Failed Castles and Rebellions

Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom
Saturday, May 14, 2016

After yet another fabulous B&B breakfast, Dan and I drove to Duffus Castle in Duffus. Duffus Castle is a stonewall castle built on an earth and mound foundation of an old motte and bailey fortification. This turned out to be a bad idea, because before long the shitter fell out… No, really, the north wall of the tower, which contained the latrine, slid down the embankment. A castle’s no good without a shitter, so of course they had to abandon it. (Can you hear Dan in this writing?)

We found it curious that the castle, let alone the motte and bailey fortification, was out in the middle of nowhere. It literally now sits in the midst of a field, with no apparent water source for the moat. We also wondered what possessed the stonework castle owners to build on an earthworks foundation. It all seemed very odd. But it now makes for some pretty good photography.

Next stop was unplanned, as we had seen a sign for it on the way to Duffus. We made our way to Burghead where the largest Iron Age Pictish Fort used to be. The community has established a small volunteer visitors centre that has some great information on the site it sits on. Again, we found ourselves standing on a promontory overlooking the North Sea. On one side, the tide was out revealing a proper sand beach, from which parasurfers were doing their thing. On the other side was the main body of the ocean, with surf crashing against the rocks. The promontory clearly showed three levels going down to the sea shore, the highest level of which presumably was occupied by the chieftains (kings).

The entire site had once been surrounded by a stone and timber wall, which was topped by a row of stones with drawings of a bull on them. The bull represented strength, and was placed on the outward facing side of the wall so as to show visitors that they were approaching a strong tribe.

There is not really any evidence of the Pictish culture today, as they did not write their histories; they were absorbed by the Gaels, who became the Albans, who are now known as the Scots. The Pictish people were warriors, farmers, fishermen, sailors, and artists, and it is their art that is now being found that speaks to who they were.

Our last stop for the day was Culloden Moor, the site of the last Battle between the Jacobites and Cumberland’s English troops in 1746. The visitor’s centre is extremely well done and contains an extraordinary amount of information from the point of view of both sides. In fact, there may have been almost too much information to absorb in one visit. You definitely need at least two hours to really take everything in. The walk among the moors itself is quite sobering, and yet remains a tranquil experience. Historic Scotland is making efforts to restore the land to the same condition it was when the battle occurred to give visitors a better understanding of the terrain the parties were dealing with. Dan and I noted that if the land is currently anywhere near what it used to be, then not only would the kilted Scots have had to run through boggy, uneven ground, but also soft heather and spiky gorse. The English pretty much stayed in one place and let the Highlanders come to them, which was smart. I came away thinking somebody should have swatted Bonnie Prince Charlie across the back of the head for making his tired, hungry men fight in terrain they were not comfortable in.

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