At the beginning of July I volunteered my family to take part in a survey about the new Culloden Path that is being opened soon. A 9km trail starting and ending at the Culloden Battlefield visitor centre. The National Trust for Scotland were looking for volunteers to walk or cycle the trail and give some feedback. We live just down the road, go up to the battlefield on a regular basis, how hard could it be to coordinate ourselves to take the bikes out for a shot…well 5 weeks later and we finally made it! In the end Big went to a friend’s house so she didn’t come with us so it was just me, Mr M and Small (in the bike seat).
We were asked to do the trail clockwise so it starts at the car park of the visitor centre and heads out across the battlefield. We were cycling and that felt really strange. We walked our bikes over the battlefield path. I’m not sure why I felt so odd cycling. I mean we walk across the battlefield, people walk their dogs, pushchairs, wheelchairs, a bike is probably fine…but when we do it again, we’ll either cycle round the back path of the battlefield or along the road to the other end. But that’s also us, who studied history and spend a lot of time there so we’re not trying to take it all in for the first time.
We made it to the far end of the battlefield and went through the gate to start the unknown part of the Path. A nice farm path and then onto a forestry path. We reached the first bench. These are really simple wooden benches with a Gaelic verse on one side and an English translation on the other. There’s also a small information panel to tell a wee bit more about the battle. Although the NTS owned battlefield site is very large it is still only part of the full battlefield site and this trail takes in a little more of it.
We reached the main road and followed the new path along the side for a short way before crossing. This was the only place we got a little lost. Our instructions said take the left fork with a symbol of a walking man…we just took the first left fork and found ourselves at a dead end. But it hadn’t gone very far so we just turned round and found the right way. This part of the path was already a waymarked path into Culloden Woods. We had been warned that this part of the path might be a little beyond small kids on bikes and wheelchairs. I’m inclined to agree. It drops fairly steeply and is a rough track – I thought it was great fun! We stopped at the Clootie Well to see the next bench. Small was very interested in all the cloots hanging from the trees. (For more info on the Clootie Well – http://cullodenmoor.net/?page_id=230)
The trail carried on through some lovely trees. We had to walk up some really steep parts but to be honest that was more to do with not being used to the path or the terrain rather than them being genuinely too steep. It was a really lovely day and it was great to be out on the bike and not on a road! We came out of the trees and down the trail to the Prisoner’s Stone, where 17 Jacobite prisoners are believed to have been shot dead after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. There is another lovely bench by the stone which would be a great place for a seat on a day like today (if we were walking or had brought a snack with us).
As we carried on down the track, Small announced that she didn’t think her bum would like this before shouting “yee ha!” as we sped on down the hill!
The path turns on to the forestry road and comes out on the main Balloch road at the Forestry School. The last time we cycled up the main road was several years ago and before the walking/cycle path beside the road was finished. It is a much more pleasant experience cycling without having to be on the road.
The last major stop on the Culloden Path is the Cumberland Stone (said to be where the Duke of Cumberland stood to direct the Hanovarian troops during the Battle of Culloden) before heading back to the battlefield visitor centre.
All the way along the trail Mr M commented on the excellent standard of Gaelic on the benches and information panels. Quite often he expresses frustration at the Gaelic on info panels that it often seems to be added as an afterthought with spelling and grammar mistakes. He said the info board Gaelic was so beautifully written he didn’t even bother to read the English part. He commented that the Gaelic/English verses on the benches read like they were written in Gaelic and then translated (which turned out to be true). There will be plenty of people who really don’t care about the Gaelic but for people who do care it is incredibly heartening to see Gaelic used so well and with equal importance to English. I am still only learning the language but it’s Mr M’s first language, Big is already at the Gaelic school and Small will head there when she’s old enough. I really feel that it’s so important to see and use Gaelic in a normal way to communicate and not just as a nice little afterthought or token gesture. The use of Gaelic is something I really believe the Culloden Battlefield centre, and now this path, has done really well.
So, there you have it. Our first cycle round the Culloden Path. Loved it! Big was a little disappointed to miss it and so we’ve promised to take her up as soon as possible. She’ll probably struggle a bit with parts of the path but I’m thinking if we do it the other way round which might build her cycling confidence a bit more before we hit the harder bits. Looking forward to it!