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Well, I _was_ going to kick off my trip to the UK with a sprightly essay entitled “A Brief Disquisition on the Existence of Butt-Cooties.” Had it mostly done; meant to post it just before we left, then follow on with a general blog about our doings in England, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Unfortunately, I left it in my other computer. (No, really; I brought my new MacBook on the trip, and forgot to transfer the essay out of my PC, where it’s still sitting.) So I guess I’ll use that as a closing flourish, instead.

We arrived in Scotland today! (Spent two days in New York first, to break the journey–poor Doug is 6’3 or 4, and Suffers Terribly on long flights, as he can’t sleep on airplanes.) Then landed in England, which was quick, but fun. We had dinner with friends, had another dinner with the new UK publishing people–Orion is now my UK publisher, and a lovely lot they all are, too–went to the Museum of London (amazing place! It’s address is One London Wall; it’s built on what’s left of the city wall), the National Portrait Gallery (just as amazing, in a different way. So cool to see the faces of history, especially all the Tudors and Stuarts and their cohorts), and…well, ate. As my husband remarked in tones of amazement last night, “We’ve been in England for 48 hours, and we haven’t eaten anything awful yet!” The wonders of globalization. [g] (Had a wonderful time sitting in pubs drinking red wine and listening to the conversations, too. More globalization, I suppose–or the influence of television; while the people _all_ had accents–and not all English accents, either–we could understand them easily, whereas on previous visits it often took several repetitions of an exchange for both parties to understand what was being said. This time, they understood _us_, too.)

Anyway, got up Way Early and dragged our bags to the Tube station at Pimlico (lovely cool day; cold enough to see your breath, but a sweatshirt was enough to keep warm), and went to Victoria, where we caught the Gatwick Express, arriving in enough time to hunt food–had wonderful sandwiches for breakfast at the airport (the UK in general has _great_ sandwiches; they’ll put _anything_ between two slices of bread (usually very fresh and good), and it’s usually extremely tasty, though I drew the line at sweet-corn with bacon and Branston pickle): I had tuna, salad, and red onion, and Doug had egg, cress, and mayo, both on “malted granary bread” (aka multi-grain; delicious)).

Flew to Edinburgh, and got our rental car–a brand-new Audi A3 (whose right windshield wiper stopped working about three miles out of the lot; luckily, it didn’t rain much), then drove north. After the hair-raisingness of negotiating the Edinburgh round-abouts on the left-side, Doug got comfortable again, and we could enjoy the ride, heading up through the rising lands of the Highlands, into big, rolling mountains still covered with snow on the heights, the un-treed slopes covered with a thick coat of dusty heather with the purple ghost of its summer glory lingering, and thick growths of gorse sprouting out of the rocks, so dark a green as to look black, covered with yellow flowers even brighter than the scads of daffodils growing on the roadside verges. Big, puffy clouds and small intermittent showers, but overall, a brilliant, beautiful day.

We stopped in Pitlochry, ostensibly to look for lunch. I had a secret agenda, though, which I hadn’t mentioned, because I knew Doug was worried about reaching Inverness in good time to find our hotel and change for the evening reception at Culloden. I’d discovered, in the process of recent research, that Pitlochry has a hydroelectric dam, built in the 50′s, and along with it, has a visitor’s centre that recounts the development and history of hydroelectric power in the Highlands–that, and a fish chamber [g], where one can watch migrating salmon and trout making their way up a fish-ladder past the dam.

By good fortune [cough], we happened to see the sign for “Dam and Fish-ladder,” and I (in my position as navigator) pointed and said, “Oh, let’s stop there!” “Why do you want to see a fish-ladder?” Doug asked, pulling into the lot. “I don’t,” I replied, leaping out and heading for the dam. “I want to see a hydroelectric plant!” (No, I told him why, but I’m not telling you, sorry. It’s to do with the next book, that’s all.)

