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If you’re reading this Culloden Outlander guide, no doubt you want to visit Culloden Moor and the Fraser Clan gravestone that was featured in series 2.
Although it’s amazing that the Outlander series has unearthed an interest in Scottish history, it’s also important to remember that this isn’t just a tale, parts of it are historically accurate. Including thousands of lives lost at Culloden Moor.
The Outlander effect has been a great help for many businesses to cash in on tourism and has helped ancient buildings and charity organisations across the country find funding that may not have been possible before.
But, it’s important to remember that gravesites are not a film set.
When I visited Culloden visitor centre and I overheard a girl say “I only came here for a photo for my Instagram” I felt pretty appalled.
Granted, I was on an Outlander tour of Scotland and hell, I’ve written multiple posts as an Outlander fan on locations for my blog. But, I knew that being here was not the time for smiling selfies, picnics or gram shots. It’s a time for education and solemn reflection of a tragic event in history.
Here’s a responsible Culloden Outlander visitor guide and reasons why Culloden is NOT a place for selfies.
The Culloden Outlander effect
In series 1 & 2 and 3 of Outlander, we see Culloden Moor. Firstly in 1943, when Frank and Claire explore on their honeymoon in Inverness.
Then in series 2, when we watch the bloody Battle of Culloden and then in series 3 when Claire visits the Clan Fraser gravesite.
After Culloden was featured in the Outlander series, visitor numbers went up by almost 30%. Fans were visiting in droves and the footfall of so many visitors damaged the shallow graves and their markers.
The graves at Culloden are shallow and thousands of bodies are buried only a foot underneath the ground. So, considerable effort was made to re-turf the area and it was roped off for some time.
Of course, this isn’t one person’s fault and many fans are encouraged to visit Culloden and treat it with respect. But, there were also more disturbing observations made from a few.
Selfies being taken with gravestones, picnics being eaten on the graves, people taking stones from the area and screaming or laughing when it asks you quite clearly to be silent and treat the site with respect.
Even when I visited, it was pouring with rain, but so many people were posing next to the Clan Fraser gravestone and acting like there was only one grave in the entire site. They would take their photo and just leave. When there are multiple clans buried in the area, not just Frasers.
Although it’s completely fine to take photos, it’s not the same posing and smiling for one on a memorial.
If you’ve watched the Outlander series or read the books and are still not aware of this harrowing part of Scottish history, I’ll put a little recap of what happened below.
The events leading up to the battle of Culloden
The Glorious Revolution
- In 1685 King Charles II dies and his brother, James II becomes king and has a catholic son James Francis Edward Stuart. James II’s daughter Mary is protestant and fears a Catholic succession to the throne. So, Mary’s husband, William III of Orange, attacks England with help from protestant opponents to James II.
- James II is deposed as king and flees to France in exile while Mary and William III of Orang are crowned joint monarchs in what was coined the ‘Glorious’ Revolution. This doesn’t please everyone and Jacobites, who supported James II and his clam to the throne, carry out a series of rebellions
- 1689 saw the Battle of Killiecrankie with a massacre of British soldiers by the Jacobites. The Battle of the Boyne in 1690 saw William III of Orange defeat the Irish Catholics led by James II. A pardon is given by William III in 1691 to all Jacobites in the Scottish Highlands if they support him.
James Francis Edward Stuart
- 1701, James II dies. King Louis XIV of France (the Sun King), declares that James III is the rightful king of England. Queen Anne succeeds William of Orange to the throne and in 1707, the Act of Union unites England and Scotland.
- In 1714, Queen Anne dies without an heir and George Elector Hanover becomes King (George I). Again, this doesn’t please all of the country and we see more Jacobite uprisings.
- The first uprising was “the ’15”, in Braemar led by Earl of Mar in 1715. James III (the Old pretender) joins them in Scotland at Peterhead. They were defeated and James heads back to France.
- In 1720, Charles Edward Stuart, or “Bonnie Prince Charlie” later nicknamed the new pretender, was born. George II succeeds his father to the throne in 1727.
Bonnie Prince Charlie and “The 45”
- Bonnie Prince Charlie lands in Scotland in 1745 and then starts the Jacobite Rebellion. He raises a Jacobite army to overthrow the Hanover King and restore the Stuart family to the throne.
