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11 Apr 2022

Culloden Commemoration films

A gravestone stands beside a path on Culloden moor. The stone has lichen growing on it.
Enjoy a series of three talks from eminent archaeologists, authors, historians and more about the effects of Culloden on society, both then and now.

In Uncovering Culloden, Derek Alexander (Head of Archaeology for the National Trust for Scotland) and Professor Christopher Duffy (author of The ’45 and Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite ’45 Reconsidered) join Culloden’s Engagement Manager Katey Boal to discuss the recent archaeological dig on site and the new maps that have been drawn together.

Uncovering Culloden: Then and now


[Katey Boal]

Hello and welcome to a conversation with Derek Alexander, our Head of Archaeology here at the National Trust for Scotland, and Professor Christopher Duffy, an imminent historian and author of the seminal work: The '45 on, well, Culloden!

And we're really excited that you guys can join us and I think the exciting thing today is that we're going to talk a little bit about some work that's been happening, particularly some archaeology and a rethinking, in many ways, of the narrative around the battle and effectively where people were and what they were doing.

So I thought it would make the most sense for us to start with Derek, and if you can tell us a little bit about some of the work that's happened this year actually on the battlefield itself.

[Derek Alexander]

Yeah, ok. So this year, it was actually at the end of September / start of October, we did some archaeological fieldwork at Culloden. Basically, one of the areas that we wanted to look at was a field which is sort of behind the government deployment line, probably on their left flank, the left wing of where the infantry were deployed. And it's roughly in the area where, if you drive in to the Culloden visitor centre, it's on the left-hand side before you get to the car park. It's a field that sometimes gets used for events. It might get used in the future for overflow car parking, that sort of thing.

So it's never really been looked at from an archaeological point of view, so we wanted to do some work on the site because there's not been an awful lot done on the periphery around the margins of the battlefield itself. And we also wanted to take the opportunity to work with the ground staff and the rest of the staff at Culloden, to give them an idea of what archaeological fieldwork was like and what sort of opportunities for involving the public might be in the future.

So we chose a week in October, probably not the best time of year to do archaeological fieldwork but actually it wasn't too bad. There was one windy day when our gazebo became a casualty and it blew away! But apart from that, we had about 30 people over the course of the week, excavating test pits. That's essentially a small area, about a metre square each, and we spaced them out 5 metres apart, in a sort of grid 2 lines apart, almost like a unit of infantry, all nicely placed apart, and taking up probably about the full length of something like 80 metres altogether.

What we did was we took off the top soil. We sieved and excavated down through the top soil down to the subsoil below and recorded anything that was in it. All the soil's been mixed up over the years by ploughing, so it's not like we're going to be disturbing things. It's really a sampling strategy. It's not the most intensive way to do things but it can be a way that you can find objects that are not metal objects, so it gives you an idea of the types of things that you might find on the site.

So we did a week doing that, and really it's in the sort of area where we think, as I said at the start, where we probably think the left wing of the government troops, probably the second line of deployment, or maybe even the third line of deployment according to Christopher's maps. It's there or thereabouts. Probably somewhere close to where Ligonier's battalion was lined up at the start of the battle, and they may well have moved forward at some point to support Barrel's regiment to the front once the Jacobites collide with them.

We also did metal detecting, and that's a standard approach to archaeological investigation of battlefield sites. So, one of the members of staff at Culloden is a very good metal detectorist, and we had our own archaeological team with their metal detectors and we did a grid in the field. And that probably proved the most useful, like most of these things. The survival of metal artefacts is generally what marks the sort of deployment and engagement areas of battlefields in general, if you're doing archaeology. So this had never been done before in the area and we weren't sure what we were going to get.

It was really very much: let's have a look and see! And one of the things we got, one or two metal artefacts. We got a couple of iron horseshoes -- one of them's quite big actually, so it may be from an agricultural horse. And of course, this is the thing. It's difficult to tell all the time whether the objects you're finding are just things that are in the fields because people have been living and farming there for hundreds of years anyway, or whether it's related to that hour of engagement at the time of the battle. But of course the battle itself, we know how long that lasted but there was the sort of run-up to it beforehand. And obviously there would have been a certain amount of government troops hanging about on the site afterwards, looking after casualties, burying the dead, before moving on to Inverness; and there may well have been a unit left on the site, just to clear up anyway.

As well as the horseshoes, we got a number of little buckles, a piece of metal plate that could be some sort of copper -- difficult to see, some sort of copper alloy fitting -- but probably the two nicest finds were two musket balls, one of which had an impact scar. Not a great impact scar, it hadn't hit anything with any force, but the weight and the size of them suggest, I think, more that they're likely to be Jacobite-sized musket balls from some of the French muskets because they're slightly smaller. I need to get them checked to be sure, but it could well be. There's not an awful lot in the field; we didn't get hundreds of these sort of things. And when previously Tony Pollard had done work before in the Field of the English, there was literally hundreds of these things on the ground. So it's likely that you're getting a sort of filtering effect, and what's filtering them is in fact the front two lines of government troops. They are actually absorbing a lot of the musket fire and it's hitting there and falling down, or it's not getting through because it's getting stopped by solid bodies. But some of them are going to go over; some of them are going to go under, so you'll get a scatter of missed shots, I suppose, at the back.

So from our point of view, that's quite interesting because it's not a bit that we've looked at before and I think the idea will be, in the future, to look at other bits of the battlefield to try and get an idea of the density of scatter of remains. Now we've only done an initial survey of this area; we could go back and do more. We can go back and open up bigger areas and see whether that gets confirmed. So this is the first chance that we've had to do any battlefield archaeology on the site for quite some time.

The other thing we did find, we found one or two bits of pottery and things, the usual sort of thing. We found a fragment of a clay pipe, a clay tobacco pipe. And what was intriguing about that was it had the word London stamped onto the bowl of it, and that got me quite excited! I had this image of some soldier from London in a red coat, smoking his pipe or something on the way. But I sent it down to the guys, well a photograph, to the guys in the Museum of London just to see if they had any similar ones. And I think they're probably right, they said it's of a type from the stamp that probably is more likely to be 19th century. It's more likely to be somebody visiting the site at a later date, and of course it was found right beside the road, quite close to where the old road was running across the moor.


Still that's ... I was going to say, still that's an interesting thing because that has a tendency to tell a little bit about the tourism industry in and around, and the people moving up and down. And one of the things I wanted to interject that is really interesting, you were mentioning the musket balls and you said that you could tell that they were Jacobite musket balls. And for those people who are listening in, who are saying: how would you know that they're Jacobite or not Jacobite? I think what we need to clarify is the fact that the size and weight of the musket balls that come out of the French muskets, which we know the Jacobites had, are different than what the government soldiers have, and this is actually -- I wouldn't call it luck -- but it's an incredible tool in terms of looking at the archaeological evidence because you can look at a musket ball and you can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that it's likely that this musket ball came from the Jacobite side or the government side.


Yes, so size is important. I can never remember the actual size but it's like 16mm to 17mm. There's millimetres in it, isn't there Christopher?! It's not an exact science as ever, but it can be used. It's a nice way to look at it.

The final thing that I think we found during the excavation work in October last year was a single piece of flint, which is likely to be prehistoric and of course it's just a nice reminder that, in fact, there was thousands of years of history on this site prior to the battle. So when we're looking at archaeological remains, you have to take that into consideration. The sort of things that you're finding, and it's an interesting find in its own right, in that the Clava Cairns are just down the hill in the valley, and in fact probably there are remains of burial monuments and standing stones on Drummossie Moor in its widest sense. So it's quite a nice thing to have recovered at the same time, but there's a lot more to do.

It was just really nice to get back out onto the ground and to look at some of the areas that we hadn't really thought about before, and it just makes you think about looking back at how the troops deployed, where would they have been at the start of the engagement? And I know Christopher's really interested in that side of things from the mapping, and how they move out into their battle lines, how they deploy into the lines and then move forward, and where they would have been on the ground at that time. And it's something, I think, when you're out on site doing field work and standing on the ground digging holes and looking for artefacts, it does just make you sit and think about it again and say: well, what could have happened?

One of the things that always makes me think about when I'm out doing bits of fieldwork like that, especially at Culloden is just how big an area one of these infantry battalions or regiments -- a battalion would be a single unit -- how much ground it would have actually taken up. Three ranks, I think, three ranks deep. They were probably somewhere like 80 yards/80 metres long, so that's quite an extensive bit of ground. If you have all 400 guys standing there, it must have been quite impressive. And that was just one of the units, and you think of them all lined out across the moor.