No fish were migrating, alas, but the visitors centre was fascinating, the stream (full of middle-aged and elderly men in waders with fly-rods) was rushing and glorious, spring plants were greening up all over, the trees were full of birds about their courting, and there was a delightful small stone inn/restaurant called Port-na-Craig below the car-park, where we stopped into the Fisherman’s Bar (so-called for the dozens of ancient fishing-rods hung from the ceiling) and had absolutely decadent burgers–tender, juicy Scottish beef, overlaid with bacon (of the British kind–soft and streaky, not the crispy American sort) and thick with melted cheese–a tangy sort of local white cheddar. You couldn’t pick them up to eat; they were so juicy, the bun fell apart, so we had to eat them with a fork (“We havena got tomahto _sauce_,” the nice waitress explained (‘tomato sauce” being Scottish for “ketchup”), ‘But we’ve got a bit of tomahto salsa, if ye’d like that?” (We did. [g]) Homemade chips with white vinegar, a little salad on the side….and we went back to the car and nearly fell asleep on the next part of the journey, from sheer satiation.

Didn’t go off the road, though, and made it to the Culloden House Hotel without incident. This place is a marvel; a very old, very large, stone-built country house, renovated and restored into a four-star hotel. Victorian wallpapering and furniture, luscious thick carpeting, windows with ancient wooden shutters to keep the morning light out, and a first-class dining room, equipped with Royal Worcester china, etched crystal goblets, heavy silver–and a menu to die for. I had the tournedos of Scottish fillet of beef, with wild-mushroom risotto, and Doug had a pork cutlet topped with pickled red onion, and a creamed sweetcorn soup with crawfish tails and chili oil (don’t laugh; it was great [g]).

You might be more interested in the fact that during the final days before the Battle of Culloden, Jacobite troops rested on the grounds here–and Jacobite officers stayed in the house (the original house; the present house was built on the same site in 1780). Also because it was in one of the attic rooms of Culloden House that Jamie had his final, fatal confrontation with his uncle Dougal (of which we may possibly hear more, anon).

You’ll be thinking that we don’t do anything while traveling but eat, by this time. But no–our actual reason for being here today was a reception this evening at the new Culloden Battlefield Memorial Visitors Centre, to which we’d been invited by the National Trust for Scotland, they generously regarding us as donors to the project.

The new Visitors Centre is wonderful from the outside–very modern, with long, low, clean lines, so that it seems to fit into the landscape, rather than stick up out of it. The outside landscaping is still in progress, but they’ve begun to lay the stones for the Culloden Walk Project. I’ll include a link here, in case any of you might be interested in contributing to the project yourselves.


I’d contributed a “chieftain stone” saying “Urram do na mairbh” (To the honor of the dead.”)–and my thanks to Catherine-Ann McPhee (noted Gaelic singer and teacher) for the proper Gaelic! The Ladies of Lallybroch had very generously donated a stone to the project as well, in my honor. [modestly pleased cough] Anyway, the walk is a long way from finished, but even the beginnings of it are very impressive indeed–flat, dark stones, covered with names, leading up to the entrance.

I won’t go into exhaustive detail about the evening or the exhibition, save to say that the evening was delightful (met all kinds of lovely people), and the design and execution of the exhibition is amazing–both striking and thoughtful. I _do_ want to tell you about what they call the “battle immersion” zone, though. This is a section where you walk through a dimly lit hallway, accompanying the Jacobite troops on the failed night march to attack the Government troops (you may not know about that, because Jamie didn’t take part–he was busy getting Claire safely to the stones); you hear the noises of the Government encampment to your left, and to your right, the shuffling and muttering and jangling of the exhausted, starving Jacobites as they go.

As you come to the end of this hallway, you turn into a small theatre–but it’s not the usual kind, with seats. It’s a completely empty room, with screens lining the walls on all four sides. You stand in the middle of this, turning constantly round as the battle begins, is fought, and ends….around you. It was fascinating to see the Jacobite troops lining up, sidling uneasily to and fro, getting into their formation–both very real, and very eerie, knowing what was coming. Empty horizon on the other side of the room, the wind stirring the moor grasses–and then the Government troops are there, coming up out of the distance. And coming. And coming. Rank upon rank, Brown Bess muskets on their shoulders. And the cannon rolling into position.

I was looking back at the Jacobite line when the firing began. Two Jacobite artillery pieces fired; a moment’s pause–and then English cannonballs struck two men in the front line, a few yards away from me. It was one of the most visceral experiences I’ve ever had. It went on from there in the same fashion; the terrible hesitation of the Jacobite line, before the order to charge finally came–the yelling mass of men, seeming to sweep right over us and carry us along–into the opposite screens, where the Government line stood firm….just waiting. You could smell the smoke of their volleys.

And then the wind again, over the quiet moor. And the dead.

