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, and the other photos are of the interior. 

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.

© British Library Board – British Library Maps C.9.b 26/2e (Map used with permission -https://www.bl.uk)

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 our street, just yards from our 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.

© British Library Board – British Library Maps C.9.b 26/2d & C.9.b 26/2e (Map used with permission -https://www.bl.uk)

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.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under licence – https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

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.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under licence – https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

And another, slightly different again, but that little circle is there on the right…

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under licence – https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

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

52 Responses

  • Sarah

    Fascinating…love to see modern ordnance map of the area to compare.

    • I’m not too keen to share the two maps together as I don’t want to make my home address public. However, if you are ever in Culloden, you would be most welcome to come here and share a cuppa with me, and I will show you them.

      • Renee

        Such an interesting read you are so blessed to live there I would love to hear more. Thank you for sharing your story
        Renee Bella

      • Kathy Murphy

        Wow, in doing some research for our (my husband and I…he is both of Scottish and Irish decent) and after reading all the Outlander books, and now watching all the shows, I’m fascinated by Scotland and Ireland and have been planning our trip there which now we had to postpone until 2021 due to Covid-19…I would certainly love to meet and talk to you in person and have a look and share a cuppa! Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

        • You’re most welcome Kathy. Many thanks for writing, and we hope you make it over here soon. Warmest regards, Di

      • Janice tiernan

        Diana enjoyed your story immensely… I discovered when doing my ancestry my ten times g/grandmothers nephew was Hugh Mercer.. He studied at Aberdeen university and became a doctor very young… he joined Bonnie Prince Charlie and was at the battle of Culloden second surgeon to BPC. He escaped to America and became a lifelong friend of George Washington. His life in America is well documented on google… when Jamie spoke to George Washington in one of the Outlander episodes I wondered if Hugh mercer was with him (fantasie) ….. like you I love the history of scotland and outlander has been amazing in bringing scotland to so many people .. all the best x

        • Hi Janice, my goodness, that is wonderful! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this. It’s much appreciated. All the very best to you also. x

  • Linda

    Amazing story. Thank you for sharing. My husband and I visited Culloden this past Sept and toured Scotland. I am of Irish ancestry and I loved being able to visit Scotland England and Ireland. All very special and dear to my soul.

    • Thank you Linda. These Celtic ties hold on to the heart. I’m so glad you enjoyed your visit to Culloden. x

  • Emily

    Love the history. I would be honored to be able to visit Scotland someday! Beautiful view!

  • T.M.S

    Weird things happen in Scotland…I have been 4 times. My Mothers side is Scottish. Found out this year that I had surnames transposed and learned we are really part of the Cameron clan. Guess which clan memorial stone I photographed on the battlefield at Culloden?… yep…Cameron. Also my son Alex was born 24 years ago and I gave him the middle name Cameron. My midwifes last name….Cameron. So weird. Wish I could move there, always felt it was home.

    • I can relate. As a Cameron, you might enjoy this video. This is the sword and targe that Donald Cameron of Lochiel took into the Battle of Culloden. https://outlanderpastlives.com/blog/birthday-gift/. My birthday gift arrived in August this year, and we show it to our tour guests. It’s a beautiful piece. Achnacarry is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the current Lochiel is a wonderful, wonderful man. Blessings to you xxx

  • Karen L Covello

    What an amazing story you are uncovering! I too got chills when I read what you have found. I know exactly what you mean when you felt drawn and compelled to move to Scotland. The same thing happened to me. I was born and raised in Northern California but never felt like I belonged there. When my youngest son began college he chose a university in North Texas for Jazz studies. The first time we visited here I knew that I belonged in Texas not California. Nobody understood why I wanted to move here includeing my husband but…..2 years into my sons education we sold our home in CA and found an amazing home in Texas. I love it here and I finally feel at home after 50 years in California. As it turns out I have many native American reletives who live 45 min. from me in Texas that live in Oklahoma where my father was born and raised. I think my family was ment to be here and not in California. Well my story is not as dramatic as yours but it’s the same feeling that you have with Scotland. Good luck with your detective work.