It's difficult to picture, isn't it, when you think about the size and the scale of what the battle would have been like. And one of the disadvantages to only owning a core piece of the battlefield is that when we do our storytelling, people have a limited sense of the size and scale of the battle. And I think that's what's really interesting about Christopher's work, which we're going to come on to in a second, is that there's an opportunity to understand both the breadth and depth of the story of Culloden, just in terms of when you think about it in terms of where the men ranged across the landscape, how they used the landscape, and what impact and conclusions you can draw from that. I'm minded of hearing the story of, I believe it was Hugh Miller's grandfather, who stood on the hill outside of Cromarty and he heard the battle. And you think about that, the sounds. I often think about that, the sound that this battle would have had in a landscape that did not have cars, so a pre-industrial landscape. It would have been intense and frightening and overwhelming, and the smell ... I mean, it's a whole level that we're only just touching on. And we're really getting a better sense of it because of the maps. Now, Christopher, you had the opportunity to go and see Derek in action, didn't you? And that really helped you with some of your work.

[Christopher Duffy]

It helped me. I think it's the first time I've ever seen historians and archaeologists talking together! We exist in different universes and we got instant replies, one of the other, on questions which had been bugging us separately for years! And just to talk to the other side, they could give us the answer from our queries and it worked the other way around; it was such an atmosphere as well, absolutely stupendous.

And I think going back to that particular, I just was two days there last October, and I'll say they were the most enjoyable I've ever spent as a military historian. I'll go as far as that! And of particular interest to me was the geography of the site and the extent of the original Cuil Lodair, the yellow bog, which essentially defined how and where the battle was fought. And you're probably aware of William Roy's ordnance map, 1747-55, who shows the extent of the bog in very great detail, and it occurred to me, well let's look at the ground; is there anything left? Perhaps there might be just a slight activity in the ground or change in the vegetation. And particularly the beauty of the bog, which, according to his map, actually lies inside the Trust property. And this is very important because it threw out the direction of the Duke of Cumberland's march. He had to go much more to the south and west than he intended, then cut back until he found a patch of firm ground, which is where the archaeologists were.

Now, I went there in the delightful company of Cat McIntosh with an amazing vehicle, somewhere between a tractor and a tank! And we drove at great speed over the field, scattering the public left and right. She gives no mercy when she drives ... just fleeing out of the way! And I went with a small party. We started at the Well of the Dead, walking. And within I'd say 15 seconds, the party saw where the bog was. It's a distinct little valley, very much overgrown still at that time, and it corresponded exactly where William Roy described the bog as being. I heard last month that the turning of the vegetation by Shetland cows has continued and Cat sent a photograph of what's transpired. And the bog has essentially at that point reconstituted itself, complete with a stretch of clear water, doing exactly as it does on William Roy's map. I thought this work would take years to do, but this is not a peat bog. It's a very particular bog caused by an impermeable lower level in the earth. And the question arises, well, how much more of this bog is left on ground which we don't own? But this particular site is now, I well imagine, will be a very critical part of the visitor experience because it's really quite spectacular in physical terms. And this brings us on to ecology.

What kind of wildlife is going to be the first to turn up there? Plants, birds, animals perhaps. Fascinating -- the landscape is coming to life in front of our eyes. This is a wonderful experience, which seldom very often come the way of historians. It was great and that's just two days' visit! You can't ask better of two days than that.

My general approach to the whole business, I've been involved with the conservation at Culloden since about 1998 I suppose, and drawn umpteen editions of maps. And what's happening now is under real pressure of urgency, because just when we're at the point of learning so much more about Culloden, and Derek will tell us about the view shared and LiDAR scan, this is going to open a completely new dimension of the study, not just of Culloden but other battlefields. And historians are getting together with each other. We're finding new dimensions.

And just when all of this is taking off, we have the increasing threat of development. And this drives me absolutely mad, and the only answer to it I can see is, one of the only few answers I could see, is the long-term objective of actually acquiring land which is the only protection worth anything at all. We've had three conservation zones set up, the fourth is now being constructed, and they're worth very little. They certainly do not provide anything like legal protection for the site. What do we do? Well, one of the things we can do, what I've been striving to do, is say what happened in the battle on this particular patch of ground we're looking at, taking it in 100m chunks, what happened inside that 100 square metres. And this involves a massive amount of looking at every possible source, and the greatest single source I've found is the mapping of the time. There's a great variety of it; it's very hard work to squeeze the juice out of it but my god it's worth doing.

And it has proved possible, I believe, to perhaps say with pretty certainty over nine tenths of the owned battlefield, exactly what happened on a particular spot at the time of the battle. What would be the loss for our heritage to allow any development on that site? Because we've got to put up realistic, detailed and credible objections to developments as they occur. We need to meet them head on. On the positive side, precision guidance (we say) of what happened where on a battlefield will encourage research, excavations, new visitor trails, new aspects of presentation inside the visitor centre, which I'm sure you're considering, given all these new interventions. So, it's really precision history and geography which I think are going to be the key to success at Culloden.

Now, just on the bullets. I won't go into great detail. The Jacobites fired a lot of the French bullets. As Alexander says, it's just a mini kind of difference between them but they also fired a lot of British bullets, because they captured a hell of a lot of British muskets in previous battles. Must be about half of the muskets they had were British muskets firing British musket. So you can't actually say, well this is a British Hanoverian ball because it's the right calibre, because it might well have been fired by the Jacobites! And Lord George Murray is very interesting what he writes of the Jacobite fire. Now, we think of the Jacobites just going, just charging around with the swords and cutting people up, which they did the first round of that, even in the first line of the battle you have second and third ranks are the muskets. And the Lowlanders in the second round, they were armed with muskets also. Their fire could be very accurate, as was proved at Falkirk in January, their great victory. But Lord George Murray says: as the Jacobites charged at Culloden, everybody got in each other's way, so nobody had a really good, clear shot at the enemy; and you don't shoot accurately when you're running through bad ground! Your rifle or your musket's going to be waving all over the place, so this wild shooting is evident, I think, with what's just been found at Culloden. These balls which ended up in the Hanoverian second or third line, so it's all a consistent picture actually. We can all ... I think it's going to ...


Sorry Chris. I was just going to say I think it's really nice when historical evidence, primary and secondary source stuff, then complements what's found on the ground. And there are reasonable explanations. I mean, the thing about archaeology is that you're going for the reasonable explanation, aren't you Derek? You're doing the best you can with the information you have available, and it's really nice when there is a synergy between the two.


Yeah, yeah, it's good. I mean you've always got to remember with archaeology that it's been filtered down through so many different times in layers and the fact that you actually find it is the last bit of the ... so all the stuff that we don't know about is out there still as well, so you've got to be careful that you're not building too much of a hypothesis on some very flimsy evidence! I mean the idea is that we go back and test, and the more we do that, the better understanding we have. I like the interpretation of the fire being filtered and one or two missed shots getting through to the back, but that's something we could test at other locations around about and then start to build up an idea of the concentration of fire. So that would be really useful.


But I think the ... I'm sorry Christopher, I was just saying that I think that the interesting thing is using the maps that you've produced, because you've said that you've been going over the ground and you've been looking at things from a range of different angles, comparing and using what you've said to me is quite a forensic process in terms of exploring this new map that you've produced. And that will be incredibly helpful, won't it Derek? Because you can test the map but you can also see, if we start thinking about some of the periphery action which may or may not impact development but even just in terms of storytelling, looking at the periphery action it will be incredibly useful in terms of explaining to people from a personal level, explaining to people what happened where on the ground, how it impacted the people in the area, how it impacted the communities -- because for us it always has to come back to relevance -- and how it impacts the community today and our story of civil war. I think this can be a very useful tool. I don't know, what do you think Derek?


Absolutely. I mean, I understand getting a wider understanding about it. People tend to think of battles as we've got these maps that have got two lines drawn on them, and that's it. But you forget that of course the guys had to get there and then there's all the movement in between, so battles are fluid things. They're always changing, and of course the things that we're picking up off the ground some of the time are things that were dropped or fired. Now, if they're fired then that's fluid as well.

So actually having a distribution map of these things can be quite difficult to interpret, so the more we do on the periphery and the wider landscape, I think the better understanding that people will have of just how extensive the battlefield was and how mobile it was as well. So, a very useful thing. I was going to ask Christopher about the bog. I know it's on Roy's map; is it on any of the other maps?


It's on two of his maps, another one. He actually had a very close personal interest in the site. It's too faint to be reproduced in any publication. It gives us more detail on the bog but essentially presents them as they actually appear on his Ordnance Survey map.

The only other map which attempts to represent the bogs is by Joseph Yorke, who's one of the aide-de-camps of the Duke of Cumberland. And he presents them roughly in the area where we now know from Roy's map where they were, but in his map they look like strings of sausages. But he's the one, so he's got it right. The others give up. They have a generalised area of a sort of boggy marsh. Look carefully at them and there's hints as to where they do match William Roy's one.

