Haunted Battlefields: The Ghosts of Culloden

by JoHarrington

On April 16th 1746, the last pitched battle on British land took place on Drummossie Moor. Up to 2000 Jacobites lay dead, or injured and dying, in the heather. It was never over.

It's an historian's dream to have a time machine, to go back and see it as it was. But not there, not Culloden.

I stood in the heather, bright sunshine and tourists all about me. It didn't matter. They couldn't see what I was seeing. No-one there, or since, saw that. And to this day, I'm not sure who believes that I saw it too. But I did; and that's all I'm going to say about that.

I fled the battlefield and stood in the gift shop, consoling myself with plastic things to bring me back to my century. The chill remains.

Culloden: 1746 by Stuart Reid

Second Sight at Prince Charlie's Well

It wasn't just one, but several people who were caught up in this terrifying encounter.

On the road from Uig to Portree, there is a well. Used regularly by the locals, there were a few people around when the phantom appeared.

Blood-soaked and desperate, it looked around them with a stare that had peered into the abyss. Pure horror was there, in his expression, and that was what they remembered most, the thing that haunted their nightmares.  

"Defeat!"  He gushed, shock tinging his tone. "Defeat! Defeat!"  The last was lost in a wail of desolate anguish. There was no hope left in his aspect. Nothing but devastation and terror.

Then he vanished. Simply faded from view.  

Stunned beyond measure themselves, the group of witnesses had barely time to recover their wits from the apparition, before there were more.  The distant sound of drummers, coming rapidly near, started first. Then the swords, clashing, steel on steel. One moment far away, the next it was on top of them. Like a ghostly army passing through, rushing on their way to who knew where.

Finally it was over and silence stung the day.  "What was it?"  Somebody asked. "What just happened?" But he knew. They all knew. They were just waiting for someone to articulate it; say it out loud to make it real.

"It was an omen."  Came the shaken voice of one of his companions; and he elicited no dissent.

The next day, they knew what the omen had been about.  The next day was Culloden.

Documentaries about the Battle of Culloden on DVD

I can definitely recommend 'The War Game' and 'Culloden'. Freaking amazing film-documentaries. In fact I'm adding them to my wish list right now.

The Great Scree on the Eve of Battle

Jacobite Commander Lord George Murray knew what his Fate would be. He saw it rising from the heather one day before.

Image: MorrighanIt's said to be bad luck to see the Scree.  Death will surely follow.  It comes as darkness; a great, black, screaming bird, too big to be anything natural to these shores. 

That day, it rose up from the heather, its mighty wings beating slowly as it surveyed the three men on the moors.  George Murray saw it, frozen to the spot, knowing what he saw.  The sheer size of it, larger than anything his imagination could supply.  It blocked out the evening sky.  It saw them in blackness and shadow.

Then it was off, flying once over Drummossie Moor, its low caw shrieking growing wildly as it soared; and was gone.  Disappeared in mid-air, before their very eyes.

This was also the eve of Culloden.

Nor has the Great Scree truly gone away.  It was last seen by a tourist on the same battlefield in July 2005. It's not recorded what happened next.

She must be the only avian creature making a sound there, because the birds don't sing. They nest in the heather and the trees; they fly over the moor and the graves.  But they never make any noise, but the whisper of their wings in the wind.

Books about Culloden

The John Prebbles book has a special place in my library. I used to live with his grand-daughter! Which I found out when she saw me reading it.

St Mary's Well in Culloden Woods

There are so many ghosts there, too many to count; drawn to the well, as if its waters can still save them.

People still go to St Mary's Well, to do the ritual and tie the cloutie tight.

Everyone knows the score. You pass around the well head, three complete circles, then crouch to drink the water deep, cupped in your bowled hands. Then you take the rag (a strip of your own clothing for protection; that of an ailing loved one for healing), and you tie it to the tree.

It only works on May Eve.  Beltane.  Two weeks too late for the clansmen on Culloden, yet they still come. Too many have seen them to doubt that they come.

St Mary once lived in Culloden Woods, doing her rounds with her bucket in hand. Overlooking the moor, with her well water to cure all ills. She healed the sick. She made them well; and she has to be there still, rendering holiness to her Well in the Woods.

