Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Jacobite Night March to Balblair

Weather has moved along, as it always does. But last week was an 'Indian Summer': pure blue skies each morning. I was inspired to get on my bike and found myself at Balblair, west of Nairn, where the Duke of Cumberland made his camp on the eve of the Battle of Culloden. Cows now graze contendedly where nervous soldiers once celebrated His Grace's Birthday, 15 April 1746. (The house is behind those trees).

That night Prince Charles Edward's Jacobite Army embarked on an ill-fated twelve mile night march, designed to catch government forces asleep in their tents (and realistically the last throw of the dice to save the 1745 Rising).

I remember night marches. Not easy. There was a constant accordion effect: either you were bumping into the man in front or you couldn't see where he had gone! That was in a companyof 100 men; imagine an army of 4,000 - tired, cold, hungry!

The guides were local clansmen, Macintosh men, but it was thick country (roads and houses were avoided) and a dark night. It seems they alerted government cavalry well beyond the camp, since when they got to Knockanbuie, some two miles from Balblair (and already badly behind schedule) they heard the sound of a distant drum. Colder, hungrier and more tired than ever, they marched back to Culloden Moor.

Last year a re-creation of the Night March  brought home the difficulty involved. It was led by Dr Tony Pollard and completed by only 12 of an original 20.

There's been no archaeological investigation at Balblair as yet, and to my knowledge there's only one artefact: a three pound cannonball found on the other side of the River Nairn, probably a test shot. And I am delighted to have held this lump of metal; it is handed round by Hugh Allison when he introduces clients on our 'Outlander Tour' to the weaponry of the period.

Next year's Outlander Tour details are now on the website.

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