idea was to make it hard for horses to maneuver, so that the Jacobites wouldn't be at so much of a disadvantage. (I may be misremembering this, but I think that's the gist of what he said.) We saw the flags representing the battle lines: blue for Jacobites, red for government troops.
It was a very, very long walk by my standards, and the further we went, the lower my scooter battery started to get, and the more I started to be distracted by thoughts of what I was going to do if my battery died all the way out there, far from the Visitor's Centre where we started out. You can see that very clearly in the photo below. I'm listening to what the guide is saying, but at the same time, part of my attention is focused on that battery indicator on the scooter's control panel.
I was relieved when we finally got to the area where the clan stones were. It's a very moving sight, no question! The Fraser stone is smaller than I expected, but it's instantly recognizable.
As I crouched down behind it and put my hands on the stone, the thought flashed through my mind: "Oh, my God, I'm really HERE!"
That was the moment that it hit me, for the first time, in a very visceral sort of way, that this trip to Scotland, that had been a dream of mine for more than five years, was really happening. I have mixed feelings about that reaction. The area where the clan stones are is such a somber place (it IS a cemetery, after all), and there I was, feeling such relief and joy and excitement at being there, but trying at the same time to stay respectful to the dead.
When I mentioned this on Compuserve, Diana said, "It's my impression that the dead are glad to be visited." Which made me feel a lot better. <g>
Anyway.... We saw the rest of the clan stones, the monument, and the Well of the Dead. All very sobering.
Ian told us that the youngest person killed at Culloden was 11 years old, and of course I immediately thought of Archie Hayes, who was 12 at the time of the battle, according to FIERY CROSS.
Diana Gabaldon noted in her blog post about her 2008 visit to Culloden that she saw the place where Jamie woke after the battle, thinking he was dead. So this morning I asked her on Compuserve if she recalled where that was, exactly. She said,
Jamie made it almost to the second government line. He woke in a little swale or dip (you recall he was lying in water), about forty feet off the path that leads from the Visitors Centre--maybe a couple of hundred yards beyond the VC itself.
Toward the very end of our tour of the battlefield, we arrived at the Leanach cottage (pictured above, as seen from the back). I saw it only from a distance -- I would have liked to go closer, but by that point my battery was so low I wasn't sure I could make it back to the Visitor's Centre. But I did, with minutes to spare -- went right into the cafeteria and plugged my battery charger into the nearest wall outlet. Huge sigh of relief!!
It was at that point, when I was finally able to look around undistracted by my mobility issues, that it suddenly (and belatedly) dawned on me that the woman in the red coat who'd quietly joined our group for the walk around Culloden Field was in fact my friend Elenna Loughlin!
I've known Elenna for a few years online, and I knew she'd planned to come down for the day to meet us at Culloden, but I'd never actually met her until I saw her in that cafeteria. We had time for a nice chat, during the course of which she told the story of how she'd come to take that wonderful photo of Diana that ended up on the back cover of THE SCOTTISH PRISONER.
After lunch, we were running short on time, so I only had 5 minutes to look around the gift shop, and no time at all to explore the Visitor's Centre. (Well, not yet, anyway. I did see it a bit later, but that story will have to wait for the next installment. <g>) We piled back onto the bus, taking Elenna along with us, and proceeded to Clava Cairns. (The photo below shows my sister and my mother at Clava Cairns.)
By this time, I knew I wasn't going to be able to use the scooter at Clava Cairns, so we brought out the lightweight folding wheelchair we'd brought along as a backup. It was very hard to maneuver it on the uneven ground at Clava Cairns, and I'd pretty much resigned myself to watching from a distance again, when Elenna and Betsy and Alice suddenly appeared next to me. Elenna said, "Come on. You're not going to miss this." And between them, Elenna, Betsy, and Alice helped me walk all the way across the field to where the standing stones were, holding on to both arms so I wouldn't trip on stones or tree roots. It was exhausting, but I was so happy I didn't even notice. <g> Many thanks to all three of them!
Lots of joking around at the stones, of course. The famous split stone there is much smaller than what I imagine Claire's cleft stone at Craigh na Dun would have been, but I wasn't about to quibble, at that point.
We got to Culloden House with about 1/2 hour to spare before Elenna had to leave to catch her train home. There was just enough time for Elenna to take Betsy and Alice and me to see Diana's bench in the garden there. (The bench was donated by the Ladies of Lallybroch as a combination Christmas/birthday present for Diana, and installed in the garden at Culloden House in 2011.)
It's off in the far corner by itself, which surprised me a little, but the bench is lovely and I was really glad I got to see it in person. The garden is gorgeous! If any of you visit Culloden House in the future, you should definitely make time to see it!
Here I am with Betsy and Elenna. I love this picture!
That evening we had a formal dinner at Culloden House, preceded by a demonstration of traditional Highland dress and weaponry by Ian, our battlefield guide. That was quite interesting.
One thing I learned was that the targe (shield) had a place in the middle where a sort of spike (maybe a foot long) could be affixed, to make it a weapon as well as a means of defense. I had my first taste of whisky that evening -- Glenmorangie -- and it wasn't bad. After the day I'd had, it was so nice just to be able to relax! <g>
I'll have more to say about Culloden in Part 4.