Coming north from a family party, we left the motorway and happened on a small village called Clifton.
A sign informed us it was the site of the last battle on English soil.
The retreating Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie was being pursued by the Hanoverian forces of the Duke of Cumberland and General Wade.
|The house where the Duke of Cumberland is said to have stayed|
A rear-guard action was fought by the Macdonells of Glengarry, the Clan Macpherson and the Stewarts of Appin, stopping the Government forces and allowing the main Jacobite host to escape.
This only delayed the inevitable as they were subsequently routed at Culloden in 1746 with the subsequent destruction of the Highland clan system in the aftermath.
Sir Walter Scott describes the battle in the novel Waverley when the eponymous hero, Edward Waverley, an Englishman, is involved in the Jacobite cause.
Waverley is pardoned for his part in the uprising but when Euan MacIvor the father of his love, the passionate Flora, is executed, she rejects Waverley. Edward later marries the sensible Rose Bradwardine.
Perhaps Scott was showing the choice between the romance of the doomed Stuart cause and the stability of the Hanoverian regime.
In the novel, Scott draws upon the words of clan chief, Macpherson of Cluny in his notes of the battle with its evocative description and the ring of the clan names and battle cries.
'The Stewarts and Macphersons marched forward at the word of command, as did the Macdonalds and MacDonnells on the right. The men on the on the right kept firing as they advanced but the Macphersons, who were on the left, soon came into contact with the English dragoons, and received the whole of their fire. Murray then drawing his sword, he cried out, "Claymore!", and, Cluny Macpherson doing the same, the Macphersons rushed down to the bottom ditch of the enclosure, and, clearing the hedges as they went, fell sword in hand upon the enemy, of whom a number were killed at the lower ditch. The rest retreated across the moor, but received in their flight the fire of the MacDonnell of Glengarry regiment'.
Ten Government dragoons were killed and four of their officers wounded. One British dragoon is recorded as dying in Clifton several weeks later, presumably of wounds received in the battle. The dragoons killed in the battle are buried in St Cuthbert's churchyard. Near the churchyard gate is a stone commemorating the skirmish.
The only prisoner taken on the occasion was a footman of the Duke of Cumberland. This man was later sent back to his master by Charles Edward Stuart.
Motorways are great for getting from one place to another but deny us these chances for an unplanned dip into the past.
The Battle of Clifton though it was little more than a skirmish, took place two hundred and seventy two years ago tomorrow, the 29th December by the Gregorian calendar. At the time of the battle the Julian calendar was still in use so the date was recorded as December 18th, eleven days earlier.
There would still have been time to get home to Scotland for Hogmanay though with little reason to celebrate.