But William Roy was a professionally trained draughtsman, according to the very high standards that had been reached in military map-making. And they paid very close attention in the 1740s, when they're drawing military maps, to draw in obstacles. And the prominence they're given in this map, we know that they were significant obstacles at the time of the map.

Now, one thing we are missing is very much a look at the estate maps of the estate as it went on through the late 18th century/19th century. Because the bogs were formed essentially by slow-moving stretches on the Red Burn, which was not an actual individual channel but a series of channels, water oozing very very slowly from the south-west to the north-east, so essentially the branches of the Red Burn are moving very very distinctly.

But just going back to the bullets, the kind of bullet we can say was definitely fired by the British, to use that term, was the split bullet. Where individual soldiers that would chop down through a bullet, lead musket ball, almost until it was completely cloven in two; load it as a normal bullet would be loaded but keep together in the barrel where it's fired. But when it left the barrel, it was separated -- two almost distinct lobes. So you get this sort of double bullet, two round sides; two flattened discs. And these were designed for very close range fire, and they're picked up by the excavation. A number were picked up in 2005 in Robin Turner's excavation. And these were designed to cause horrendous wounds at very close range. Now, these could be tested out with blocks of ballistic gel. You could actually test the effect on the human body, or the equivalent of a human body, of a musket ball, a standard musket ball, and the (I believe) considerably greater impact of the effect of one of these cloven muskets. And this could make a very big impact on the body, to imagine what the effect would be. There's so many things we can do with finding out, which could be quite dramatic.


Well, I think that actually makes ... I mean, that comment there's so much we can do, I think that brings us nicely back to you Derek and talking about where we are with the LiDAR, where we are with integrating Chris's maps into our decision-making process around where we're thinking about maybe digging next, what other sort of focuses we feel might work to tell the wider story of the site.


Well, in terms of the LiDAR, we're currently working with EOC Archaeology, who've got the LiDAR data to do more of the view shed analysis that we did. So that was basically taking the topography and the micro topography of the site and being able to look at the individual viewpoints from different positions on the battlefield. And the idea there is to really pick out what are the answers to the questions that we want; what are the questions we want to ask? Where do we want to have views from? What could you see if you were in the front line rank of the government troops? What could you see if you were in the second rank? And of course, the things you've got to be able to see is you forget that of course if you've got cavalry units, they're slightly higher; if you've got guys waving flags, they're slightly higher again. So there are gradients of what you can see from where. I mean, imagine that part of the bits of the Jacobite right wing could see the dragoons coming around through the enclosures; maybe they were completely out of sight before they came into view having knocked the walls down.

So getting an idea of those sort of things across the battlefield, and one of the ones that we've been looking at is the view from the position of the lone French gun that was towards the end of the battle, which was right at the south-east corner -- is that right, Christopher? -- south-east corner of the Culloden parks. And that's quite a good control point for us in terms of understanding the geography of the battle.

So yeah, there's so much we can do. I think we're really ... well, it's a classic archaeological thing isn't it? We're just scratching the surface. We're getting there now. There are so many different parts of the battlefield that we could look at; I suppose it's about prioritising. Often the things that we've done in the past are being led by development work or by putting in new roads, by moving the old road across -- that's something that was done in the past. The fact that the trees came off the big area of the main part of the battle in the 1980s, having been planted in the whatever it was, in the 1950s. So there are areas that we need to test, to see what the preservation is like in some of those areas that are less easy to explore archaeologically just because of the nature of the vegetation, so that's definitely something that we want to test in the future on our ground, on the National Trust for Scotland's ground.

Really, the world's your oyster in terms of which bits, but I think over time, doing wee bits more and more is something that we can do. Archaeology, one of the things obviously is it's a destructive process, so once you've done it, you can only do it once ... and it costs money to do, and it costs money to look after the artefacts once you've done it. So we have to think about it carefully and how much we do. But the other thing is, as Christopher has rightly pointed out, it's a really good way to engage members of the public. When they see it happening and come to either take part or want to talk about it out on the ground, there's something nice about being out in the landscape doing detective work, if you like. I think it brings it alive and it brings the arguments into sharp focus, I think, which is a really useful way to do it. So yeah, there's lots more to be done.


Yeah, I think that's the thing -- it's making the story relevant; it's making sure that people understand how this affects their lives or the stories that we tell affect their lives. It gives them an opportunity to engage with the site, which is from my perspective as Engagement Manager really exciting, but I think (like you say) you have to be strategic about it. You have to be thinking quite carefully; it can't be a potluck thing because archaeology is a destructive process, we want to make sure that we get the most information we can for the most sensible excavation that we can.

And the thing is, we want the Culloden story to keep giving. We want the Culloden story to evolve as well, and there will be new archaeological practices that happen in the next 10/15/20 years -- I mean, who knew LiDAR was going to be what it was?! Well, I'm sure somebody did! But in terms of tools to help understand our landscape -- and it is a living landscape, Christopher is absolutely right in pointing out how the landscape changes over time. It is very much grounded in the community that exists around it, so what we do and how we choose to do it will be reflected on the needs of our community and the stories that we want to explore more of, but I think this is a really exciting time for us.

I think there's an awful lot of movement in terms of trying to find out more, looking at the story that we have told for the past 10 years and seeing how we can update it, make sure it is an accurate story, or as accurate as we can be, because of course we are talking about 275-odd years ago, and making that something that reflects our changing understanding of history and the lenses that we look at history through.

So I think it's great. I'm really pleased that you guys were able to join me and have this conversation. It's been wonderful chatting with you. I hope those who are listening in today enjoyed the chat as much as I have, and I really look forward to seeing what happens next. And I'm sure there will be more to come!




So thank you again!


Thanks Katey; thanks very much.

In Conserving Culloden, Operations Manager Raoul Curtis Machin and Estate Manager Catriona McIntosh talk to members of the Culloden estate team about their ongoing work. They discuss the impact of the landscape of the battlefield, the sense of place and what day-to-day care looks like.

Conserving Culloden: The view from the field


[Raoul Curtis Machin]

We're here today to talk about the conservation of the battlefield itself. Now we appreciate that a lot of you haven't managed to get travelling and make it over here over the last couple of years, so we just want to explain what we've been up to really.

We started by making quite a large conservation management plan of the site, which looked at the big picture to start with and how we manage a complex site like this, including how we protect the battlefield, how we conserve the battlefield, and what we're aiming to do as a whole.

And really, the single aim is to turn it back to what it looked like, or as close as we can, get it to how it looked back in 1746. Now, appreciating that it's a never-ending job, that we are constantly trying to keep on top of trees and nature that's trying to regenerate every day of the week here, it's more a case of how we manage each part of it.

So having decided on our overall strategy for the battlefield, we then started to nail down into different zones of the physical landscape. And what we do each year then is come up with a plan for how we manage each zone and then we record what's worked, what hasn't. And that builds our future knowledge and the future of the plan.

So it's not designed to to be a whopping big document that sits on a shelf and gathers dust; it's a living, breathing plan that helps us understand more about how the ecology changes each year.

But of course the plan needs to be delivered, so I'm going to introduce you to Cat McIntosh, who's our Estate Manager. Cat's been in place a year now, having a fab time doing a fab job, and has had a baptism of fire with Covid, in terms of what we had to learn and how we had to cope. But Cat, how have you found it? Why don't you tell us in your own words?

[Catriona McIntosh]

It's been a really interesting first year. There's really not been any two days the same. I look after just over 71 hectares, which doesn't look massive on a map but when you're physically having to go around and look after the site with a small team, it's a big task!

We've got four different habitat types on site, which I quickly had to learn about. So I've come in with an archaeology brain and I've quickly had to to learn about this, and it's been really interesting the whole time. We've had a lot of changes happen in the last year. Behind us just now, if you visited pre-pandemic, you would have seen -- or even up until about a month ago -- you would have seen a big wooden fence running up this berm behind us. Now, this is a man-made feature -- it was put in when the new visitor centre was constructed -- and the idea was it was to represent that second line of the government army, because we're behind the first line. We had archaeology carried out in October of last year, and what was really exciting for me -- and I think for everyone! It got picked up massively in the press -- was we found two musket balls which look like they've been fired. Which means we think we now know where the second line is, and it's actually just over there. So we were a little bit off with the berm, but now we've identified where the second line is this landscape feature is almost a bit redundant.

A storm came through and blew half this huge wooden fence down and we wandered around for probably a week and a half going: Oh, it doesn't look too bad! So we've now completely removed the fence and just opened up this landscape, because part of the management plan and the Culloden 300 really is about these views and when you come here, getting that sense of place and seeing the landscape as a whole, rather than bits where things happened. So this fence has come down. It's made a huge, huge difference.

When you come into Culloden, when you arrive either on bus, a coach or by car or bicycle, it can feel quite clinical as you come in. And I think for me there was always that sense of: well, this isn't really part of the battlefield. So the next thing for us really is including it more in this landscape.