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50 Responses »

  1. Wow. Thank you for sharing that with us. What an amazing experience it must have been.

  2. That sounds absolutely incredible…I was going to write how completely JEALOUS of you I am, reading about the drive through the country and the food and the weather, etc. etc., until the description of the battle erased all of that from my mind. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you for this great story. It was like reading your books, I felt like flowing with the story all the way.

    Those stones are a really nice idea to contribute to the center. And you also can get a copy for yourself, if you want.

  4. British sandwiches ARE wonderful — I’m jealous — and the battle scene sounds absolutely chilling. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Well, you made the hairs on my arm stand up!

    Even though it’s definitely not the same, I always get a strange feeling when I’m walking around the Alamance Battleground – ever since I was a little girl.

    Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us.

  6. That gave me chills!!! What a wonderfully descriptive entry. You are truly a brilliant writer in all that you do.

  7. Dear Diana — Your description of the landscape (and the food!!!) is delightful and I enjoyed the vicarious pleasure. Cathy-Ann will be happy to know that all is going well and appreciate the acknowledgement of the translation. Good luck with those roundabouts, which are the stuff of which North American nightmares are made. You’re not far from the Glengarry Castle Hotel, if you want a little more Victorian luxury, good food, and perhaps an encounter with the shade of Bob the Dog, the stumpy-legged critter who led us right to the castle ruins that we had not known existed. Enjoy the rest of your adventure!

  8. Thank you so much for writing your blog today. I was going to go to Culloden this weekend with hubby but unfortunately that wont be happening now.
    It sounds like the new visitor centre is almost TT. How wonderful/awful at the same time.
    I feel that I have to go see for myself so will certainly be going up there at some point later in the year.
    Watched the local news tonight and it showed the opening of the new centre by the young boy whos ancestors had fought there 262 years ago.

    As for the Edinburgh round-a-bouts – I know what you mean and I live here. lol

    Hope you enjoy your stay. You could always stay longer and write some Scottish Tourist information leaflets for us – you would even sell Scotland to the …no I wont say it.
    Get yir ganzies on the morn – its gonna be chilly oot.
    Regards Susan

  9. Dear Diana,

    Sheesh. Bree gets water to the ridge and now you want electricity?! ;-)

    Have fun on your trip!

    Nikki R.

  10. Ahhhh so near and yet so far!! No chance you’ll be on the WEST coast of Scotland, will you?! :D I’m almost 8 months pregnant and can’t travel to the other side of even this small country to come and see you!!! Come to Oban! I can get there! :D It’s near the Cruachan Visitor center that jenny mentioned…. ;)

    Anyway… your description of the Culloden Visitor Centre has definately intriuged me. i’ve wanted to visit Culloden since I read your books the first time, years ago, but haven’t made it yet. Will definately try and visit later this year.

    I hope you have a lovely time in Scotland, anyway. :)

  11. I thought the article from the Scotsman on the Culloden ceremonies was interesting.


    Particularly where they note that Scots fought on both sides of the conflict, that it wasn’t just Scots against English.

    I got through my “re-listen” of those heartbreaking scenes in DRAGONFLY last night — with the aid of a lot of tissues [g]. This time around, I listened to the last part of it with my eyes closed, just taking in the story with no distractions. MUCH more affecting that way. Even though I know exactly what’s going to happen, I still end up a soggy heap by the end of it. There’s magic in those words, honestly.


  12. Wow!!! That is the only word I can think of to say. It must have been amazing to see it come to life before your own eyes. Thank you for sharing it with us. I can only hope one day I will be lucky enough to visit there in person.

  13. Bedelia and Mary–

    No, I’ve never seen a ghost. I have _met_ two of them–one in the Alamo (which seems thoroughly appropriate [g]), and one in a ski resort in Utah (which seems pretty incongruous, but there he was)–but I don’t see them, which is probably just as well.

  14. Okay, DH, then here comes the stupid question…how do you know they’re there? Do they whisper in your ear? :D



  15. Dear nm–

    No, I feel them. Physically. I walked right into the gentleman in the Alamo (and was Most Surprised–largely by how perfectly normal it all seemed). The guy in Utah lay down on the bed next to me (I felt the mattress give) and snuggled up and put an arm around me. (Causing me, on the edge of sleep, to think, “I’m in a hotel…Doug’s not here…who’s THAT?!?”) He came back twice more; the third time, I told him to beat it, got up and got my rosary from my bag and laid it on the bed next to me. He stayed gone.