Yet it wasn't always named after her.  Tobar n’Oige was its ancient name.  Well of Youth, in Scots Gaelic; but sounding too much like Tír na nÓg, the place of the dead, the Island of the Young.  Or was that after the battle, when the connection was made?  The battle which took place just through the trees beyond.

St Mary has it now.  Mary - not the famous Mother of God - to heal the sick, protect the weak and shelter the endangered. 

The ghosts of Culloden Battlefield still come to seek the protection of Mhairie.  They encircle the well three times, but cannot drink the water and cannot tie the cloutie on the tree.  But they try. They try; and people see them, but cannot help them. And nor can Mhairie and her blue well in the woods.

The Ghost of the Cairns

There are grave mounds on Drummossie Moor, rows of them, each marked with the stone of another clan. 

So many bodies were tipped into each that it became impossible to tell one from the other.  Brothers, cousins, fathers, sons, their limbs entwined and their faces locked in that last scream of pain and anger.

People come now and find their kin.  Pick any day in the holiday season and hear their accents. The Canadians, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders come to pay pilgrimage to their ancestors.

The ones who lost the last battle; which led to their children being sent overseas. The Clearances, which left a desert and called it peace.

In August 1936, someone had laid a tartan on the cairn. The lady from Edinburgh couldn't quite read the name on the clan stone, so she lifted the cloth to see. 

A ghostly face peered back at her, eyes blinked as he stared.  She didn't wait to see anymore. She fled.

Clan Memorial Marker on Culloden Moor

Battle Site, Culloden Moor, Highland Region, Scotland, United Kingdom

The Anniversary Haunting of Culloden

Did you ever want to see a ghost? Did you want to hear one reliving its last terrible moments before it fell? I know where you can go.

Every April 16th, the locals tense, knowing what they will hear.  Someone in the vicinity will discern the yells, and weapons clashing; the drummers beating a tattoo, until they suddenly stop.

And somehow that's worse.  When it stops.  When it's over.

It's said that every year, without fail, the battle happens again upon Drummossie Moor.  For the most part it's sounds, a clairaudient cacophony filling the air.  But then there's the wandering highlander too.

Nobody knows who he is.  He seems lost, heading shell-shocked, stopping, staring, moving on a step, then stopping again.  There's never anyone close enough to speak with him. They just watch his dazed progress from a distance. 

Then, as they draw near, he's gone.  That's April 16th too.  Every year.

Temperatures Fluctuate Around the Cairns

Andrea Byrne of Scottish Paranormal took a team of investigators onto Drummossie Moor.

They interviewed the staff of the tourist center, who said that they frequently hear reports from visitors, who have seen something strange or heard the sounds of battle.

Using dowsing rods, they discerned an energy line between Cumberland's Stone and St Mary's Well.

The most dramatic readings came from their temperature monitor. As they crossed the moor, all seemed well. But not at the graves.

There temperature and humidity rose and fell with each step they took between the cairns.

Residual Haunting from Culloden at Drummossie Moor

Electricity cannot be destroyed, it can only be transformed; and the events of that day play on and on, like a recording on a loop.

One thing that most of the psychics who've visited there (and made their feelings known) all agree upon is that the ghosts aren't really there.

Oh!  They're real enough to be seen and heard, but there's nothing sentient about the spirits on Drummossie Moor.  It's residual energy, replaying events, as a haunting.

So much emotion was felt on the moor that day, and during the endless, horrific night which followed.  These were men who knew that the cost of losing was everything. Not just for themselves, but for their families, their clan, their language, their culture, their history and their land.

There were horrors enough in the heat of battle.  Highlanders bogged down in the mud, the momentum of their charge expended before they even got close.  The English employed a new musket manoeuvre, with all the effect of a modern day machine gun.  The group of clansmen, who fled for shelter in a barn, only for the English to burn it down; and them still trapped inside.

There were rules in battle, which didn't apply that day.  At the end of the fighting, all should be allowed to tend their sick and wounded in safety.  The surviving Scots could not. The English shot them down.

So men lay throughout the night, knowing the worst, fearing the future, in the most dreadful pain. Then came the dawn and the improbably slow waiting for death to come at the end of a bayonet.