In the first year I had a handle on the animals -- I have a wonderful team that you guys will see throughout the film, they're incredibly dedicated and passionate and some of them have been here a very long time. Sam's been here over 10 years, so they've got this amazing continuity with looking after the landscape, knowing what's come before and how to apply that plan in a really practical way.

We've also developed a volunteer programme, and you'll see Lorna, one of our highly dedicated volunteers -- I think she's here probably five days a week most weeks. They help look after the animals, so it's been huge strides forward with looking after this place.

And we've got the Culloden Fighting Fund, or the Conserve Culloden Fund in the States, which is brilliant for us and hopefully, as you watch this film, you'll see some of the impacts that the fundraising has had on helping us clear the land, care for the animals and ultimately do things like this: help us take down the fence.


Cat, as well as bringing in volunteers and doing all this opening up of views, how about the schools programmes?


So I come from an engagement background as well as being an archaeologist, and I had really good relationships with some of our local schools. So for the first time ever, we have run a Rural Skills Schools Programme. (I'll get the words right!) We've got young people from Charleston Academy locally -- S3s and S4s -- they come up once a month each and they come out in all weathers. They were here yesterday in a horrendous snowstorm, and they look after the animals. And we're going to be continuing on with this in the future.

That Culloden Fighting Fund actually helps fund part of the school programme. One of the things -- we're not wearing them today but when we work on the battlefield -- we always wear hi-vis vests, so we're seeing it pay for all the PPE for these S3s and S4s, which is really handy. We've just come out or we are just going through a huge pandemic, and that's had a big impact on some of our local schools and money, so it's great that we can use it not only to protect here but to work with local communities too, and that engagement strand.


Yeah, absolutely. It's been fabulous to see the battlefield being used. Well, should we take a wander around and meet the team? See what you've been up to?


Excellent! Let's head off.

[Ellen Fogel Walker]

Rain, sleet or hail, these guys are out 365 days a year as part of our conservation grazing team. And who have you got with you, Rosanna?


I've got Glen. He's 30. He was a stag pony and he's basically here to be retired, but he still gets ridden. And Rosie over there is 16. They're both hardy breeds. Glen's a pure-bred Highland; Rosie's a cross-Highland. Rosie also gets ridden and she's also going to be used for land clearance, so we're getting a special harness made for her. She's going to be helping the boys clear the brush and the scrub, so the moor goes back to what it looked like at the time of the battle.


We have a very large herd of Shetland cows and Highland cows that help us. We have really close relationships with them and each one has their own personalities that help them shine through. What's more elusive, parts of our conservation grazing team are our goats. And they are quite playful, aren't they Lorna?


They're very playful, especially CJ. She is a cracker, a wee cracker, a beautiful little girl.


And even some of our cows think that they themselves are goats ...


Especially Flora, who you can see in the background. She's an absolute doll. She's such a timid beastie but yet she cares for human connections.


It's very rewarding work looking after the animals -- we all love it. As you can see, we're out in all weathers and it's lovely -- you've got to be an ardent animal lover to do it but all of us here definitely are. And the cows are doing a sterling job. They're eating all the gorse, the brush, the broom, stuff like that. The ponies in the summer go out on to the moor as well. So they all eat different parts of the vegetation.


I think the most important part is that we treat all the animals as part of our team. Like Lorna's saying, as part of the estate team, they form really important members of the team themselves. And without them, we couldn't do the work on a day-to-day basis.


How true ...

[Lorne MacLeod]

My name is Lorne MacLeod. I'm a member of the estate team here, and I work on the maintenance of the battlefield. And one of our projects as part of the Culloden 300 project is to have this battlefield looking like it did in 1746.

Up until the early 1980s, this was all forestry, and since then we've had to tackle the regeneration of vegetation. It's been an ongoing struggle. On the last year, walking down here, you would have struggled to see over the branches; you wouldn't have seen any of the views you're seeing now. In the space of seven months last year, we took this area and we just went through it: brush cutting, clearing, clearing all the brush to what you can see now -- we've got this area back to moorland.

Our Shetland cows are ideal for this job because they're suitable, because they're hardy and they're a self-sufficient breed who eat the coarse greenery: the hard brush and the wild grass. They're a good part of the team.

We also have a small number of goats who come along and they strip the bark for the cows to come along, trample down, creating new habitat.

For the volunteers, we use loppers, brush cutters, chainsaws for the bigger saplings. And going forward we tidy, we clean up, we use chipping machines to get rid of the branches.

Since a very young age, I've always had a fascination with the battlefield. And to work here now and look after the site in general and the livestock, I take a lot of pride in.


So, we're here by the great yellow bog now and the weather's really doing us proud at this moment. This, I believe, is exactly what it would have been like on 16 April 1746. This is a really exciting discovery for us here because the great yellow bog, we now know, dictated a lot of the troop deployments and actually quite a lot of the pivotal battle moments.

It was kept kind of like a secret kept in plain sight. It's always been here, but through the conservation project that we've had going on with the grazing, it's opened up this area and we're now going to incorporate it far more into our operations.

Anyway, Cat, can you tell us how we discovered this fabulous part of the landscape?


In October 2021, we had our first National Trust for Scotland archaeology week, which was really successful. And during that time Professor Christopher Duffy came to visit and we took him out in one of our ATVs on the battlefield. And as we were driving round, I pointed out this large body of water just behind me. And at that moment it all clicked into place for Professor Duffy and he was like: this could be the actual bog.

Now this is a landscape feature that's been here since the time of the battle, but just us clearing it and having the cattle come in and the horses come in has allowed us to see the shape of this landscape and then suddenly notice this body of water. So yeah, really well kept secret! It was just one of these things ... we were driving past and there it was!


And it's brilliant because it now means we can incorporate that into things like our battlefield tours. And you can give visitors a feeling because ... just have a look at it! I mean, it was virtually impenetrable. It was boggier than it is today back then and you couldn't even dream of walking across it, let alone run or charge through it.

So, by incorporating that into the tours we're going to give visitors a feeling for what it was actually like on the day. So please come back soon and you can come and see it for yourselves.

[Sam Elliot]

Hello! My name is Sam Elliot and for the past 13 and a half years I have worked outside here with the Estates team at the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre.

One of the many tasks that I've had a hand in developing over my years working here has been the grassland and, to an extent, wildlife habitat management. You may remember in the late 1990s and early 2000s that we had a flock of Hebridean sheep to graze on the 35 acres of grassland, and since then we've tried a variety of different ways to manage the grassland here, to various degrees of success. After that, for many years we actually left the grassland to do its own thing. And that was great from a biodiversity standpoint.

However, it did mean that there was an increase in invasive species, particularly ragwort, a particularly nasty plant that is poisonous to both humans and livestock. To combat this, we brought in a local farmer to cut the fields and bale them for his own livestock. This allowed us to keep on top of the ragwort and not only that but it let the grass regain some of the nutrients needed for better harvests in the future.

This changed when we got our own livestock in.

We decided that we were going to do our own baling, so myself and the former estate manager trained in the use of a two-wheel tractor. A fantastic wee bit of kit that allowed us to change the heads on it to do a variety of different jobs, meaning we could cut, turn, bale and wrap our own supply of bales, which we then used to feed our goats, our cows, and our ponies. The issue we had with that however was that with only two of us doing it and a lot of grassland to cut, it became a bit inefficient and the timeframe we had to do this was very limited.

This was because, as well, of nesting birds and other animals, particularly skylarks. Now skylarks have been in decline since the 1970s, to the point where they are now a red-listed species, meaning they are endangered. They like to nest in amongst the long grass, which means that here at Culloden it's perfect for them. So we can't obviously just go charging in with our baling equipment while they're still nesting; we have to wait until they are done and have left the nest, meaning our window is even smaller than it would normally have been.

To combat this, what we are looking to do in the future is introduce fenceless grazing with our cattle to help push what we're doing here at Culloden to a more ecologically friendly way of conservation.

So as you can see behind me, we have a long tree line there of gorse and birch. We're going to be bringing in contractors to come in and completely clear that area. That will make it so that this viewpoint here you'll be able to see right the way across to the Clan Donald path and the cairn as well.

I love my job working here. I love the satisfaction of seeing a project begin and end, and seeing the difference that you've made and knowing that you are making a difference to one of the more special places in Scotland.


This is probably the most iconic part of the battlefield. This is our Scheduled Ancient Monument area -- we have to be incredibly careful when we're conserving and caring for this part of the battlefield.

Since the start of the pandemic, we've done a little bit of work here, in particular along the desire line, which you can see behind me. We have over 300,000 visitors a year normally and this area bears the brunt of that footfall. When we're thinking about looking after it, there are certain rules that we need to abide by. And this comes from government-level. Things like not taking down trees and scrubs that have over 10cm diameter, but also we can't do anything that digs down into this ground.

