Men in Kilts, Ghosts of Culloden inspired Diana Gabaldon’s #Outlander – and saved my marriage

NOTE: Scroll to the end if it’s ghosts you want to read about.

Never thought I’d become a stark, raving Outlander fan, but thanks to novelist Diane Ryan (aka Rhonda Kay), I’ve joined the legions of Droughtlanders (in the purgatory of awaiting Season 3 of the Starz TV series). Meanwhile, I read about Outlander every day via Twitter or Facebook. (I know. I know. Get a life!) Note: Years ago, early in our marriage, my husband said “reading fiction would be a waste of my time.” My #1 pastime is writing fiction. I’d already vowed to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, until death us do part, so what to do? Find some Historical Fiction adapted to a TV show with sex, nudity, military battles, blood and gore, AND exceptional acting, costuming, setting, and cinematography:

outlander The Outlander book series has sold more than 27 million copies worldwide, and it served as the basis for the popular Starz television show of the same name.outlander_claire_randall_jamie_fraser

Fan Magic is not escapism. No one “escapes” the reality of daily life by following a celebrity on Twitter who follows them back. No one “escapes” the horrors of modern society by becoming part of a Facebook subculture. No one “escapes” the bad news by hearing only the good news. But having fun with other human beings, sharing each others’ sorrows and concerns, rallying behind a working professional whose portfolio and social outreach into his own community is fast becoming legendary…well, those things sure help strike a balance. And they offer hope.  -Diane Ryan, Fan Magic” (September 23, 2016)

Before I go on (Scott Kyle, we love you as Ross and demand that you return in Season 3), I have to make a pitch for the entire cast, consummate actors, all, and the one who steals my heart: Angus Mhor  (actor Stephen Walters). Angus is the anglicized form of Aonghas, which possibly means “unique strength” derived from Irish óen “one” and gus “force, strength, energy”. Mhor comes from the Gaelic mòr, which means “big, great, large”. On the TV show, he is physically dwarfed by Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughen), but Angus/Stpehen’s personality is outsized by no one:

f8cce9b3ca3cb0662375a085d313d16d  fhd004lyc_stephen_walters_002 Stephen Walters

Now, back to the Ghosts of Culloden.

How many fans know that Jamie was inspired by the “true story of a group of Jacobites who sought shelter in a croft and were all subsequently killed – except one whose surname was Fraser”-?  Or that “Over the years, creepy stories about the ghosts at Culloden Moor have been told again and again”-? culloden-moor-memorial-cairn-plaque-c2a9-2006-scotiana

A force of 4,500 Catholic Highlanders loyal to Bonnie Prince Charlie died on Culloden Moor, 16th April, 1746. It was the last battle fought on British soil for the House of Stuart.Only twelve British soldiers were killed in a battle which lasted little more than an hour. The dead rebel Highlanders were buried on the site. All that marks the spot now is a giant cairn of stones. To this day, visitors claim to see the dim form of a battle-weary Highlander at dusk, near the cairn; this dark-haired warrior, said to wear the red Stuart tartan, has also be seen lying on the stones of the cairn, as if resting.

On Drumossie Moor the sad echoes of Culloden battle…

Every April 16th, the locals tense, knowing what they will hear.  Someone in the vicinity will discern the yells, and weapons clashing; the drummers beating a tattoo, until they suddenly stop. 

And somehow that’s worse.  When it stops.  When it’s over.

It’s said that every year, without fail, the battle happens again upon Drummossie Moor.  For the most part it’s sounds, a clairaudient cacophony filling the air.  But then there’s the wandering highlander too.

Nobody knows who he is.  He seems lost, heading shell-shocked, stopping, staring, moving on a step, then stopping again.  There’s never anyone close enough to speak with him. They just watch his dazed progress from a distance. 

Then, as they draw near, he’s gone.  That’s April 16th too.  Every year. 

… Archaeologists have found many items here – hacked musket parts, pistol balls and ripped-off buttons. All these are clear evidence of a desperate close-range fight.

Diane Ryan, the next part is especially for you, in light of Tania’s paranormal investigations in Talking To Luke: Haunting Gets Personal  (Free! Download @amazon)

Temperatures Fluctuate Around the Cairns

Andrea Byrne of Scottish Paranormal took a team of investigators onto Drummossie Moor. They interviewed the staff of the tourist center, who said that they frequently hear reports from visitors, who have seen something strange or heard the sounds of battle.

Using dowsing rods, they discerned an energy line between Cumberland’s Stone and St Mary’s Well.

 The most dramatic readings came from their temperature monitor. As they crossed the moor, all seemed well. But not at the graves. There temperature and humidity rose and fell with each step they took between the cairns.

“I’ve walked a lot of battlefields. Most are not haunted – that one is.”-Diana Gabaldon

outlander-700x315 The Battle of Culloden marked the end of the Jacobite rebellion in April of 1746. It was a short, bloody battle, but it lives on in Gabaldon’s “Outlander” and in ghost sightings.

