Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 12:01 UK

Walking the dark side of the muir

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Night march
Marchers walked through the night to reach the Muir of the Clans

Some corner of furrowed field will forever haunt me.

My enthusiasm for recreating the Jacobite night march of 263 years ago wilted as myself and others stumbled over the ploughed park near Nairn.

Eventually, six hours after setting off from Culloden, we stood at a point on the Muir of the Clans where Bonnie Prince Charlie's marchers turned back.

An eerie silence fell over the re-enactment group. A rusting farm gate in the dark marked the spot.

The area in 1746 was a sweep of unnamed moorland, rough ground, bogs and lochans. Today much of it has been drained and turned over to agriculture.

The musket I carried on my shoulder felt like an anvil

It is marked as the Muir of the Clans on maps drawn in the 1800s and its name appears to have been inspired by accounts of the night march.

In the distance was a dome of yellow light pollution marking Nairn - the location of a Hanoverian camp and target of the prince's 3,000 troops.

The morale of the Jacobites - and that of the modern day team - drained like the water sloshing down the plastic pipes that criss-cross the muir now.

They were ordered to return to Culloden. Those who did not make it back to Culloden to fight later on 16 April, were thought to have been killed by the Duke of Cumberland's troops as they marched to battle.

The recreation began at Culloden House - Prince Charlie's former headquarters - with the 20 marchers setting out to the sound of bagpipes.

The mood was light for the bulk of the journey out towards the muir, the team using forest tracks cutting through estate woodland.

Night marchers
The marchers wore full battle dress and carried muskets and swords

They marched past the row of houses at Lochside which look over picturesque Loch Flemington before reaching a farm and track leading across the muir.

Alec Rose, who manages the estate on which it lies, skilfully led the team across fields in the dark.

But the ploughed one proved a challenge and marked a change in the mood.

Tired, and with blisters bubbling on toes, heels and foot soles, it was if the daunting prospect of retracing our steps back to Culloden had suddenly dawned on us. It also gave a painful insight into the task the 1746 men had faced. They made the trek with scant food or rest.

Shortly after 0100 BST we began our journey to Culloden Battlefield.

While we stuck to forest trails on the way over, we decided to take modern roads on the return trip, fearing the prospect of frustrating hours lost in the pitch black interiors of the forests.

At the village of Croy, Dr Tony Pollard, who led the project, lay down on the pavement and openly admitted to almost weeping at the road sign saying five miles to Culloden Moor.

Stiff joints

Covering those five miles was like chasing the end of a rainbow. It seemed like we would never get there.

The musket I carried on my shoulder felt like an anvil. The sword hanging down one side kept catching my heels and threatened to trip me up.

My body was in combat with what I was wearing. There was chafing and boots rubbing up blisters all over my feet. I felt very, very unfit.

When finally I did reach the battlefield - 10-and-a-half hours after setting off on Wednesday - I sat down heavily next to the visitor centre.

Stiffness crept through my joints like a frost.

But I was lucky. I did not face the prospect of charging down a professional army in the hours ahead.

Instead of musket fire and grape shot, I could go home to my family and hot cup of tea.

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