Highlands & Islands

Night march 'zombies in blue bonnets'

Image caption Reservists setting out from Culloden House

Last week, Territorial Army soldiers and commandos from Royal Marine Reserve Scotland completed Exercise Jacobite Trail - an overnight march following routes taken by Jacobite forces on the eve of the Battle of Culloden.

Ian Deveney, from Inverness, and Willie White, of Edinburgh, joined them on the trek dressed in replica 18th Century uniforms - complete with Jacobite blue bonnets and authentic footwear.

The BBC Scotland news website's Steven McKenzie followed the marchers and reports here on the experience.

"Oh look, a newt," I said.

It was the first sentence I had uttered in three hours that had not mentioned blisters, aching muscles, or an expletive.

Myself and five others bent down and peered at the small amphibian on the farm road we were following.

The newt stared back at three men dressed in 18th Century clothing - myself and re-enactors Ian Deveney and Willie White - and the three TA soldiers who were encouraging our painful steps to Culloden battlefield.

A train, the 0656 from Inverness, rattled by on a nearby railway track. A woman sitting by a window did a double take at the surreal scene.

Our group was on its final stretch of Exercise Jacobite Trail, a trek of about 22-miles recreating the Jacobite night march of 15 April 1746.

For members of C Company 51st Highland, 7th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (7 Scots) and Royal Marine Reserve Scotland it formed part of their training ahead of mobilizing to Afghanistan.

And for myself, Ian and Willie the chance to revisit the agonies of the first "real-time" recreation which was completed in 2009.

Two years ago had also been the last time I had walked anything longer than the length of an Inverness city centre street.

Pass out

Ian and Willie, seasoned re-enactors and fonts of knowledge on historical Scottish military campaigns, were representing Ogilvy's Regiment. I was a Red Coat deserter.

The other two were in authentic uniforms right down to their footwear. I chickened out of wearing brogues and opted for modern walking boots.

By the time of our encounter with the newt, we had been on our feet for almost 12 hours and had not slept for 24 hours.

Barring the three TA soldiers who had volunteered to make sure we did not pass out in a ditch, C Company and the commandos had sped marched their way to the battlefield.

The march of 1746 had been an attempt to ambush Hanoverian troops camped at Nairn, but it was aborted short of its target.

The few thousand who took part had marched from Culloden in two organised columns.

However, these columns became increasingly strung out as the men, already ravaged by hunger and exhaustion, tramped across rough terrain.

Their progress was also delayed while a wall at Kilravock was breached and the Jacobites forces climbed through the narrow gap made.

Dawn chorus

Kilravock also played a part in the latest recreation.

Having managed to get ourselves separated from the rest of the marchers, Ian and I found ourselves standing by a stout dry stane dyke at the edge of a large field.

We had plootered from one deep muddy puddle to the next so often we suspected the EU was giving farmers subsidies to put them in. And now there was an impressive wall to be negotiated.

Image caption Talk over breakfast on the battlefield turns to attempting a third night march

Ian and I eventually found a climbable section only to later walk past a gate.

We eventually reached Culloden battlefield at 0845 BST on Saturday, just over 12 hours from when we set out from the Culloden House Hotel the previous evening.

While the soldiers and marines shrugged off the rigours of the march, it had taken its toll on myself and the two others leaving us like zombies in blue bonnets.

The newt was lucky to have been spotted and not squashed under our shuffling feet.

The journey took us through forests where pipestrelle bats hunted insects over our heads, over short stretches of Tarmac and a mossy woodland floor that was like walking across a giant sodden duvet - as well as through historic estates with links to the events of April 1746.

Daybreak was marked by birds' dawn chorus and a woodpecker's hammering on a rotten tree.

On another morning I would have paused to enjoy it, but I had to continue my pursuit of the rainbow-like end to the trek.

As we devoured Lorne sausage and bacon rolls in a corner of the battlefield site I did my best to ignore half-joking talk of attempting a third night march in 2012.

Watching blood soak through my left gaiter from a burst blister, I started thinking up excuses for not going for the hat-trick.

But to those who are intent on tackling that walk, I salute you.

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