When Gabaldon  visited Culloden Moor, “she actually experienced the haunted feeling as she walked through the scene of bloody battles past”–and “almost breaks down in tears when talking about the ghosts she feels at Culloden”(speaking to Cathy MacDonald for the BBC’s Gaelic Alba channel). Culloden and famous bloody battle features prominently in the Outlander series. “Most tales seem to involve the spirits of Highlanders lost on the battle field. Experiences range from sightings of a tall, desolate Highland warrior wandering the fields to those of bodies of the fallen soldiers lying quietly on the ground beneath the cover of tartan.” Gabaldon “possesses a keen knack for describing the horrors of the battlefield while maintaining an empathetic, compassionate voice.”  READ MORE Daily Record UK


Men in Kilts – Another bit of Outlander trivia:

“I didn’t know anything about Scotland, but the image of the men in kilts stayed in my head,”Gabaldon says f7fd9e90ba8437abdbb59e0d558bbc69 in an interview with BBC Alba … the American author reveals that she didn’t know much about Scotland when she began writing Outlander (see here for her research process).


Historical Fiction with Time Travel: Why did she include Past vs Present?

“As I started writing the character of Claire Randall, she just wouldn’t speak like an 18th Century English woman at all. She was speaking in a modern tone of voice,” Gabaldon says. After “wrestling” with these inconsistencies for a while, she decided to embrace them: she made Claire a modern woman who accidentally travels back in time to 1743, where she meets and marries Jamie Fraser. Their tale spans eight novels, and a ninth book — Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone— is currently in the works.

The Horses of Outlander –


Barbara Schnell of Germany owns some of the horses of Outlander. She also translates the books from English to German. Schnell bought her first Friesian, a mare she still owns, named Ronja, with her proceeds from her first Gabaldon translation. To further the connection, Schnell’s lovely gelding Talisker is the son of the REAL Lucas, the Friesian who was the direct inspiration for the fictional Phillip Wylie’s gorgeous horse, a stallion we meet in The Fiery Cross. For Schnell it was love at first sight. “The first time I saw a Friesian (the original Lucas), I couldn’t believe that something this majestic and beautiful actually existed,” she said. “The chance to breed Ronja to him was a wonderful gift.”

Schnell (which is German for “quick”) met Diana Gabaldon in spring 1992 from a random online encounter. Google’s German-to-English translator leaves much to be desired: “Since I set up the camera with passion always on horses – and when the opportunities to travel to Scotland, have become increasingly rare, as the photographic and personal encounters with wonderful four-legged friends and their dedicated bipeds are the best compensation… Welcome and enjoy browsing these pages.”

Outlander #FanMagic inspired Diane Ryan’s blog with its “wee mention” of Scott Kyle @scottjkyle1  – and Diana Gabaldon herself publicly thanked Diane for it (how cool is that?):
Very honored, Diane! Fan Magic is that amazing surge of creativity and social bonding that seems to come out of nowhere.



Excerpts from Diane Ryan’s blog:

Author Diana Gabaldon recently coined a phrase,“Fan Magic,” to describe the outpouring of genuine warmth and support from people who love her Outlander books and the TV series …“Magic” is not too colorful a word in this case. It almost makes you wonder who’s done all the praying for this to happen.

…What’s so important about fandom, and celebrity, and making some sort of connection—real or imagined—with people you’ve never met? Especially when the world is burning to the ground all around us? Five minutes of any news broadcast will leave no doubt that innocents are dying and idiots are looting and psychopaths are committing genocide in far-flung regions of the world…

This morning I woke to learn my words from a previous blog post had been quoted, with attribution, in a Scottish newspaper. The Rutherglen Reformer has done a series of features on one of their native sons, none other than the highly popular and well-loved Scott Kyle of unexpected Outlander fame. Media in his hometown has picked up on the fact that people all over the world are drawing positive energy from and becoming inspired by the real-life example Kyle sets every day for benevolence and mutual respect.

I’ve witnessed this real-life example myself, up close and personal, from a front row seat o
n Twitter, and now on Facebook. I’m a card-carrying member of the Kylander Army, which is one of the most benevolent and mutually respectful groups of people I have ever met in my life. There’s always a cheery good morning, check-ins on members who may be going through a rough patch, and some seriously funny humor (“WTF-o-meter”…folks, you will see that phrase again. Maybe as soon as the sequel to my current novel is published.) Like begets like, and the seeds of Kyle’s social media crop of kindness are starting to bear fruit.

