1 day, start and finish in Inverness, 32 miles
In a small area east of Inverness there are five heritage sites that are of great historical interest, Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns, the Nairn Viaduct, Cawdor Castle and Fort George (including the Highlanders Museum). Culloden, Cawdor Castle and Fort George are major tourism attractions with accompanying visitor centres and facilities. Clava Cairns and the Nairn Viaduct on the other hand, are free attractions to view and, in the case of Clava, walk round at your leisure.
From Inverness take the B9006 towards Culloden and Cawdor for 6 miles to arrive at Culloden Battlefield. It was here on April the 16th 1746 that the Jacobites under Prince Charles Edward Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) met the Hanoverian army under the leadership of the Duke of Cumberland. In barely an hour almost 1500 men died, mostly Jacobites. It was the last battle fought on British soil and the aftermath and consequences changed the Highlands forever. For many people to this day the Battle of Culloden is a very emotive subject and every year on the 16th April the battle commemoration is led by the Inverness Gaelic Society.
The new visitor centre was completed in 2007 and offers a highly innovative and interactive experience including an ‘immersive theatre’. It also has a gift shop, large restaurant and cafeteria area.
Less than 2 miles along the road is an attraction of a very different kind, Clava Cairns. One of Scotland’s most evocative pre-historic sites, Clava Cairns are the exceptional remains of an ancient cemetery. Built over 4000 years ago to house the dead, two parts of the complex are open all year round to the public, Balnuaran of Clava and Milton of Clava. Please note there are no facilities at the site and limited parking.
Within short walking distance from Clava Cairns is the Nairn Viaduct. Although it is not possible to get up close to it, good views of it are plentiful from the road. The Nairn (or Clava) viaduct spans the River Nairn. It was opened in 1898 by The Highland Railway as part of the Inverness and Aviemore Direct Railway and it still carries the main railway line south from Inverness today. This double-track viaduct is the longest masonry railway viaduct in Scotland. Built between 1893 and 1898 by Sir John Fowler and Murdoch Paterson, it curves across the valley for 549 metres and is the longest viaduct of its kind in Scotland, with 28 spans.
From Clava return back on to the B9006 and head west for a mere 9 miles before you arrive at the village of Cawdor and Cawdor Castle. Still home to the Cawdor family to this day, Cawdor Castle has evolved over 600 years. Open April to October only, this castle is one of Scotland’s finest with beautiful gardens including the Walled Garden which dates from circa 1600. Cawdor Castle is also forever associated with Shakespeare’s Macbeth and every year in summer an outdoor performance of the play takes place in the grounds of the castle. The castle also has a cafeteria and gift shop.
Fort George is a mile past he village of Ardersier (http://ardersier.org/). Built in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden, it took 22 years to complete and at the time was the largest military garrison in Europe. But it never fired a shot in anger although it remains to this day a military barracks for soldiers of the Black Watch. To appreciate the size and engineering of the site, make sure to take a walk around the ramparts. You may also be lucky if you look out on the Moray Firth to see dolphins. There are an estimated 200 resident dolphins who regularly entertain visitors across the Firth at Chanonry Point (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanonry_Point).
Also within the grounds of Fort George is the Highlanders Museum. The Museum (Queen’s Own Highlanders Collection) covers three floors of Fort George’s former Lieutenant Governors’ House. The museum has roughly 20,000 artefacts and an estimated 10,000 documents and photographs. The museum is the largest regimental museum in Scotland, outside of Edinburgh.
Also, every year in September in the grounds of Fort George, is staged the Highland Military Tattoo (http://www.highlandmilitarytattoo.com/) which showcases the best of Highland military and cultural traditions.
From Fort George it is seven miles back in to Inverness.