The Battle of Culloden took place on the 16th April 1746 between about 4500 men under Charles Edward Stuart and a Hanoverian force of 9000 led by the Duke of Cumberland. The result was an overwhelming victory for the Hanoverians and generations of pain and anguish for the highland clans. A modern memorial cairn has been erected at a spot where there was intense fighting. The associated memorials etc and the ground on which they stand are owned by the National Trust for Scotland. The site is classified as a ‘Battlefield Site’ in Scotland.
It is so difficult to draw a bright line of stewardship around such a place. Is it just ‘the battlefield’? Just where the fighting was most intense? Or is it anywhere that injured clansmen managed to crawl away to die or were pursued, tortured and killed? The battle at Culloden did not end on that field on April 16th. It savagely continued and intensified in unbroken lines of murder and atrocity radiating out from Drumossie Moor to engulf the entirety of the highlands and across the generations during which the crackdowns ultimately lasted. For many, the pain of the aftermath of April 16, 1746 only began to recede when they, as outcasts, reached American soil and built new lives here. The American descendants of those directly touched by Culloden today number in the tens of thousands, perhaps many more. I am one of those and I can tell you – the sanctity of that place is sincerely important to me. I will tend to define this truly iconic singularly important ‘place’ as broadly as it need be rather than strangle it into the smallest possible footprint of preservation.
Initial inspection of the Viewhill Balloch Redevelopment For Housing Masterplan, together with a quick check of the RCAHMS info on the NTS Battlefield Site reveals at least the following concerns:
1. Overall, the Masterplan is essentially devoid of concern for or analysis of the impact of the proposed development on the visitor experience and future archaeological research at the Culloden Battlefield site. There may be studies that were completed and discussed but there seems to be no reference to such activity in the Masterplan. It does not appear that the project proponent closely studied the question to reach their conclusion that the development would be unlikely to “significantly increase the impact on the character and ambience of the battlefield”, as the houses would be “barely visible if at all from the center of the battlefield“. (Emphasis mine). It appears that the conclusion was a developer assumption made at the conceptual stage of the project based upon the fact that built disturbance associated with the project (i.e. 16 new houses) would occupy no more than the footprint of existing agricultural buildings, which will be demolished to make way for the new homes. This is disturbingly shallow analysis for a number of reasons, most of which even my dogs can immediately see.
The developer’s conclusion does not account for the fact that the houses themselves are not the only potentially impact-ful element of the project. Rather, the project as proposed is both a subdivision (fractionalization) of property ownership and the total conversion from pastoral agricultural use to fairly dense residential use on 16 acres within the Culloden Battlefield inventory area. Additionally, the actual ‘footprint’ of the proposed development appears to extend well out from the existing Ag building footprint into the existing pastures and will include private ‘open space’ (play park) and common gardening area, as well what appears to be an extensive planting and hedging plan for much of the remainder of existing pasture between the houses and the battlefield.
Finally, there seems to have been no consideration or valid study of any impact other than visual impact. The potential measurable impact of the proposed development on the sound, feel, solitude, and general atmospheric change – i.e. ‘ambiance’ that would result from the conversion of these 16 acres from bucolic pasture to a bustling residential neighborhood. Additionally, the increased impact of the upgraded access road and attendant increase in traffic on the Culloden visitor experience apparently received no significant thought.
2. The Masterplan makes no mention of the cumulative impact of the proposed development, even though it attaches itself to an existing residential development also beginning to encroach on the pastoral buffer surrounding the NTS battlefield site. The reasonably foreseeable potential cumulative effect of this development pattern would be to completely devour the existing pasture land surrounding the Culloden Battlefield site. Review of the Masterplan reveals no obstacle or limit to such a development pattern occurring and no hope of better consideration and analysis than what seems to have been undertaken precedent to this round of conversion.
3. The proposed development seriously violates (is located well outside of) the ‘informal’ buffer that was established in the 19th century by the Inverness & Aviemore Railway when their new track was routed well around not only the formalized Culloden Battlefield site but also around Culloden woods and a logical, reasonable and respectful buffer area. The developer does not explain why Scotland’s level of respect for this hallowed ground has diminished so significantly in the last century as to now allow its proposed complete conversion from agricultural use to built residential development.
4. The developer attaches the greatest value of the archaeological significance of Culloden Battlefield to the increased value of the real estate the developer will sell due to the amenity of having such an important archaeological site next to their newly converted residential neighborhood. This smacks of selling Scots heritage for private enjoyment and value. We have not yet fully comprehended that concept but we believe our final reaction will not be favorable.
Clearly we have more investigation and research to undertake on this matter and we will. Based on our initial review, it is difficult to see why one Scottish Government fellow in Edinburgh, without even refreshing his recollection of the site with a visit, rejected the opposition and position of the National Trust for Scotland, abandoned the local presumption of what’s best for localities and disregarded years of local Highland Council review and consideration of this project to allow the project to proceed.
We will continue to poke into this until we get comfortable that the decision respects our heritage and ancestors. We are surely not there yet.