    • Absolutely love your story Karen. The soul always knows…. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. xx

    • Diana Roberts

      I completely relate to your story. I moved to Texas because I always felt like I was born in the wrong place. I always felt like I should have been born in Texas. Now I would never move back to my home state of Alabama.

  • Kerri Schroeder

    I too feel Scotland in my soul. I live in Florida and had my DNA tested, it came back Irish, English and a little Scandinavian. My mom has Stuart, Craigo and Clarke on her side, Mary, Queen of Scots is a descendent. My dad is a Ferrell. I watch Outlander and have such a yearning to visit Scotland that is almost hurts. I just can’t imagine not visiting before my time on this earth is up. My niece and I were supposed to travel this year over there but life got in the way. Hoping to get there in the next couple of years. As I read your story I have tears in my eyes and my heart hurts. I just must visit Scotland and the Highlands and Isle of Skye. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    • Hi Kerri, thank you for sharing yours too. There are so many people out there with similar feelings, and I think you described it perfectly when you said your yearning to come here almost hurts. I hope that life finds a way to bring you here, I’m sure it will. When you come, do come and say hello. Let’s sit down and have a cuppa together. Wishing you a lovely weekend. x

  • Gloria Squires

    That is s lovely story thank you.

  • ali macrae

    No better way of getting answers than asking the natives

    • Yes, I’ve been speaking with a few of the descendants of those who lived here at the time to see if anyone knows what that little circle of trees might be. Will definitely share if I find out more. Put it this way, I am determined to find out more…

      • Maria Angelidou

        Wow the hairs on my arms are standing up!! What an amazing story & to think that you are right there where it all took place ??maybe the reason that you are meant to live here is that maybe in a past life you were there??thankyou for sharing your incredible story & will look forward to your next chapter!! Keep digging for the next instalment ❤️

        • I was definitely here in a past life Maria. I have very clear recollections of it. I was a man in that life, a Jacobite, and I stood here in this same spot, looking out over this same view. I remember fighting in the Battle of Culloden. I remember a great deal about that life-time. I’ve carried out past life regressions with clients in my work for the last 11 years, and it’s been incredible to see the stories that have unfolded. The soul knows much more than we are consciously aware of. I wrote about it on my website: https://outlanderpastlives.com/#myjourney

          • Carrie Wong

            So interesting. I have had past life regression as well and its amazing what the soul knows! Can’t wait to hear what you find out next!

          • It really is. Thank you Carrie. Will definitely post what I find.

  • Lesley

    Beautiful…you are blessed to live there and feel that connection…treasure and enjoy it x

  • Kelli Morris

    Blessed and Amazing ! Thank you so much for the information, “1746” live on in our ♡♡s
    You are in an amazing spot Kelly Rose

  • Sheri Bentley

    Goose bumps! What a great feeling to have a comrade in arms! I too always felt that pull and I live in the states. Wallace descent from Dundee. That’s so fantastic to read your story and what a great new beginning. Thanks for sharing!

  • Michelle

    I feel.the.same.pulling to Scotland . My 7th time great.grandfather was fromStewarton Aryshire.I cant wait.to come.to Scotland

  • wendy bell

    Thank you for sharing this moving story. I visited Culloden last year and could not stop crying. Very moved! How lucky (and smart) to be living in such a beautiful and important place.

  • Rosemary

    Watching the video of the circle of trees have me goosebumps. I can’t wait til I can come to Scotland the land of my ancestors to visit.

  • Chase


    your article is truly extraordinary 🙂 Thank you for all the research! Anyway I wanted to ask you, if it were an idea that you might liked to again plant some trees so that the circle returns. In rememberance of the old tree, maybe take saplings from it and also because I would like that.

