A Haunting at Culloden House

Like millions of others, I was hooked on Outlander the second I watched the first episode of the Starz series back in the summer of 2014. Even though I consider myself a bit of a history buff, I’d never heard of Culloden. I’d also never heard of Diana Gabaldon or her books. My knowledge of Scotland was largely limited to Mary, Queen of Scots.

Fast forward nine years, and I’ve binged the entire series, rewatching every episode multiple times. I’ve devoured the books, gone down a multitude of Scottish history rabbit holes, and done whatever I can to learn about the magic that is the Highlands. A year ago, my Google research led me to Culloden House.

The current house was completed in 1788 on the site where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed in the days leading up to the Battle of Culloden (where the Jacobite supporters of Prince Charles Stuart fought the English army under the leadership of the Duke of Cumberland), it is now a luxury hotel.

Legend holds it is haunted by numerous ghosts, including that of the Bonnie Prince, who appears dressed in tartan as he roams the house. Sightings of a phantom army preparing to march from the hotel have also been reported.

I discovered that rooms 5 and 14 in the main house are said to be haunted. In 2022, I stayed in room 17 for two nights and wasn’t visited by anyone, supernatural or otherwise.

The grounds have long been the rumored gravesite of sixteen officers of the prince’s army who were shot after they were discovered hiding in the dungeon. They were buried by an English Elm knows as The Bargas Tree with a commemorative stone bearing the message “here lie the soldiers killed by the English after the Battle of Culloden” marking the spot. Both the tree and the stone are long gone, leaving behind a slightly raised mound in the middle of the grass.

In 2018, archaeologists shared that a geological survey conducted onsite showed three pits that they believe hold the soldiers’ remains. During the survey, a collection of mid-18th century halfpennies, pistol and musket balls, military shirt buttons, and part of a sword blade were also found.

I stayed at Culloden House again earlier this month. I was traveling with a friend this trip and we were shown to our room in the garden mansion, a separate building situated down a quiet unlit path a few steps away from the main house. It’s simple and elegant, with minimal exterior lighting. Just a single lantern set above the front door. The mansion opens to a main sitting room and has four guest rooms, two on each level. We were staying on the ground level in a room called Camelia.

During check-in, we were told that no one else was staying in the garden mansion so we’d have it to ourselves.

Highland nights are dark. The hotel grounds are private and secluded. After an incredible dinner in the main house, the woman at the front desk gave us a small flashlight for our walk back.

The next morning, my friend asked (quite seriously) if our room was haunted. She’d woken up in the middle of the night to shadows and shapes dancing on the ceiling, illuminated by a soft red light. The night had been dark, silent, and windless. No swaying trees, no rustling leaves, no movement inside our room, and no one inside the mansion but us.

While the dancing shadows didn’t make an appearance on our second night, we left convinced the number of haunted rooms in the hotel is actually three.