So in the autumn of last year what we did was we laid some Terram matting and we put a light dust layer on top of this desire line. Other things that we've done here include tidying up around the Fraser stone, just to ensure that the ground can withstand that wear and tear. You'll also see behind me that we are beginning to drop some of the hedge line that surrounds the Scheduled Monument Area.

While we want to maintain this sense of place that's so important to people, we also want to make sure that we're keeping those big open views that were so important in the Culloden 300 report.

You'll have seen other team members and volunteers during this film; and all of this wouldn't be possible without their help. In the last year that I've been here, we've built our volunteer programme, we've had school groups coming in to assist, and it's been wonderful.

We're a really small team but the passion of our local community and wider groups means that they come and they help do this kind of thing. It's quite exciting actually to be able to turn up to work in all weathers and have this as a fixed point that people always know.


And Cat has been doing the most amazing job in her first year of opening up these views and just giving people a much bigger range over how far you can see across the battlefield.

And our plan here really, as we've said from the start, it's a never-ending job but we're trying to keep it as much as it looked back in the day of the battle. We'll never win against all the trees that keep trying to regenerate but using the animals, using volunteer help, using all the fantastic tools we've got here will really help us do this.

Now Cat, what are we thinking for the future then? What's next in the pipeline?


So next in the pipeline is we're going to keep going with our archaeological programme. We're putting in place a five-year plan with zones that we want to look at, where we can include our Trust archaeologists, external partners and of course volunteers. Because everyone loves to get a trowel out at the end of the day!

Other things that we're doing is looking at becoming more sustainable, because at the end of the day we're a conservation charity. So we're moving away from petrol and diesel, and looking at more sustainable electric sources for things like our electric gator that's currently on order -- we're very excited about this.

The animals, we're going to keep where we're at with them, but again just that care and passion for looking after them and using them as part of the visitor experience will always be a huge thing for us too.

But ultimately it's down to visitor enjoyment. We want people to come here, feel passionate and just enjoy being in this space and absorb the history and how important this site is.


Well, thanks Cat, and thanks everybody. We can't do this work without you, all the conservation grazing work, all the fantastic work we've been doing on scrub clearance, all the research, all the archaeology -- it's all done with your help and it just means the world to all of us to know that you're supporting us in doing this work for you.

Please, if you can, we're always happy to accept more donations.

The Culloden Fighting Fund is going from strength to strength, and we really want to use that money to do more school groups, more educational work and more research. So we look forward to seeing you soon and hopefully the sun will be out and the weather will be a bit calmer than it is today! Thank you.

Culloden’s Fighting Fund

In Talking Tartan, we hear from Andrew Mackenzie (Head of Old Master Paintings at Bonhams) and Clare Campbell (owner-founder and driving force behind Prickly Thistle Tartan), as they share with Caitlin Greig (Visitor Services Supervisor in Engagement) their thoughts about both the history of the tartan and the future of weaving this fabric in this interesting and engaging talk.

Talking tartan


[Caitlin Greig]

All right. Hello ladies and gentlemen. I'm here today talking to Andrew Mackenzie and Clare Campbell. Today we are going to be doing some talking about tartan.

Andrew Mackenzie is the director and head of the Old Masters paintings department at Bonham's auction house in London and is also on the committee for the Clan Mackenzie Society for Scotland and the UK and an amateur historian who's written the history of the Clan Mackenzie.

Clare is an industry-disrupting, sustainable tartan design and manufacturing leader in business right here in the Scottish Highlands. She is the director behind Prickly Thistle Ltd, which is based just across the Black Isle from us here at Culloden.

I'm going to head first off to Andrew, if you don't mind, and we'll get started.


Ok. I just wanted to talk about the history of tartan and in particular I wanted to challenge two of the more widely held misconceptions about tartan.

The first being the broad statement that tartan was banned in 1746, as a response to the Jacobite rebellion.

And the second is the common assumption that clan tartans were invented for George IV's visit to Scotland in 1822, which happens to be the bicentenary this year.

In both cases there are elements of truth behind these ideas, but the historical reality is a little more complicated than that.

Tartan did have associations with Jacobitism, and it's certainly the case that Bonnie Prince Charlie, as you can see here, Bonnie Prince Charlie was commonly portrayed wearing tartan in order to emphasise his Stuart ancestry in Jacobite propaganda, such as in this portrait by William Mosman. This was clearly to shore up his military support in the Highlands.

And yet we also find the future Hanoverian King George III wearing tartan in this portrait of the children of Frederick, Prince of Wales by the artist Barthélemy du Pan in 1747, shortly after Culloden, when officially people have suggested tartan was banned. And you can see he's the guy holding the bow and arrow on the right-hand side, second from the right, and he's wearing a tartan outfit there.

And in 1765 in this portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds of John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore he's in the dress of a traditional Highlander, even though wearing such clothing was banned by the Act of Proscription in 1747.

Certainly, as was so often the case, the gentry classes were able to get away with what was unacceptable when it came to lesser mortals, but it is a misconception that tartan was banned altogether. In fact, the Act for the Abolition and Proscription of the Highland Dress stated, and I quote:

That from and after the first day of August 1747, no man or boy within that part of Great Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed in his majesty's forces, shall on any pretence whatsoever wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes. That is to say, the plaid fillibeg or little kilt, trews, shoulder belts, any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for great coats or for upper coats.

So it's actually that last clause: 'no tartan or party-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for great coats or for upper coats' which is the crucial part. It's also important to note that it states no man or boy, so women weren't affected by the Act and they could go on wearing tartan, in any form. And also, the Act of Repeal in 1782, which lifted the ban, doesn't even mention tartan. It just says you can now wear the kilt and the trews again, and dress in the manly garb of your forefathers.

And yet equally, you often hear that the bagpipes and Gaelic were banned by the Act of Proscription too, which equally is nonsense. But, none of this is to ignore the fact that the Act was extremely unpopular in the Highlands, which is probably what led to this misconception. And it drew a lot of protests from across the political spectrum, especially because the law was applied indiscriminately and didn't allow an exception for so-called Whigs who were government supporters, and those in the Highlands who'd supported the government in general, for whom Highland dress was equally part of their traditional culture and costume.

Secondly, going on to address the slightly controversial issue of clan tartans and when they really started. By the early 19th century, tartan had suddenly become, largely through the influence of Sir Walter Scott, a symbol of pan-Scottish identity, not just Highland identity but Scottish identity across the board, as had the kilt. In fact, Scott urged everybody in Scotland to turn out to see the king wearing their 'true clan tartan' when George IV visited the country in 1822, when he was the first reigning monarch to do so in 200 years.

It's true that most of today's known clan tartans were invented by weavers and revisionist authors using fabricated, so-called historic sources in the early 19th century. John Sobieski Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart, who claimed to be descendants of Bonnie Prince Charlie in their 1840 book Vestiarium Scotticum, invented a whole load of tartans for Lowland families like the Humes and the Lauders, who would never have been wearing tartan historically before then.

That's not to say that some of these tartans should be dismissed as wholly invented tradition. All traditions have to start somewhere and if we were taking insistence on historical authenticity to its logical conclusion, the only truly authentic dress of our ancestors would be none at all.

I know from the example of my own clan's tartan that there is undoubted evidence for genuinely authentic regional tartans that would have distinguished the dress of different clans, even if not in the precise patterns we recognise today.

So this portrait of Lieutenant John Mackenzie, the son of the Canadian explorer the Honourable Roderick Mackenzie, shows him wearing not what anyone would recognise today as Mackenzie tartan, but what's been described as the old lost Mackenzie pattern, which is thought to have been predominantly red and green and was very similar to those now used by the clan Rosses and Macraes.

The next slide shows the current day Ross tartan, which as you see is not dissimilar to Lieutenant John's tartan. But after the subsequent predominantly green form of the tartan was used to overlay the Black Watch pattern in 1778 -- this is the next slide, so this shows the current day Mackenzie tartan -- after the predominantly green form of the tartan was used to overlay the Black Watch pattern in 1778 to form the uniform of the MacLeod and Seaforth Highlanders it was that design that came to be adopted by civilian members of the clan, as shown here.

Like a number of current clan tartans, the Mackenzies' tartan as we know it today is thus a military tartan that was developed by the Mackenzie Lord MacLeod 73rd Highland Regiment and continued later by the Seaforth Highlanders, which was taken from the early version of the Black Watch and had black, white and red lines added. In fact, most clan tartans today were developed since the military Highland Independent Companies introduced the idea of using the pattern for identity between 1725 and 1739. Similarly, the Gordons 92nd Regiment, if you'd show the next slide here, that had yellow, but the regiment had yellow facings on their uniforms and so they added a yellow stripe to the Black Watch tartan.