41b3tjfjczl-_uy250_  54552744_1392321215  I am Southern, and my characters are, too. Even more, Luke is 19th century Southern. Fascinating stuff. ~DianeRyan

From @DianeRyanRK on Twitter:

— Bawling like a fool in Walmart parking lot. Thank you for doing this to me Carol. Thanks a lot. LOL “I do want to know more about this…JamieFraser” Jamie & Claire – There you’ll be via

— OL fandom IS special. I’ve never seen anything like it and am forever changed as a human being for having witnessed it. @DianeRyanRK, via Twitter
Diane, we all feel that way. Thank you for turning me (and my husband!) into an Outlander addict. We may have been “unequally yoked,” but over time, he’s been forced to concede that fiction is more than escapism, and it is not a waste of time.
On that note, here’s a bit more history for my husband:

They used to call it Drumossie Moor – a bleak stretch of boggy, heather-clad upland moor above Culloden House, south-east of Inverness, overlooking the broad waters of the Moray Firth. This was where the last pitched battle on British soil was fought, on 16 April 1746.

Culloden is now one of the flagship possessions of the National Trust for Scotland. The moor had become unrecognisable as a battle-site. In 1835 a road had been driven right through the graveyards of the fallen clansmen. Much of the land was shrouded under a blanket plantation of sitka spruce, making it impossible to visualise the true setting of the battle. In 1980 the NTS purchased from the Forestry Commission 180 acres of land which had been planted with conifers. The mature trees were felled and the road realigned. At last it was possible to see again the moor as it had been when the encounter took place. The field has been marked with the positions of the kilted Highland clans and the red-coated Hanoverian regiments which took part in the battle.  (Scotland – The Story of a Nation – Magnus Magnusson 2000)

Culloden Anniversary Ghosts: Ghosts who return on the 16 April to relive the battle and their deaths “make themselves heard by the cries of battle. Some witnesses have heard the clash of steel on steel as if of broadsword and sword fighting. One legend of Culloden Moor is that birds do not sing at the exact site of the battle or at the graves of the slaughtered Jacobites. Other local legends at Culloden Moor is that heather which grows nearby will never grow over the graves of the Jacobites.”

“It was never over” – Haunted Battlefields: The Ghosts of Culloden –

Electricity cannot be destroyed, it can only be transformed; and the events of that day play on and on, like a recording on a loop.

…most of psychics agree that the ghosts aren’t really there. It’s residual energy, replaying events, as a haunting.

So much emotion was felt on the moor that day, and during the endless, horrific night which followed.  These were men who knew that the cost of losing was everything. Not just for themselves, but for their families, their clan, their language, their culture, their history and their land.

There were horrors enough in the heat of battle.  Highlanders bogged down in the mud, the momentum of their charge expended before they even got close.  The English employed a new musket manoeuvre, with all the effect of a modern day machine gun.  The group of clansmen, who fled for shelter in a barn, only for the English to burn it down; and them still trapped inside.

There were rules in battle, which didn’t apply that day.  At the end of the fighting, all should be allowed to tend their sick and wounded in safety.  The surviving Scots could not. The English shot them down.

So men lay throughout the night, knowing the worst, fearing the future, in the most dreadful pain. Then came the dawn and the improbably slow waiting for death to come at the end of a bayonet.

Against all precedent and war etiquette, the English fanned out across the moor and stabbed to death any Highlander still alive.  Any who hadn’t perished in that cold April night.  And those further up could see the English coming. They knew what they were doing and they could not move away.

Too injured to move away.

It’s the high emotion of this, neurons flashing with hopeless adrenaline, trapped forever in that terrible atmosphere, which haunts Drummossie Moor.  Those with the right kind of eyes still see them there, awaiting an English bayonet and the loss of it all.

But there’s absolutely nothing to be done to help them. They are not there. Except maybe at St Mary’s Well.

I stood in the heather, bright sunshine and tourists all about me. It didn’t matter. They couldn’t see what I was seeing. No-one there, or since, saw that. And to this day, I’m not sure who believes that I saw it too. But I did; and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I fled the battlefield and stood in the gift shop, consoling myself with plastic things to bring me back to my century. The chill remains.

On April 16th 1746, the last pitched battle on British land took place on Drummossie Moor. Up to 2000 Jacobites lay dead, or injured and dying, in the heather. It was never over.

Culloden: 1746 by Stuart Reid
In this concise account Stuart Reid, the leading authority on Culloden, sets out in a graphic and easily understood way the movements and deployments of the opposing armies and describes in detail the close and deadly combat that followed. His account incorporates the results of the latest documentary and archaeological research and he provides a full tour of the battlefield so that visitors can explore for themselves the historic ground on which this momentous event took place. 51qarjsbqfl-_ac_us240_fmwebp_ql65_ via @amazon


Images: Starz


About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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1 Response to Men in Kilts, Ghosts of Culloden inspired Diana Gabaldon’s #Outlander – and saved my marriage

  1. Carol, this is a wonderful blog post! Lots of great information here. I had no idea about the Jacobite survivors hiding in the croft, or that one was named Fraser. What a tie-in to the story! Thank you so much for the mentions and for the great read. 🙂


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