On Saturday 3rd June 2017 six members of the 1745 Association set out with backpacks, walking boots and waterproofs on an expedition to Ben Alder by Loch Ericht in the Highlands of Scotland to identify a possible location for the famous “Cluny’s cage”. This was the secret habitation where Cluny Macpherson concealed Charles Edward Stuart and others in September 1746 in the days immediately before a ship returned him to France following the Battle of Culloden and his subsequent period as a hunted fugitive in the Highlands and Islands. Although accounts from the period have given us a description of the cage as a concealed timber constructed and thatched habitation nestling under a rock face with a natural stone hearth and fireplace somewhere in the high wilderness of Ben Alder overlooking Loch Ericht, it seems that there has never been absolute certainty as to its exact location and a number of possibilities have been suggested and even marked on various maps over the years.
Having driven and then walked into this very remote area, the 1745 Association search team based themselves at Ben Alder Cottage Bothy on the west side of Loch Ericht before splitting into smaller groups to climb the hills and corries in the vicinity in search of likely possible locations for the famous “Cluny’s cage”. Accompanied by Glen MacDonald and Jim King, Steve Lord revisited the position where he believed the cage to have been from his previous visit to the area prior to writing his excellent book “Walking with Charlie”. Having concluded that, although a possible contender, for various the place did not entirely match the descriptions from contemporary accounts (most notably from the “Lyon in Mourning”) the trio set off back towards Ben Alder cottage. After short while Glen looked upwards with binoculars and spotted a place high on the steep and rocky slopes of the Ben Alder mass beneath the Sgairneach Mhor summit that looked more promising. There was just time to climb to it before the appointed R/V back at the Bothy and so he and Jim decided to tackle the high slopes in order to investigate further. After an arduous and exhausting climb up steep slopes and over rocks and boulders , they arrived at the lip of a craggy, heather covered platform nestling beneath a high vertical cliff approximately 650 meters above sea level. To their surprise, excitement and delight it quickly became apparent that this place matches the basis of those contemporary account descriptions.
In particular the niche is concealed from view from below, overlooks Loch Ericht and provides a commanding view of the surrounding areas to the south and west and across the south end of Loch Ericht. Most interesting also was the fact that at the rear of the flat area upon which the Cage might have stood were two enormous rocks leaning inwards against each other and topped with a capstone forming a natural fireplace above which smoke could have risen through a series of natural stone channel chimneys and then lost from view and totally dissipated against the vertical cliffs to the rear. In this way it is known that tell-tale smoke from fires for cooking and heat from the cage were concealed from possible redcoat patrols in the glen below. This all matches descriptions from contemporary accounts. Furthermore, the underside of the stones in this natural rock hearth have a dark blackened appearance suggesting that a fire may indeed have burned there at some time – although certainly not in recent times or years. Although the place nowadays has no trees, which seems contrary to the description of the cage as being concealed in a “thicket of trees”, it is seemingly well known that the area had many more trees in the mid 18th century than it now does.
Has the 1745 Association therefore found the true location of “Cluny’s Cage” where Bonnie Prince Charlie was concealed in 1746? Who knows? Possibly! Whilst others may perhaps have discovered other likely locations, the 1745 Association believes that it has found a strong contender that ticks many of the boxes suggested to us by contemporary accounts. The association will now consider what further research or archaeology may be required and/or feasible and affordable in order to establish this beyond reasonable doubt. To be continued……………!!