So this is the Black Watch tartan without the yellow stripe, and then the next slide shows the Gordon tartan which adds the yellow stripe, so rather like the Mackenzie one but a yellow stripe instead of a red one.

As I say, the tradition isn't ancient, but then every tradition has to start at some point. I do think it's not ... a lot of English people sneer at the idea of clan tartans as a total modern invention but I just hope I've shown here that there is a degree of authenticity in some of the original clan tartans. I think they could be worn with more historical pride than some people might suggest.


Absolutely! Thank you very much for that. I think that there's a lot of ... when you look at Scottish history, there's a lot blamed on the Victorians and Romanticism and over-exaggerations of certain aspects of history, but there is a history behind those. These things come from somewhere, and that's what we do our very best to share and to show to people. So thank you so much for that, Andrew. I'm going to pass over to Clare now.

We've had a look at the history of tartan, and we're now going to go into a much brighter future and to the tartan rebels of Prickly Thistle.


Oh gosh! Thank you Caitlin! So yes, my name's Clare Campbell, and as Caitlin says I operate the only mill currently in the Highland region, just a few miles from the battlefield itself, about 20 miles north-east.

So, I started Prickly Thistle and very much inspired and still learning on the history side of things, but what's really inspired our business and our journey is the sentiment of those emotions to really never give up and fight for what you believe in. And that continued quite significantly in the last four years.

So Prickly Thistle is more of the present and the future with regards to this great fabric of our nation that the world loves, all over. It's iconic.

Where was tartan first found? Was it Scotland? Was it elsewhere? But certainly we've adopted it and we have this amazing story that we see on Hollywood films ... you name it -- it's all covered. Where we might be considered running alongside this story, this anniversary of 276 years, is we wanted to bring back weaving of tartan to the Highland region. And much of that is the whole perception that it's the ancestral home: it's Highland dress, it's the Highland garb. If you look back at some of these old documents, the Highland word very much features: Highland games, Highland dancing ... it's there.

For me, it was really important looking around circa 2015, not 17th or 18th/19th century but circa 2015, I wanted to contribute to a sector, an economic contributor, a community maker craft that was the weaving of textiles in Scotland, because just a few hundred years ago there was seven out of ten people involved in textiles. Now it is one of the smallest sectors of our country.

For me to bring that back, I was inspired by the sort of funding or fundraising methods of the past -- and that was crowdfunding! We used to do this many, many centuries ago. Price printers would sell advanced copies of their books, and that money would be used to help them invest and put things into production. So we did crowdfunding in the 21st century. We sold a collection in advance of delivering of it, and we had people from all over the world support us. And we created this design called Blackhouse Mill.

Crowdfunding was what got us off the ground. In the 21st century, tartan and politics go hand in hand. Whether it was considered an investable sector within Scotland was debatable in 2015. Working with financial service authorities or banks, investments etc, nobody really saw much point in doing this, but we continued regardless. It was really important to bring back weaving to the Highland region and just a few miles from Culloden itself. So, our narrative -- and we have many, many banner statements, shall we say -- is where we very much want to disrupt the past, but it's to change the future.

And for us tartan -- and yes the myths, the legends, what's truth, what's lies -- I think for us, we want to just embody the good, human, positive aspect of tartan. And it's really that whole piece that's centred around the fabric of identity and the fabric of integrity. And that's the two aspects that we absolutely love and we want to champion going forward.

What will they say in 200 years? We hope there's a continuation of how great this fabric is and how it inspires people to rally together, unite together. We can think of football teams and their strips; this is another way of identifying groups. But it's really about integrity as well. So, our learnings from the past -- as I say, I'm not a huge historian on all of the history there -- but having spent a couple of years looking at the history of tartan and looking at the economic impact of tartan, it's inspired what we do.

So I want to cover a couple of headings here to share with everybody. Not political at all but what I absolutely love and we're very, very proud to do today is really talking about living with the land. So you think back to the times of Culloden, these fabrics would have been made with 100% natural fibres they would have sourced literally on their doorstep. And the natural dyes, I know they'd be aware of more global trading there and dyes being imported from overseas, but it's very much living with the land. So this is learning from the past.

And for us, living with the land and the natural materials is very much what we try to champion today, so we want to be the parallel -- we talk about the past but we hope we're talking about the future. And I think that's in the context of how hugely damaging fabrics are globally -- it's the second most polluting industry with regards to environmental destruction and also modern slavery, just in the world of fast fashion and interior fabrics and things like that. Living with the land, which we did in the past, we have remembered and we very much champion that here along the road from Culloden, that we want to work with all of these beautiful natural materials.

And there's lots that we're doing around that: trying to work with Scottish Government and various agencies to stimulate economic recovery but to stimulate some really important jobs for the future, in the context of it being one of the most polluting sectors globally and the UK in particular. We're not very good at buying stuff made in our own country anymore. We seem to buy overseas and then dispose off into another country, so living with the land.

The other aspect of our business that's inspired by the past is really that respect for the skilled craftsmanship. So when you think about Culloden, and we think about those times pre- and post-Culloden, we had probably benefitted from the runaway train that has maybe been industrial revolution, or the digital revolution. It was very much championing and respecting creating workplaces that were very much focused on people.

And that's something we, as a modern business in the 21st century, really want to inspire people to think about again. We sit in the 21st century, as I say, looking at just transition, how do we deal with employment and oil and gas -- that's a big industry specific to Scotland, in this century. So for me, it's showing how we can create a business that was what we did before that was very much about creating jobs for people and it is a viable model going forward, so again inspired by the past and that's very much how these fabrics were made.

Admittedly, we're not right down on hand weaving; we're not hand spinning -- but we do have the absolute joy of working with century-old looms. And this is going back to the early 20th-century engineering, when things were built to last. There was no computers; they were not designing in obsolescence. These machines are absolutely incredible and they're a joy to actually work with. The skilled handle of people is really a core focus of ours to create employment within community. And going back to the historical piece about that, there would have been weavers in every town, village and gathering, creating fabrics for everyone in the vicinity. So for us it's about creating that employment, and the more labour-respectful we are, the more jobs we make, which is really, really important.

The other area to look at for us was protecting the planet, so maybe not quite something that was very much in the forefront of everybody's mind in the late 1700s, but the parallel we run along with that is the bravery and the courage that individuals had to really stand up for what they believe in -- and forget the subject matter -- but that whole human spirit to come together and be prepared to stand for something they really believe in is something that we belong to as a business in a community that's actually global now.

So this is the whole concept of there is a realisation and awakening that actually, within the textiles world, 60% of all fabrics are made of oil; only 1% of all fabrics are recycled; the shocking amounts that are actually never, ever worn; the environmental destruction; the modern slavery -- it's really not a great space at this point in time. So for us, we take the parallel of the past, and we're creating tartans that really are our calling card, our clan system, our clan colours where we pull people together globally to say that we all want to fight and stand against this aspect, which is really about doing our bit for the planet and for people globally.

So yes, we're not talking about the subject matter of that battle that day, but we do believe there's an even bigger battle, which is a huge threat to humanity. So we feel very, very proud that we are based in the Highlands and we have this incredible story of courage, an incredible story of heartache, failure, romance, but it very much has allowed us as a small business within Scotland to have this incredible amount of warmth shared to us, and support shared to us, just by taking those principles of being and spirit. So that global aberration is huge, and it's one of the up sides -- there are silver linings in every cloud -- but we think about the Clearances and things that came after that; we've just seen this massive diaspora created all around the world where people have this kind of home connection, and it's been hugely important to our community, our business in terms of us wanting to bring this back to this region. Their ancestral connections have been a huge part of their motivation to support us so we have that to thank for!

So what Culloden means to us is it really inspires us to have the courage to make a difference. As I say, I don't really talk about the political side, but it's interesting that as a tartan brand we do find that sometimes we do get involved with politicians! So we're keeping some sort true to the story of the past for the future, but the fabric world we very much challenge our politicians with regards to natural fibres, with regards to even protecting tartan a little bit more in the sense of that integrity and the transparency around where it's woven.

We have very loose frameworks around identifying when something's been made, woven, dyed, is the raw material source in Scotland? And tartan, despite having only just recently got an Act of Parliament put in place in 2008 which established the Tartan Register, which is managed at Register House in Edinburgh. And all of these tartan registrations that Andrew was talking about -- there's multiple, infinite sources and theories behind when they first came to be -- but all of these tartans are registered along with our births, deaths and marriages in our country. It's such a significant part of our cultural history and cultural future.

So for us politically, I think tartan wouldn't be tartan if you didn't get involved in some of these things.

So for me, my background, I'm not creative in the slightest in some sense. I trained as a chartered accountant, but I was very lucky to learn a lot about economics and learn a lot about contributions and strategies and crossovers and things. So I feel that tartan is something that we should be doing more with, and fabrics absolutely is something as a country we should really embrace again, given that we were so invested in that area and we've got this big challenge ahead of us, which is the fabric of the planet now.