- The Jacobite army takes Edinburgh and defeats the British army at Prestonpans. They move south into England and Carlisle surrenders. They finally reach Derby, on their way to take over London, but were stopped by British troops. Bonnie Prince Charlie orders a retreat back to Scotland. The help that Bonnie Prince Charlie expects from France doesn’t appear.
- 1746, the Jacobite army defeat General Henry Hawley’s army in Falkirk and later they manage to capture Inverness. The Duke of Cumberland raises a British army in pursuit of the Jacobites. The two forces then meet for a final confrontation at Culloden Moor.
The Battle of Culloden
The Jacobite Army
The Jacobite Army wasn’t just made up of Catholic Gaelic speaking Highlanders, it also had many recruited from the lowlands in the country too.
Also, there were English, Irish and French troops.
But, the differences between the Clans and their Highland charges compared to those trained in a military fashion were stark and caused quite a bit of conflict.
A lot of the Highlanders in the Jacobite army were farmers and therefore untrained for battle. They had no knowledge of battle strategy.
They also weren’t equipped with weapons for war. From weapons found at Culloden, its thought that only one in five of the Jacobite army was given a sword to fight.
They were tired, marching from pursuit through the night, barely fed and freezing.
The Government Army
The government army, made up of mainly the aristocracy, outnumbered the Jacobites by 1000 men.
They were given money as incentives to fight and make up army numbers. All of them had swords and guns, were well trained, fed and rested. In every way, they had the advantage.
Where the Highlanders found it difficult to charge on a muddy moor, the government army strategically ploughed down the Jacobites with their battle formations.
The conflict and aftermath
It lasted only an hour and during that time it’s estimated that 1,500–2,000 Jacobites were killed or wounded.
Lord Cumberland also captured over 300 Jacobite or French prisoners of war, who were shot or sent to the colonies.
In stark contrast, only 50 perished from the government army and 259 wounded.
After that, Bonnie Prince Charlie escapes to France dressed as a woman and never again tries to rise against the Hanovers.
Although the Duke of Cumberland won medals for his victory, many people then and today refer to him as a “Butcher”.
It was the end of the Scottish clans and many laws and penalties were put in place to stop Gaelic, the wearing of Tartan and end Highland and Gaelic culture.
Culloden Visitor Centre
Of course, that’s a big history lesson and a lot to take in from one blog post!
But, you can learn all about this and so much more at Culloden Visitor Centre. It’s really interactive and goes beyond displays with text.
They have movies, 360 immersive theatre, personal accounts from both sides from recovered letters and artefacts. It really allows you to feel the weight of what this battle did to Scotland and the Highlands.
A lot of this you will know from the Outlander series already which was mostly historically accurate and well dramatised. But, it’s anything but a film set for a TV show.
Walking around the War Memorial is quite solemn, remembering the thousands who died there, and there’s an atmosphere that you can’t explain.
5 reasons why Culloden is NOT a place for selfies
1. First and foremost, Culloden is a war grave, not a film set
The Outlander effect is a great thing for Scotland and there is a spotlight put on this part of the world with fans wanting to visit the film locations from the TV show.
All Outlander fans remember that scene where Claire pays respects to the Jamie and the Fraser Clan at the moor.
But, it’s good to remember that despite the Culloden Outlander effect you’re not entering a film set, you’re stepping into a war memorial and graveyard for soldiers who lost their lives. Culloden War Memorial
2. You are walking over thousands of bodies
Only a foot beneath your feet is thought to be over 1500 bodies of clan members and fighters who were buried at the site.
They are shallow mass graves and not all are marked by gravestone markers.
So, It’s not appropriate to set up picnics anywhere on the site or damage the property.
3. There is not just a Clan Fraser gravestone
The gravestones were inserted in 1881, over a century after the Battle of Culloden. It’s also believed that they are not placed exactly where the clans lay beneath the ground.
I saw many people ask to locate the Culloden Outlander scene or Clan Fraser gravestone, take a selfie, place an offering at the site and then leave. But, it wasn’t just one clan that died here. Or, Jamie Fraser. It was a united effort with many clans.
As well as Clan Fraser, there were Clan Chattan, Clan Stewart, Clan Cameron, Clan MacLachlan, Clan MacLeod, Clan Chisholm, Clan MacDonnell, Clan MacDonald, Clan Grant and many other regiments too. Some were buried with a marker of Mixed Clans.
