Culloden Moor Housing Development and our Ancestral Heritage.
As dusk fell over Culloden Moor on the 16th April 1746 the last major land battle to be fought on British soil had drawn to a conclusion. With close to 2,000 dead and wounded Jacobites the campaign to restore the Stewart monarchy to the throne had been dealt a decisive final blow. In the days and weeks that followed the dead were buried and the site of the battle was gradually reclaimed by nature, with the exception of a minor road, which ran by the site Culloden has remained untouched to this day.
Now the site is a magnet for those who wish to immerse themselves in the dream of Scotland, in the romantic stories of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald, in the Jacobite cause that has been the inspiration of so many folk songs and tales. And so the cause of an Italian-born noble to recapture the throne of the United Kingdom from an incumbent German-born monarch became a story that has somehow come to define Scotland.
Two centuries and more have passed and now the site of this battle like many others around Scotland have been taken under the wing of the National Trust for Scotland and the site has been the subject of in-depth research by Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments for Scotland (RCAHMS). In recent weeks however another battle has been played out over the moor. Not this time though does it feature blue-bonneted highlanders charging over moorland towards red-coated Hanoverians, this battle is taking place on the Internet, in the offices of planning departments and around Scotland’s parliament.
A collection of disused farm buildings which lie around 400m to the north of the battlefield have been the centre of a planning row. Developers who wish to tear down these buildings and erect 16 houses have appealed a local authority decision to refuse planning permission and despite objections from the National Trust for Scotland the Government reporter has overturned the refusal. For those who see Culloden as a symbol of their Scottish identity the very idea of this development is abhorrent and yet taken on its individual merit there is very little in this proposal that would appear to deserving of such a reaction; the footprint and profile of the proposed development extends very little beyond the brown field site that the farm buildings occupy, the increase in noise and traffic that 16 houses contribute to the landscape is paltry compared to the constant flow of tour busses and cars to and from the visitor centre itself and the site is screened from the battlefield by a stand of trees and on the other side of a minor road that has a surprisingly high traffic flow given its rural location.
Taken in isolation it is very hard to see why so many have been worked up into a frenzy over this, even claims that this development will somehow lead to a ‘creeping urbanisation’ of the Culloden area has very little evidence to support it
So there’s no problem and we should just let it go ahead then, right?
Wrong, very very wrong.
You see this issue is not about Culloden. It is about our stewardship of historical sites in every corner of Scotland and it is about the process of managing how developments in areas surrounding sites of historical importance are controlled.
As a race we have in the last century woken up to the responsibilities of managing our environment, not just our natural environment but our historical one too. Nowadays we find it incredible that so many sites, of major importance to our race, have been treated with disregard by our ancestors. Temples and tombs that have been robbed and razed to the ground. Ancient wonders where the stones have been removed to be used for local buildings. We have a lot to thank the Victorians for. It was their curiosity that led to the halt in the demise of our historical environment. People like John Clayton for example, who we have to thank for the fact that anything survives of the magnificent Hadrian’s wall.
Now this does not mean that every corner of our landscape that has a tale to tell must be trapped in amber, the creeping ‘disneyfication’ of Scotland is no better than a creeping urbanisation. People live in and work the landscapes that their ancestors fought and died on and they should be allowed to continue. Take for example the site of the battle Flodden, an event that was arguably more significant in the history of our nation but an event that is marked by a simple monument surrounded by the fields of a working farm, every season the land that saw one of the biggest massacres in Scottish history is ploughed over and grazed upon, life continues as it did before that date in 1513. And that is as it should be
What is required is a sensible approach to the management of our historical environment, it has to be taken into consideration that this environment is not just part of our history but the history of Scotland’s diaspora and their thoughts and views should be listened to. Any inventoried site in Scotland should have a level of protection that means that one civil servant cannot write it off with a flourish of his pen. We have a trust body in Scotland for a reason and their opinions must be considered with the highest regard. Only when all parties agree that a proposed change to a site of significance is right and proper should it be allowed to go ahead.
Viewhill development at Culloden is a fairly innocent piece of planning in itself. 16 family homes out of sight of the moor will have virtually no impact on the quiet contemplation of the landscape, however what Viewhill demonstrates is a lack of joined up thinking across government departments, local councils and trust bodies. The same lack of joined up thinking that has at times hindered the development of a solid approach to ancestral tourism. There is an awful lot of talk but not a lot of listening; in this homecoming year it is time we did just that.Tagged