But yes, so politically we like to write a little bit of history, where we'll challenge things around for example COVID 19, masks and things like that. It was lovely to see tartan printed on masks, but I was sucking in my breath there, because you can be guaranteed that was made of polyester, and I was not a happy Highlander when I saw COP26 tartan on a polyester mask! So we challenge that, we challenge that. We're kind and we're very respectful, but one of the things I'm very proud of what we do in the Highlands is that we go with solutions to the government. We go and we'll ask the awkward questions. We're called Prickly Thistle; we might make certain issues prickly because some things need to be answered and some things need to be addressed. So masks is one thing that we've not let go and we're still pursuing on that, but it was just symbolic of our times when it was another form of plastic waste and we had our COP26 running alongside it.

And other aspects we challenge on ... So we pride ourselves in a little bit of activism at Prickly Thistle and and I hope that we never, ever stop that because I think to do the right thing is the right thing, and that's why we came to be in the first place. But I mean, essentially with Prickly Thistle, many, many people ask us: you're starting a textiles business ... it's 2022 now!

But when we started, people could in the very beginning not quite understand why would we go with these old looms. Why would we do something that was so labour intensive? Why would you even try to go into a sector that actually had been hit with such economic challenges and we've seen so many businesses closed down? And I think for me it was about that identity, legacy and the integrity piece, that is just what Andrew was talking about: whether you're more inclined ... you love the story of thinking about the ban of tartan, what did that really mean and the interpretation of it?

And then the clan system ... but it's such a romance, such a talking piece. For us, it was to carry on in some respects a continuation of the conversation. I think it would be a shame that tartan had such a massive part of our history as a nation, but also globally because of the diaspora, that we didn't continue doing something special with it, because that's a very widely known story. And I think it was important that we could do that back from the Highlands. Where you take that and, in the context of our business, why we've chosen to go a more labour-intensive route, which created more jobs, which created skills, we've chosen to work with ancient looms that actually are not high-speed, mass-manufacturing pieces of equipment, we're very much remembering the past and knowing it was worse, by creating fabrics in a slow way.

We all consume too much. We all have too much stuff. And when we think of the times of Culloden we were living very modest lives and we probably appreciated things more. There's a lot of remembering from that period I think that the world would benefit from.

So yes, so here not only do we just weave those fabrics of integrity, we like to create some really amazing clothing. And I'm so pleased when Andrew was speaking about the repeal and the wording within the Act of Proscription that they did not use the word fashion, per se; it was clothing, which is music to my ears. We have a problem with the word fashion right now because it's fast fashion, and it breaks our heart to hear people say I'm not fashionable, I can't wear this, or she's very fashionable ... And it's how that world, if you like, in the last 50 years has been hugely destructive to people and their confidence.

So we want to be that clothing company that makes people feel amazing because they're wearing something that is symbolic of their sense of pride for planet and people; also their rebelliousness in the sense that they're slight activists. They will say things when they think there's something not quite right, but they'll say it kindly -- you don't need armour, we don't need any weapons to do that. We can absolutely just ask them why are they behind that plastic, polyester jumper when they should really be looking at a lovely natural fibre one, or going into a second-hand shop.

So for us, the continuation is that we just want to make this amazing clothing that really is about getting people to be more conscious in their consumption but really restoring the world to a beautiful, oil-free fabric state and making things with zero waste, so we challenge and be inspired by the great culturalist if anything and challenge the modern making of garments.

Throughout the times from pre-Culloden, post-Culloden, huge amazing pieces of fabric would have been created. I now know how difficult that is. Also, to be fair, they probably had it harder than me and they've maybe not been in a warm, dry place. They would have not had the benefits of modern lighting, but in the beginning it was really, really difficult. But we really had this massive respect for what it takes to make fabric in a kinder way, so we can totally understand when they would have this amazing piece of fabric rolled off their loom, waulked, prepared and everything -- they would not be wasting that. They would not be cutting around lines per se willy-nilly to get maybe a slightly more flattering line of vanity in many respects.

We love that they would take great pieces of cloth and they would be using the origami tactics, the fabric manipulation that people are aware of today to create garments that had multi-sizing; they had multi-use. They reused this fabric over and over and over again; they would never just do the fast fashion traits that we see today where we just say: well, we'll just buy another one; we'll just order one online that will be delivered tomorrow. We love the fact that they really designed out ways to maximise the respect for that fabric, the person who made it. And that's what we do with our new form, if you like, of that Highland clothing that they talked about all those years ago. We're hopefully bringing that back but making it relevant and relatable to the world we live in.

So yes, that's something we like to champion and we like to champion and push that within Scotland itself, the cultural appropriation perhaps of that story. I think Scotland, to not do a disservice to that past, I think is where we can use natural fibres, we can make things more authentically and create products that were built to last. I think that's as much as part of the story as to the identification of the tartan.

One other final thing before we get to have a good chat between all three of us is that one thing we were very, very aware of, well I was in particular, when it comes to the clan tartans, it's not something we weave. And there's no controversial rationale or reason behind it, but the clan tartans have been such a huge 'bread and butter' aspect of the mills that are modern and still in existence today. Having got to know all of these weavers and mill owners and understanding this chequered story -- what is true and what is not true -- so basically Stuarts coming to Lord Lovat, coming to Cromarty.

How much is real? How much is just a copy of some? How entrepreneurial were these brothers? But for us it was really, really important that when we came into the sector, we were going to be the Highlanders with this degree of honour that we came in and we wanted to contribute and grow a sector that the world loves us for. I'm quite shocked to find how small it is. We don't weave clan tartans because, these other businesses, that was their mainstay. Talking about clan gatherings, talking about Highland games, talking about traditions around St Andrew's Days, Burns Suppers, weddings, ceilidhs, Hogmanay -- hugely important to so many people, and these businesses really relied on those events and those emotional connections to exist.

So we have a Highlander's honour, and anyone that ever has asked us for a clan tartan, we refer them to the mills that we know is making them. And we want to add to the story, so our line is very much what will they say in 200 years. But we hope that when we talk about the Highlands of Scotland, we talk about the people near Culloden in the 18th century, this is what happened with tartan. But in the 21st century there was another bunch of Highlanders, and this is the positive difference they tried to make in the world. The parallels are there but we are very much about the symbol of integrity and identity, so we're using that banner to call people together and say we all care about the next 200 years and how amazing would it be that tartan has that as a little add-on to the story that it very much rallied people and a call to arms for something really, really important that is a sign of our time. So that's what we do!


Thank you so much for that, Clare. It's fascinating to hear you talk about the mill and the story of Prickly Thistle as well. Taking a little bit about what you've both been speaking about, there has been a huge resurgence in the story of tartan in the last few years. Previously it had very much been used as a kind of commercial tactic to sell Scotland, and something that I really love is the fact that in the last few years, and I know that you've been a huge part of this Clare, is that the real story of how tartan is made and what it's meant to the people of Scotland and the people of the Highlands has come about.

How much ... this is a slightly random question, a slightly weird one to put ... but how much of that story do you think is still out there to be discovered yet? And I'll put it to both of you just to see what we get!


Do you want me to start? Will I go Andrew?


Just un-muted myself! Please go ahead!


Yeah, so how much of the history has been undiscovered? Well, we know we definitely didn't have Google Drive and Dropbox, Excel spreadsheets of recipes for things and what have you, but for me I always find it fascinating that there was a considerable period of time between the Act of Proscription and the repeal. What did that mean to the community's passion for something ... and always the devil's in the detail, around actually what was banned and what was not, and for whom within society that affected. It was quite a considerable amount of time -- I think nearly 40 years wasn't it? -- that there was partial bans, shall we say. So I do think if people had passion in spaces and could no longer be part of it for fear of what might happen to them, I think we probably have got a lot of history we might never know about.

I do tongue-in-cheek joke when we have people come to visit the mill and say: well, we're in the Highlands, what would my ancestors do? So where we don't per se weave clan tartans, other than respect for the current sector and all of the other people that existed before us in the space, was we mix yarns up. We have different slubs and different thicknesses in our fabrics and we do different patterns. I think everything being a very symmetrical twill density, super squared and balanced, I don't think would have been the case. So we weave tartans that have got depth, they've got body, they've got fun, they've got mistakes -- but I think that's definitely more symbolic of how things were, but we are going back a little bit of time.

I like to think that we, tongue-in-cheek, are maybe the closest to a Highland tartan you'll ever get from pre-Culloden.


Thank you! Andrew?


Yeah, well in history there's always new debate. People argue with each other and have strong opinions, so that I don't think there'll ever be any reason to stop talking about it. As with documents, people discover new documents; no doubt people will discover original bits of tartan cloth which will change the story and also that, as time goes by, the story of tartan will change.

