Straddling the Fence.

So I wasn’t quite done blabbing about that week I spent up northward way. Almost, but not quite.

Anything to hold off writing that dissertation, right?

I have farm implements to show you!

Not all of our volunteer job at Culloden was as glamorous as touching up the graves of fallen Jacobite soldiers. There were enough trees to take down that the NTS had to call in cadets from the RAF to give them a hand. The plot that the field sits on is extremely vast, and they have hired ONE very kind, but partly addled, groundskeeper to do pretty much everything around the place. This includes dragging piles of culled growth, burning it in massive pyres on the open field, removing dead and sickly sheep from the grazing zones, fixing the miles of fencing around the property, and drinking lots of brews at the pub about five minutes before he’s supposed to clock off.

But I’m not being critical.

Good Ol’ Jim Stewart and I took a break from killing faeries on the last day to help that wee raisin of a groundskeeper maintain a length of fence a bit further south from the battlefield. Now I’m from Detroit. And then I lived most of my life in and around San Francisco. I’ve never stretched a fence in my life, and I wasn’t entirely sure it was legal in the majority of US states. Nevertheless, a volunteer job is just that, and one never knows exactly what he signs up for until it’s too late. So on we stretched.

We had to walk quite a distance from the graves to get to the fence area, and in doing so were able to cross over the reconstructed turf and drystone walls that were present on the field during the battle in 1746. You can see the copse of trees we were working on in the distance, and that marks the place of greatest engagement between the armies. The picture is shot from the northeast corner of the reconstructed Culwhiniac enclosure, not too far from where Ballimore’s Argyll militia had broken down the wall and enfiladed the Jacobite right.

This is an interesting picture, for it shows the most likely position of Ballimore’s men, and you get an excellent sense of the contours and distance of the field that the Jacobite soldiers had to run across, absorbing terrible fire. This is perhaps the best viewpoint of the entire field, but no one ever comes this way, because it’s over a small fence and away from the more visible and romanticized grave area. A shame, that, because a much better understanding of the scope of the battle can be gleaned from this position.

This is me being a dork against the reconstructed Culwhiniac wall. In actuality, it would have been closer to six feet high at the time of the battle, overgrown with weeds and growth on top of the dry stones. But the reconstruction is excellent.

On the way to our ailing fence section, we passed this fragmentary herd of imported Hebridean sheep. They were purchased by a Scottish-American heritage organization to aid in keeping back the shrub and birch growth on the field, and are cycled around the field as needed. Their work goes ever on, but they really don’t seem to mind that much. It was a rare thrill to see them leaping up on to the enclosures, re-enacting their own mini-batlle in a modern, art-nouveau sort of way.

This is not a Medieval torture device, but a handy farmer’s implement called a monkey stretcher. It’s sole purpose, other than ripping off human fingers, is to put massive amounts of tension on post-and-wire fencing so the wiring may be tightened safely. But really, there was nothing safe about this. No wonder the groundskeeper was in the pub getting pished.

After a couple of hours of stretching and pounding posts with a huge maul, I realized that we were standing on an extremely relevant and valuable artifact. Yes, it’s the remnants of a wall. But not just any wall, you see. You can’t tell you’re on it unless you hop down and look at it from the side. This, in fact, is what’s left over from the *original* Culwhiniac park wall that was there during the battle. You can see how it’s been overgrown, and how thick it was. The horizon line is probably about where the Government dragoons broke through to flank the Jacobite right, unseen from behind the then-tall enclosure walls. Was a thrill to discover this, for sure. But really, it’s just a wall.

This, however, is not just a pile of rocks. It’s the remains of a 4000-year old burial cairn, not in the lovely shape as its counterparts in Clava, but nonetheless still extant. These are dotted up and down the Nairn valley, and most are navigable, regardless of whether the cairns are in the care of the NTS or on private land. Kieran and I set out with our Ordnance Survey map and tried to find every one listed. We got all the ones in the immediate area, and I’ll be posting pics from that excursion very soon.

So these are the reasons why the area near Culloden is so amazing. Within a few hours, you can hike over the remnants of an Iron Age burial area, walk along old turf walls that have been there for centuries, dodge sheep, survey an 18th-century battlefield, and get up-close and personal with the fallen boys from various mixed clans buried immediately after the battle itself.

And it affects you, and frees you, and inspires you all the same.

14 Responses to “Straddling the Fence.”

  1. dougygyro Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 10:04 am

    [drool, drool, drool…]
    I must admit, that seeing the freshly implanted fence in the archaeologically relevant turf wall did cause a momentary shudder, but I got over it.

  2. dichroicynosure Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 10:26 am

    Amazing work you are up to and the pictures are a great way to embroil all this history for the lay folk and those with ADD. What and where did you study before leaving?
    That cairn is wonderful and the Hebridean sheep look down-right evil. I need to add them to my evil animal list. My McReynolds side of the family was from the Hebrides…well that explains that.
    Do you ever go to a club called FINSTERNIS–one of the ladies that runs that place will be here in Oslo this week to dj and celebrate one year of this great club which hosts all sorts of paranormal speakers and occultists…

  3. FunkyPlaid Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 10:35 am

    I'm pleased that you like the pictures, ADD or no. 🙂
    What and where did you study before leaving?
    I'm currently doing my Masters in Scottish History at Edinburgh, focused on military and cultural/social elements of Jacobitism. Real fun, eh? And yourself? It looks like you've got some lernun' going on, as well.
    Y'know, the sheep are more stupid then evil. They'd be evil if they wouldn't keep walking into walls and stuff. But really, you just kind of feel sorry for them. Now that whiptail scorpion needs to go on the Evil List, for certain.
    I know Finsternis, and I believe the person you're talking about is <lj user="petit_scarabee">, if I'm not mistaken. Their playlists are pretty good, but I've not gone of yet.
    I'd love to check out the place you're talking about, though. Sounds great.