    Kind regards


    • Hi Chase. Thank you for your comments and praise.
      Regarding planting trees – that is a great idea, however, the area on which we live is now a housing estate, so there is very limited opportunity.
      The local woodland and forests are managed by Forestry Commission Scotland and The Woodland Trust – who provide help and support for planting trees. So we feel it is best to support the work of organisations like these.
      Best wishes, Andy & Di

  • Lynn Elliott

    Glad to see the Elliott plaid still in use Diane. Just woven a Shepherds Plaid or Maud in the Elliott colours, you can see a video of it in production on the Blog page of http://www.elliottsshed.com.
    We may be heading to Harris later this year, ok to visit if you are about ? All the best Lynn

    • We would absolutely love to meet you guys!! Please let us know when you’re passing through Inverness.

  • Jan Randall

    This is so amazing Di. Thankyou for sharing where your lovely home is. I am from New Zealand and my Great Grandmother was Jane Cameron and immigrated to NZ IN THE 1800s. I’m so interested in anything regarding my past and absolutely love Outlander. I would love to come to Scotland and see where my ancestors lived. Thankyou for posting this.

  • Donna Chance

    This is fascinating to me. Your own story is a great Outlander story. Years ago I took the familytreedna.com genetic testing down to the mitochondrial level on the maternal line and the regular testing on the paternal line. The results show I am 76% Orcadian and other percentage English/Irish. I have always felt drawn to Scotland. I have been there three times, but only on coach tours. I chose the third tour because it went to the Isle of Skye and to the Orkney Islands. I felt I was going home to my roots. You mentioned you took people on tours. If I went back to Scotland again, what kind of tours could I take with you?

    • Hi Donna, our main tours are listed on our website here http://www.outlanderpastlives.com and we also offer bespoke tours – Clan based, Historic, Jacobite, North Coast 500, Golf, Whisky. We can put together an itinerary to cover whatever you’re looking for. Next month we’re running a part Outlander, part Clan based tour, with Golf added in for her hubby and a run on the Jacobite steam train.

  • Carrie Thompson

    What an amazing story. I can’t wait to travel to Scotland. Thank you for taking the time to share your research.

  • Debbie Miritello

    Diane, thanks for sharing, it’s all so interesting. I just love your story and I plan on doing your tour in 2021.

    • Thank you for your kind words Debbie. We hope that you will join us in 2021 and look very forward to meeting you. Wishing you a wonderful day, Di 🙂

  • Claire Russell

    I arrived home from Scotland yesterday! What a magical place, the sheer beauty of the highlands is spectacular.
    You’re right, the position of “Craigh Na Dun” near Kinnloch Rannoch is absolutely breathtaking, I also wonder why the tree formation is the way it is.
    We visited Culloden & I took my 12 year old son & really tried to emphasise the importance of exactly what had occurred on the boggy moor all those years ago & what they were fighting for.
    Scotland stole my heart & we‘ll definitely be back, bypassing London & heading straight to Edinburgh!

  • Rachel C

    I know exactly how you feel . I visited The Highlands and Culloden in 2007 and cried on the plane all the way back to the states. I still feel like I belong there but have never been able to get back. It still pulls me.

    • Yes, there is something that reaches deep into the soul and it never leaves.

  • Meenakshi Ramana

    simply fascinating to hear this ! The seven stones are probably buried somewhere inside the green mound. I was introduced to Scotland through Outlander . Sadly, this was after my visit to London.
    I have heard that there are more standing stones in Scotland and Ireland. You are lucky to have remembered your past memories and luckier to live in Scotland !

  • Robin Tuddin

    Thank you for sharing this Diane. It does make you wonder about the circle of trees. You have done so much research on the maps and wow isn’t it interesting. Your pull to this area is so strong and wonderful. You are so lucky to be living in highlands in Scotland. Both John and I feel a pull to the highlands and we will be back to do more research on his ancestors.


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