A Brief Context & The National Trust

Situated in the Scottish Highlands and site of the 1746 aptly named Battle of Culloden, the battlefield on Culloden Moor, (formally) Drummossie Moor, (Prebble, 1972, p.79) offers a physical reminder of the Jacobites’ desperate attempt to establish Charles Edward Stuart on the throne against the British Red Coats and King George II, and the location upon which the demise of the Jacobites ultimately took place (Williams, 2013, p. 9). Although serving as a reminder of Scottish defeat, the site can be viewed as one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions, and one that has succeeded in standing the test of time. But, for how much longer?

NTS Culloden Visitor Centre Guidebook – depicting an image of the Red Coats fighting the Jacobites (personal)

The battlefield is cared for by The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) with the area being home to a visitor centre, exhibitions, shop and café. The visitor centre aids in conveying the historical story of the battle, providing opportunity for re-enactments and immersive exhibitions. Alongside this, the battle’s famous antagonists, the Scottish Jacobite clans, are highlighted and sentimentalised through memorials and headstones, allowing visitors to both connect with their possible ancestors and clans, and pay respect to those lost during the battle.

The National Trust Visitor Centre, Culloden.
The Outlander Effect

This aspect of the NTS site is further seen through the arguably positive – and to some degree negative – effect that the popular book and recent television programme Outlander has had on the storytelling of the battle itself. The site has seen an influx of tourists in recent years, with many visitors desperate to see the battlefield upon which the character ‘Jamie Fraser’ fought.

Flowers laid at the Clan Fraser headstone on Culloden Battlefield.

This increased popularity at the hands of a fictional television programme emphasises issues of sustainability and over-tourism, however, although it is understood that Clan Fraser did fight at the 1746 battle, the ‘James Fraser’ known to many through the acting of Sam Heughan did not exist, and if a namesake did, he would have not encompassed all of the features that the Outlander franchise has worked so hard to create, embody, and bring to life! It must therefore be questioned as to why fiction, albeit with a semblance of historic events, is becoming such a frontal feature within British, and primarily Scottish, heritage? It could be argued that this has negative effect on the face of Scotland and her historical identity.

Actors Tobias Menzies (left) and Sam Heughan (right) depicting Jonathan Randall and Jamie Fraser on Culloden Battlefield
Recent Pressures on the Site

The battlefield has most recently been at the centre of controversy due to proposed building works on the area to possibly deal with this extra attention the site has experienced recently. Does this large influx of tourists and the required works to manage the increase affect the authenticity of the site? Can the community of Culloden and Inverness, alongside NTS institution cater for, and sustain this number of tourists arriving as a result of fictional television?

Much backlash has followed the planning permission proceedings, contesting the tangible heritage site, yet in spite of numerous disagreements (as shown through various social media petitions and websites) from the residents surrounding the moor and beyond, the plans are no longer simply proposed and were approved as of 14th May 2018.

July 2018 map by Dr. Christopher Duffy of the Historian’s Council on Culloden, outlining the positioning of the visitor centre, the proposed build, and how this relates to the historical movements of the armies.
UNESCO: A Potential Saviour?

Moreover, Scotland as a whole contains only six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and Culloden Battlefield does not hold one of these spots. In spite of this, it was aspired to join the UNESCO’s sites in 2015, and arguably there was a gap within the organisation’s list for such a battlefield, yet the claim did not come to pass. (Williams, 2013, p.31)

Would this, now missed opportunity to secure UNESCO status for the site 3 years ago, have saved Culloden Battlefield’s present issues of over-tourism and contested tangible heritage? Influence from a foundation such as UNESCO could have provided possible aid to the current issues facing the heritage and history of Culloden Battlefield, and overturned any further planning permissions in the future.

This approval, giving allowance for residences to be built just half a mile from the battlefield, alongside still being held within the actual conservation area, simply highlights the presence of higher authority public services with regard to the heritage sector, and although it will aid with the increase in visitors it comes at the cost of affecting the nature, history and authenticity of the site itself.


Personal Photograph, Culloden Battlefield Memorial Cairn
  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-44144245 – news article discussing the planning permission granted on Culloden Battlefield [Accessed 08/10/18].
  2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-34995996 – news article discussing the potential UNESCO status for Culloden Battlefield [Accessed 08/10/18].
  3. https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/culloden – The National Trust for Scotland website for Culloden [Accessed 08/10/18].
  4. Oliver, Neil. 2009. A History of Scotland. Great Britain: Weidenfield & Nicolson.
  5. Prebble, John. 1972. Culloden. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd.
  6. Williams, Brad. 2013. Culloden Battlefield Historic Environment Listings and Designations: A Briefing to Highland Council and Key Stakeholders. Highland Gov.Co.Uk. [Accessed 08/10/18].