  16. I would love to read that! I think that would be so cool!

    My only experience with a ‘ghost’ was when my father passed and I had fallen asleep on his shoulder (he was hospitalized and in a coma the last three weeks and I never left him). Someone tapped me on my shoulder hard enough to wake me and I lifted my head as my father took his last breath. It was only him and me (or is it me and him) in the room. It was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had.

    But I’m not fortunate enough to be able to sense them in any way.

  17. Here’s the link to the Compuserve thread about ghosts:


    It has the Alamo ghost story as an attachment. Hope this helps.


  18. Sensing a spirit is as close as most people come.

    I was on a ghost tour of the old sea captain’s homes up here in Maine a few years ago. Each mansion was reputed to house at least one spirit. My husband and I (he humors me quite often!) had been to three mansions, but had not been able to sense anything.

    We walked into the next one on the list, where it was said that the captain himself stood watch in the upstairs window that looked out to sea.

    My husband walked up the stairs ahead of me and went into one of the bedrooms. I was just admiring a curved wall that so many of the seafarers had constructed in their homes to emulate their ship’s lines. When I reached the top of the stairs, at the window that looked out to sea, there he stood. No, not my husband, the captain!

    It wasn’t so much that I saw him plainly, he was only a shadow, but he turned and walked towards me. I stood perfectly still. At that moment, my husband came out of the room to see where I was (I tend to dally). He must have seen the odd look on my face, and stood still to see what was going to happen.

    The captain continued towards me as though I wasn’t there, and walked right through me. A stranger sensation I’ll never have. My entire body vibrated for a second. My eyesight went a bit blurry, as if looking out a wavy window, then he was gone.

    My husband watched the entire event, and saw my reaction. He asked if I was all right, and I just remember grinning from ear to ear, and saying, never been better!

    When someone asks if I have ghost stories, I always tell them that one. I have many others, but that one had all the sensations. It was great.

    ‘Course, spirits aren’t always go benevolent, but I won’t go into that here.

    Happy hunting!


  19. Diana:

    I can understand your comment that you feel ghosts. As an attorney, who on the whole has had anything not concrete drummed out of me, and as a woman of faith, I’m not sure I’m allowed to believe in ghosts (g), nevertheless the following did happen.

    While on vacation my husband wanted to visit an old mining town in Oregon. So we drove off paved roads that led to gravel roads that led to just ruts in a dirt road to reach the abandoned mining town up in the mountains.

    The town was populated by a few people who lived there only in the summer as the winters were too harsh in this isolated place. These “townsfolk” were there mainly to cater to the few tourists brave enough to find the place. The old buildings included a church, school, jail and saloon/bawdy house, with other interesting houses and buildings scattered around the town.

    The family that owned the saloon were using it to serve lunch to the tourists, and we decided to eat there. The outside of the saloon was pretty delapidated–it actually listed to one side and looked like it was about to fall over. The inside was not much better but had a very beautiful bar with an ornately carved framed mirror.

    My husband went into the saloon first while I stopped to pet a friendly dog lazing in the sun on the porch. As I walked through the saloon doors, I felt someone give me a very hard push and ?heard/felt? the words “get out.”

    I immediately whirled around to see who this rude person was who wanted me to get out of their way, and there was no one there! No one on the porch, no one on the street_no one!

    Still trying to process what had happened, I walked to the table where my husband was having a conversation with the waiter. The waiter was telling my husband that he and his wife wouldn’t be coming back next summer, even through the saloon had been in their family for a long time. Seems they lived above the saloon and kept seeing a ghost of an 18th century saloon woman who didn’t seem very friendly.

    So, I’m asuming she’s the one who gave me the shove. And I think I know what you mean about feeling ghosts! I’m still not sure I believe in ghosts, but I do believe in that push I received….

  20. It sounds like you felt about the same way I felt when I visited the Gettysburg Battlefield and the Chickamauga Battlefield in Tennessee. The feeling of sadness and respect for those lost is overwhelming.
    Haven’t seen a ghost yet but there are several books on the many Ghosts of Gettysburg. We were taking pictures at one of the battle grounds when our camera suddenly broke and apparently that has happened to many others.
    Thank you for taking us to Culloden with you. Some day I hope to get there for myself.


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