  4. dichroicynosure Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 10:48 am

    I'm doing my M. Phil in Nordic Viking and Medieval Studies writing about Burial customs in the Hish Middle Ages and Heathen customs in the Norwegian laws…death death and more death, (my friend says I have a very integrated Pluto)–ha-ha.
    I studied Art History at SF State before this. What about before you got to Scotland?? The whiptail is indeed part of that list…but sheep have those slitted eyes which make them essentially evil. No matter how dumb, they have the eyes.
    Yes, that is the lass–it'll be fun meeting up with her. If you make it to Oslo (you know that the Norwegians owned many of the Scottish isles (like Man, Iona (? mayhaps) the Hebrides, Orkney etc) for a time before giving them up in the 13th-14th cent (yes this is what we call the era of the great Norwegian Empire —I try to say that without laughing)…let me know.

  5. FunkyPlaid Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 10:57 am

    Well, that's a pretty damn cool subject of study! Super impressed, I am. I must say that one of my passions aside from history is historical forensics, with a definite interest in burial customs and funerary archaeology. I'd bet our bookshelves read similar, as well as our bios. 🙂
    Before Scotland I was at Cal, though living in SF and Marin at the time.
    I see slitted eyes in your user pics. What does that mean, pray tell? 🙂
    Now it's a fight between Scotland and Norway, eh? You familiar with the Orcadians at all? A good story there, for sure. I'd love to come your way for a bit, but I'm working on my dissertation through the summer, so it's unlikely… 🙁

  6. dichroicynosure Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 11:21 am

    What was it that you studied first at Cal??
    Oh my, I need to sleep. More tomorrow.

  7. pisica Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 6:30 pm

    I want to get back to Finsternis too, so we should go together and be moody in a corner or something. 🙂

  8. Anonymous Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 1:48 pm

    Fence posts (or posts about fences)
    But was it any harder than building the St. Brigid's camp?? 🙂
    Truly, I love the photos! And you're very cute (well, cuter than those sheep anyhow. They're shaped like pigs and only have two horns that I can see). The sheep should make you feel at home 'cause it's already fire season here and they have the goat flocks out in the hill parks chewing away the flammable undergrowth.
    Thanks >:( for the link to Clava — like I need more fantastic stuff to read and spend time on! I only took a quick peek but it reminded me a lot of my long-ago studies of chamber tombs at Mycenae and stuff. But Scotland's prettier than Greece…
    Ugh, I'm already telling myself I have to go see the movie "Troy" (even though I've never even managed to see "The Trojan Women" with Melina Mercouri and Irene Pappas!!), just to see what Hollywood did to the Iliad…If you happen to see it, let me know how gory it is compared to Braveheart, would you please? (Unless of course you were too pure to ever see the latter :)! )
    Meanwhile, I have a question: Since Lord of the Rings became so popular, do you ever find people who ask whether Orkney has something to do with orcs?? 🙂

  9. FunkyPlaid Says:
    May 5th, 2004 at 6:03 am

    Re: Fence posts (or posts about fences)
    Glad you liked 'em!
    Oooh…Mycenaean chamber-tombs! I didn't know you studied that…Troy does look pretty good, I must say. All these little, skinny guys got all muscled up for that sleeveless armour. If it's a hormone-fest like Gladiator, it could be rough, but the previews look amazing. Computer graphics are so amazing in the mass-battle scenes; they really create a believable vision of what it must have been like. Battles on a scale not seen in thousands of years…
    Not Orkney, but the Orcadians are surely disgraced after that trilogy. 🙂

  10. Anonymous Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 2:05 pm

    I forgot to say: I *highly* approve of your (current)taste in music!!! Watch out for those slippery stepping-stones..

  11. ubernacht Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 2:07 pm

    Amazing photos D! What great material for the Razing Babylon project! Here I thought it was cool finding maps drawn out of Waterloo, but to be able to stand against the [reconstructed] walls and survey the landscape. Wow…
    Saving your post to memory:)

  12. FunkyPlaid Says:
    May 5th, 2004 at 6:14 am

    Oh man, you'd better be serious about this if you're going to lure me into thinking about it!
    Front Rank just came out with and entire line of accurate 25mm Jacobite minis that actually look good, and I would be *extremely* jazzed to do Culloden with you! It is a shitty scenario to game, though, because the armies had no real balance. But of course, you just say the word and I'm on it. I mean, they even have all the character models down well…
    I totally mean that. Just say the word.

  13. divineseduction Says:
    May 4th, 2004 at 2:59 pm

    Totally random.
    You're so very nicely pale. 🙂

  14. FunkyPlaid Says:
    May 5th, 2004 at 6:04 am

    Re: Totally random.
    Random indeed…but thank you, sweets.
    I think… 🙂

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