Against all precedent and war etiquette, the English fanned out across the moor and stabbed to death any Highlander still alive.  Any who hadn't perished in that cold April night.  And those further up could see the English coming. They knew what they were doing and they could not move away.

Too injured to move away.

It's the high emotion of this, neurons flashing with hopeless adrenaline, trapped forever in that terrible atmosphere, which haunts Drummossie Moor.  Those with the right kind of eyes still see them there, awaiting an English bayonet and the loss of it all.

But there's absolutely nothing to be done to help them. They are not there. Except maybe at St Mary's Well.

After Culloden: Rebel Hunting

After Culloden: Rebel Hunting

Culloden Memorabilia Listed on eBay

Ghost Stories on Wizzley

On Flodden field, in 1513, the largest battle ever fought between England and Scotland left up to 19,000 men dead. It remains perhaps the eeriest place in Britain.
Next to Culloden, the Pass of Killiecrankie is seen as the most haunted battle site in Scotland. Jacobite soldiers and a ghoulish woman are still encountered there.
Are there Hungry Fields in Ireland waiting to trap unwary walkers? And if so, what ghosts lurk within? True Irish hauntings as recounted to me.
For nearly 1000 years people have lived in the Tower of London. Many were tortured and killed there. Things like that leave their mark.
Updated: 09/12/2014, JoHarrington
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CL_Kean on 10/17/2016

Note to Ragtimelil: Jacobus is the Latin form of James. Jacobites supported James II of England and VII of Scotland, the last Catholic British monarch, and later his descendants of the House of Stuart, to the throne of Great Britain after they had been deposed by Parliament during the Glorious Revolution. A series of Jacobite uprisings, rebellions, and wars in Great Britain and Ireland from 1688 and 1746 included patriotic Scots, disgruntled Britons, and scheming European nations.

frankbeswick on 05/09/2016

One thing we need to say about Culloden is that it was not an English versus Scots affair. There were English and Scots on both sides. Prince Charlie recruited a small English force from Manchester. There were Scots who opposed the Stuart cause and fought for the Hanoverians,in fact more Scots fought for Cumberland than for Charlie. One of the worst persecutors of highland rebels was Captain Ferguson, of the ship Terror. He was a Scot whose warship scoured the Scottish isles for escapees, whom he ruthlessly hanged.

Culloden should be regarded as a national disaster, not merely a Scottish one, because it was an atrocity that sullies the history of the whole island. I can testify that the atmosphere that lurks at its site can have bad emotional effects. The evil that men do lives after them, says the Bard, and it is so true of that battlefield.

frankbeswick on 05/08/2016

I have visited Culloden, and I intensely disliked the experience,but all battlefields are evil places. As is said in Shakespeare's Henry V, "I am afeared that few die well who die in a battle." Battle is not a good way to die.

donna on 05/07/2016

That brought me to tears. I will visit there someday. What happened there is heartbreaking.

JoHarrington on 06/16/2013

Never forgotten for me too too. Have you been there? It's the only site in the world where I've literally fled.

jptanabe on 06/16/2013

Scary stuff, and sad too. Growing up in Scotland Culloden was part of the history, never forgotten.

JoHarrington on 11/28/2012

King James II was monarch of both England and Scotland, but he 'converted' (some evidence to say he was all along) to Catholicism. The English nobility pretty much kicked him off the throne and installed William and Mary.

Meanwhile, up in Scotland, the clans weren't best pleased about this. They campaigned (with swords) to have James reinstated. He was their true monarch. It wasn't just in Scotland, it was notably in Ireland too (Battle of the Boyne), and had some sympathy in the rest of the British Isles. Those who supported James II were called Jacobites.

After he died, his son, then grandson were deemed to be the real kings; while the throne was actually being occupied by first William and Mary, then Anne, then finally some Hanoverian cousins - all of those Georges. Nevertheless, the campaign was still called Jacobite, even though the monarch at the time of Culloden was actually called (Bonnie) Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

Ragtimelil on 11/28/2012

I find the history stories fascinating, but I don't always understand them. What is a Jacobite? Maybe I read too fast.

JoHarrington on 11/16/2012

All of the rest are just variations on a theme of above. Or did you mean on different battlefields? Glad that you're enjoying!

Ragtimelil on 11/16/2012

More stories!!!

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