4. If you put yourself in their shoes, you wouldn’t be smiling
It’s hard to imagine in 21st-century Scotland the thought of going into battle.
Can you imagine the fear? Could you have gone to sleep knowing the next day maybe your last? Seeing your clansmen die beside you? The cold, the wet, the hunger.
I certainly can’t imagine how that would feel, and maybe I’m being dramatic, but it doesn’t put a smile on my face that’s for sure.
5. It’s simply disrespectful and inappropriate
Of course, you can take pictures of the gravestones and Culloden Moor. It’s not banned or cordoned off. But, it’s just about not smiling or posing next to a grave marker.
You wouldn’t do it at Auschwitz, you wouldn’t do it at 9/11, or Gettysburg for that matter, so why here?
Although it happened nearly 300 years ago, Culloden is still felt by many today. You’re entering a graveyard memorial, so please leave the Culloden Outlander selfies out of it.
How to visit Culloden Moor
But, it’s not all doom and gloom! Although the moor is a sensitive and emotive memorial, the National Trust for Scotland has done an excellent job of bringing history to life in the visitor centre. It’s well worth a visit and is extremely educative.
They regularly hold events and interactive tours so you know what’s beneath your feet while walking around. Also, you can see pipers, there are activities for kids and they hold talks so visitors can understand the history.
It’s based just outside of Inverness and is a very popular tourist attraction with visitors. Click here to read more information.
The best way to arrive is by car, but you can also get bus to take you there. Use Travel Line Scotland to plan your journey.
Opening times and ticket prices for Culloden Visitor Centre
Culloden Visitor Centre is open daily but the times depend on the season;
- November – February: 10am – 4pm (Closed on during Christmas holidays and new years)
- March-May: 9am – 6pm
- June – August: 9am – 7pm
- September – October: 9am – 6pm.
The battlefield is open for visitors all year daily. The prices for tickets for Culloden visitor centre and war memorial are;
- Adults £11
- Family £27
- One adult family: £22
- Concessions: £9.50
Entrance is FREE for National Trust for Scotland members. Look into becoming a member here.
Parking at Culloden Visitor Centre is FREE for National Trust for Scotland members but it is chargeable at £3 if you’re not.
It’s a popular place and I struggled to find a spot! There are spots for push bicycles that are free.
How long do I need to visit Culloden Visitor Centre
The National Trust for Scotland recommend 2 hours to visit but I easily spent 4 here, even though it was pouring with rain.
By the time you have devoured the museum and then took the long route around the memorial, had a coffee and a browse around the gift shop; you will have almost spent a whole afternoon at the site!
So, I’d make sure you leave enough time to have a good look around and make the most of your visit.
Culloden Visitor Centre Café & Gift Shop
As it was quite literally pouring with rain, I decided to hang out a bit in the café and have a browse around the gift shop.
If you didn’t want to get tickets into the visitor centre you can still enter the café for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. It’s a beautiful space.
The caffeine boost was much needed to keep me going on my road trip and to warm up from the chilly Highlands.
If you’re an Outlander fan, you’ll be happy to know that the shop does have lots of official souvenirs, including the Fraser and MacKenzie Tartan shawls. They also have books, stationery, jewellery and more.
Every penny that is made at the centre goes towards the upkeep of this fantastic area.
Outlander tours that include Culloden
If you’re not planning on driving in Scotland and you would like to visit Culloden. There are many Outlander tours that include Culloden battlefield.
Your tour guide should remind you that this is a war memorial and to respect the grounds.
Here are some ideas and tours to browse and book;
Now, a place that is allowed for Outlander selfies and more importantly time travel selfies is Clava Cairns. A Bronze Age stone circle just a few miles down the road.
This is also a burial site but the stone circles and the monolith (which is the stone similar to Craigh Na Dun) were used for planetary alignments around the sun!
Lot’s of fans now come here to take Outlander time travel photos for their collection and it’s really fun to visit and try out for yourself.
But, again, it’s important to respect the land, not vandalise it or steal stones from it. It’s 4,000 years old and we want it to be enjoyed for many years to come.
Click here to read my complete guide on Clava Cairns.
You can read my ULTIMATE list of Outlander locations in Scotland here, or read my Outlander in Edinburgh & Outlander in Glasgow guides
With thanks to the National Trust for Scotland for sponsoring my visit. Although I was a guest, all thoughts and photos are my own.