I mean an obvious area to me is probably the sort of fashion for punks to wear tartan. You mentioned rebellion and that's an obvious association of rebellion there. I'm no fashion expert but it went through my mind. I suspect that's the reason why punks chose tartan to wear, so yeah history never, never finishes. I know that for sure.


Thank you! You spoke about ... oh let me find it in my notes because I know I put it down here ... you spoke about the repeal never mentioning women or children in the removal of tartan as a piece of everyday dress.

There are obviously some very famous examples of plaids which have been adapted into clothing, for example the Isabella McTavish Fraser wedding dress which sits in Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, which is famously a nine-yard plaid which was made into a wedding dress for the the Fraser family.

Do you suspect that there are more pieces of more original tartans, like that, surviving than we suspect?


I see no reason why not. As someone who works in the auction world, I'm certainly aware of pieces of tartan cloth coming up for sale which have been in people's attics or collections which nobody frankly knows about, so there's always scope for discoveries.


I personally also find fascinating the differences between the ... taking the McTavish wedding dress as an example, it's known for its bright red colour and it's green; it's a very vivid and vibrant and expensive piece of cloth that had been produced for a specific family. I find fascinating the parallels between these massive and expensive pieces of cloth and the everyday pieces of cloth that everyday Highlanders would be wearing, and the differences in the potential colours and patterns and tones that would have been used within these pieces.

What would be, or what would the thought be, behind the patterns that would have been available to weavers who were making these everyday pieces of cloth, rather than the larger pieces that maybe are more recognisable today?


Well, it's certainly the case that red was a status symbol. It was a more expensive dye so it's rather like the Romans wearing purple as a status symbol because of the expense of it. So you often get, particularly in the 18th century, the noblemen were often painted wearing red tartans, whereas the lower orders had much more muted earthy pigments, which were basically cheaper to produce.




Yeah, no absolutely. It was very much symbolic of status, wasn't it? And having the wealth to have that more expensive cloth in red because it was an imported base colour. But yeah, they would have just historically been very much living with the land, and this is what we're trying to do with Prickly Thistle a lot more: to see more natural dyes coming in and to see more use of just the natural fibre on its own.

You've got some great coloured woolly jumpers out there that sheep are just road testing for us all! From the ranges of a very light, ecru white to black, dark brown. So all these blends in between, so we would have seen certainly through the tonal of blacks, charcoals, greys and various browns come in, but they would have worked on this. They would have used the flora and fauna that was very close to them, north, west, south, east etc, coastal, Highlands -- but we would very much like to see that come back.

I mean, the world we live in today, certainly it's really thinking about the environmental impact. So as much as there is chemical dyes in existence, depending on where chemical dyes are used, in countries where they have strong environmental protection agencies -- for example we have SEPA -- so where you're working within very controlled situations, you're not causing damage to the planet. But I think seeing more of that, embracing that nature would be a beautiful thing and also for us. I mean, there you go!

Status back in the 18th century was very much clear. We have the same challenges today by trying to segregate society into different classes -- if you wear a certain brand, if you wear a certain fabric, whether it's man-made or whether it's animal or plant, it was another status piece. But it's something that we like to try and challenge. As a business now, we're picking that as our battle: the kind of fast fashion and even to the extremes of luxury. What does that mean? And how that really tries to present a huge barrier to the UN SDG goals, which we find are very much core to our being about inclusiveness, about creating equality within society.

And I think globally we are so connected, that we share this one planet with everybody now. So it's funny how fashion's always been ... as I would say fashion, it was the dress code of a rebel; they're absolutely the punks were there. But I think it'd be just fascinating to see tartan and its story and its history really inspire how we can start seeing more equality, and changing huge issues certainly. But we've got a few hundred years of hope to give it a bash!

It's interesting -- the status piece and how tartan, I mean tartan itself has still been used as status. You think of some really famous designers worldwide who have used it: Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Camel Thomson tartan, if I believe so? There's some really in the world of fashion, but it's where we are now. We're trying to unravel the whole supply chain; we're trying to unravel the integrity, the honesty behind that, because so many people see a piece of tartan and they think it's made in Scotland.

And for it not to be made in Scotland is absolutely fine, but I think we just need to be a little bit clearer about it, because people do buy based on provenance. They do buy based on place and the perception of people. And I think it's one of our lines when we go into our crowdfunding and our rebellion, we always ask people who are you funding? If you don't know, you shouldn't really buy.

It's funny how it's fashion tartan, then and now. There's a lot to do but I would love to see a lot more natural fibres coming, plus then you get rid of all these seasonals! You know all these people say: oh, pink's in this season! That's just another commercial tactic to go out and buy pink, everybody. I think we just need beautiful, natural fibres made in a lovely, kind way to last forever. Natural fibres are better than oil-based anyway for lots of reasons. It's a win-win. We just need to remember how we did it right in the past and we look back to that history of Scotland.


Brilliant. So I'm aware of time and things like that, so one last question.

Tartan's obviously been through a lot of different evolutions. From whoever first came up with a piece of cloth that had checks, lines and different colours on it, it's been used as everyday fabrics; it's been used for the high class as a status symbol. It's been slightly bookended, I suppose you could say, by the military particularly in Scotland as a representative of themselves; it's been used as a way to sell a country, as a national identity for a place.

Where would you -- Clare's obviously touched on this a little bit already -- but where would you like to see tartan going next and where do you think realistically it might be going next?

Who's going to start? It's a bit of a big question, sorry!


No! What would you like to do, Andrew?


I'm not sure, as a historian, I should answer that question!


Break the rules!

Do you want to go, Andrew?


I don't know, I suspect ... who knows with the potential of Scottish independence, I suspect that might have a lot of future there. I don't know. Not that I'm pro-independence but that would be one area where I could see it could be an advantage for tartan.


Yeah, Clare?


Yeah, in terms of the future of I suppose tartan, fundamentally tartan to me is the fabric form, not printed on anything, not tins, whatever bottles. It's very much tartan, I think, should be fabric. And I think the future of tartan for Scotland and for the part that we're just part of this really small global community now because of our connectivity, is that I think I would love for it always to be symbolic of identity and integrity. That for me would be incredible. That identity and integrity, for courage, and yes embrace difficult situation but come at it in a selfless way.

It's very much symbolic of community, whether you're blood related or whether you're not, you just really care about the same things, I think the fundamentals of why it exists I would like to see still carry through its applications. I'm already thinking every wind turbine now out in the North Sea should be made of tartan blades! And actually, we're looking not doing out of tartan but actually looking at wool fibres as an alternative for carbon fibre.

I think what's really interesting is that we have this amazing USP and global brand aspect to Scotland, but when you take ... So that's the story, which is hugely fascinating and hugely important to discuss but the core fundamentals of working with natural fibres and its potential to be part of this massive solution of closing the loops on planet damage, I think it's fascinating for Scotland and I would love to see regeneration, resurrections, complete synergies across sector and we really embrace tartan for something that really made us think about we should be so proud of creating amazing fabrics that we can use in multiple ways, and that's as I say from the hull of a boat to the blade of a turbine to somebody's wedding outfit -- why not?

I think that would be amazing for Scotland to see that we took the cloth of a nation and we've now helped mend the fabric of the planet. So, there you go!


Thank you very much. I'm going to ask one last question of you both, just because I'm aware that was quite a big question and to finish on a slightly lighter note, one of my favourite, very little known facts about tartans and plaids is that the phrase 'the whole nine yards' comes from the original tartan plaids and the length. If you ask for the whole nine yards, you asked for a full tartan plaid.

So as my very last, slightly lighter note question: what is your favourite fact about tartan or plaids?


Oooh, favourite fact of tartan ... I could just make one up and I could say it's fact! Who knows if the history's right or wrong? I'll say this is the fact!


Favourite fact or just a little known fact or something like that.


Well, here's a fact that maybe I shouldn't talk about here! One thing I loved about tartan because I never knew how to sew -- I've never sewn a thing in my life -- so what I love about tartan is that if anybody wants to start making anything and get back into ... whether you're into the Repair Shop or the Sewing Bee or the Great British Bake Off, if you want to start doing something and you're getting a sewing machine, tartan is the best fabric ever to use because it has straight lines to follow, so there you go: it already has a sewing line built in.


That's a good one, thank you for that! Andrew, any favourite facts?


One that I came across is that the oldest surviving pieces of tartan are actually from a series of burials in the desert on the edge of Mongolia. They were proto-Celtic mummies so they're maybe five to six thousand years old. So tartan is totally universal by definition.


Absolutely. Was that leggings, Andrew? Did they think it was leggings or something?


I can't remember to be honest.


Tartan is older than we all think it is.

Thank you so much. Thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate your time and for this fascinating discussion -- thank you very much.


Thank you, pleasure.


Thank you, thank you both!

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