Have you ever wondered whether Craigh na Dun really exists?…
Hi there, I’m Di Nicholson. I’ve lived here in Culloden, Scotland, since 1990. I’m passionate about this beautiful part of the world, this incredible country and its history.
Something astounding came to my attention just a few weeks ago after a visit to Highland Archive Centre. I want to share it with you… I need to share a little about my own past first, to put it into context.
The first time I came here aged around 20, I cried most of the way back to London in the car. The pull to come back to Scotland refused to leave me. I couldn’t watch a Scottish film or documentary without crying or feeling overwhelm and recognition. I felt that my connection to Scotland, to Culloden in particular, ran deep in my soul.
One year later in 1989, I bought a new home here. Well, at the time it was just a plot of land. This plot of land was high on a hill beside Culloden Woods, around mid-way between Culloden House and Culloden Battlefield. There was such a bonnie view from this plot, and it felt so peaceful to stand here and look out. The lights of Inverness twinkled in the background, and the view over the Moray Firth and mountains beyond was stunning. I knew I had to plant my soul on this little piece of land. The sunset photo below was taken from my back garden.
As a young lass of 21 back in 1989, I knew that I should look at more than just one possibility for the first purchase of my very own home, so I did. I arranged to visit many homes in the area. However, just one – even though it was more than I could afford – pulled me strongly enough to make me want to take the biggest risk I’d ever taken. I paid the deposit to secure my name against that new home, knowing that I had just 9 months to put plans in place so I could radically change my life. Building work on my new home was to be completed by March 1990, and I was to move in on 16th.
I left a well paid job in London to move here, and everyone told me I was mad. I never believed I was. The pull was too strong. I felt that I’d come home.
Since 1990 I’ve loved this home with a passion. I’ve doubled the size of it, and I’ve had more than my fair share of life’s experiences here. My husband and I had our Handfasting Ceremony right here in our living room, where we said our marriage vows to one another. It’s more than just a house to me. I feel part of the very earth beneath it. In fact, I have been saying for quite some time now that many a Jacobite would likely have walked right through this very land to reach the battlefield. The paths from here lead right into the woods and past the Prisoner’s Stone, which is where 17 Jacobites were shot, and where one called Fraser is reputed to have escaped.
A while ago we visited the Highland Archive Centre to do some research. We found the very first Ordinance Survey Map of Inverness, dated 1747, shown below. Here you can see Culloden House as a red house in a clear rectangular area, surrounded with areas of squared woodland. On the bottom right of the picture, you’ll see an area faintly outlined in red, which is Culloden Battlefield. The Battle was fought just a year before this map was created. You will also see that there’s a circular area of woodland, just beneath the ‘D’ in the wording of Culloden House.
When today’s Ordinance Survey Map was laid directly over this one from 1747, we were astounded.
Two things were immediately evident. The first was that the road leading from Culloden House up towards the Battlefield in 1747 ran right through the top of my street, just yards from my front door. So I had been speaking more truth than I was aware of when I said that many Jacobites are likely to have walked right through this area to reach the battlefield.
The second thing that immediately became evident was that our home is right in that small circle of trees. In fact the tree in the garden next door has a preservation order on it, which may mean it was one of the original trees, or new growth from one of the original trees, standing in that circle at the time. The circle is not large, holding space for around 6 houses of today’s average size.
When I panned out of the map so that I could see the whole of Inverness and surrounding areas, there is no other circle of trees to be seen anywhere. I’ve enclosed a photo of this below so you can see it for yourself, just as it was in 1747. Inverness is red and to the left of the photo, snuggled around the mouth of the River Ness. Culloden House is in the centre of the woodland several miles east of Inverness. There is no other circle of trees… only the one beneath the ‘D’ of Culloden House.
This circle of trees appears on so many of the maps that I can trace of the 18th and 19th centuries. Here is another… In this one below you can see Culloden House at the top of the photo, again with squared off woodland surrounding it. Then there’s that little circle of trees again. This time it’s depicted as having either a fence around it, or as being on a hill. At the bottom of the picture is the layout of the Battle of Culloden.
Here is a section of a map from 1851 from a different angle. It’s over a century later, yet again depicting that little circle of trees on the right hand side, this time with the numbers 351 in it.
And another, slightly different again, but that little circle is there on the right…
I am still investigating what that little circle of trees is, and why it was planted there. I’d love to know why it’s always depicted as being in a circle, and in one map with what appears to be a fence surrounding it, or on a hill. It seems a little strange when it’s such a small area of trees and there are plenty of other trees around. I will let you know if I discover anything.
The view from this little circle of trees is strikingly similar to the one from Craigh na Dun, with water and the lights of Inverness twinkling in the background. It’s also close to the battlefield. Now I know that Craigh na Dun is fictional, but what if…? Really, what if?
The thing that really makes my soul come alive is that we live right in the middle of whatever it used to be. As I mentioned earlier, the first photo above is the very first Ordinance Survey Map of its kind, and it’s incredibly accurate. To see the two maps overlaid and combined into one – old and current – and to see our home right there in the middle of that little circle of trees…
The first place I worked when I came to the Highlands in 1990 was at Culloden House. Seems almost inevitable really.
My husband, Andy, built a stone circle in our back garden late last year. It was before we discovered this, and it sits right beside the bench where we sit and look out over the view. It’s our own little Craigh na Dun, and I’ve posted the video below.
I know I’ve lived here in a past life, and I’ve shared a little of my story which you can read here. I can remember so much about that fateful day in 1746. I’ve felt it in my bones since the first day I stepped foot in Scotland, and I’ll be writing more about that soon too. Part of me feels like I’ve stepped through time, back to my home.
Below you can join us as we walk up the filming location for Craigh na Dun. Blessings from us both, Di & Andy x