Myth and legend have pinpointed the exact location of Bonnie Prince

Charlie's remarkable hide-out on Ben Alder. Historical evidence and

recent research have proved to David Trainer that it lies on another


BEN ALDER is a particularly beautiful and attractive mountain.

Overlooking the 20-mile long narrow stretch of Loch Ericht in the

Scottish Highlands, it enjoys a remoteness today which makes it a

popular haven for hillclimbers and backpackers. Happily, the busy A9

road at Drumochter, with its noisy and impatient traffic, is

sufficiently far enough away to be out of sight and sound.

The greatest boast of Ben Alder, however, is a historical one. A

long-standing tradition states that it was on the slopes of this high

and rough mountain that Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince

Charlie, spent an idyllic week in September 1746. After his humiliating

defeat at Culloden, the Prince had been on the run for his life and near

the end of a gruelling five months of hide-and-seek with the dreaded

''saighdeiran dearg'' (red soldiers) he ended up on Ben Alder. Here he

was able to revel in the relative comfort and safety of a remarkable and

cleverly constructed hide-out nicknamed ''Cluny's Cage''. It was built

for the chieftain of the Macpherson clan, Cluny Macpherson, who like the

Prince carried a price on his head. The name ''Cage'' was given to it

because of the vertical rooted trunks of holly trees that were used in

its construction.

The exact location of the cage has been and is confidently proclaimed.

Television crews are helicoptered to the spot and armchair viewers are

invited to marvel at this romantic spot overlooking the southern sweep

of Loch Ericht and imagine the fugitive Prince Charlie lying there in


There are many serious reasons for saying that ''Cluny's Cage'' was in

fact on Ben Alder. Firstly, all the Ordnance Survey maps mark it on a

spot high above Alder Bay with the description ''Prince Charlie's

Cave''. Then there are historical documents like the famous Lyon in

Mourning, which clearly indicate that the Cage was on the south-eastern

slopes of the mountain. This publication of the Scottish History Society

(1895) is a prestigious collection of documents, stories, and eyewitness

accounts of the Jacobite Rebellion made by Bishop Robert Forbes and its

evidence must be taken seriously. Finally, Robert Louis Stevenson in his

novel, Kidnapped, paints a memorable and historically accurate picture

of Cluny's Cage and clearly describes it as being on Ben Alder.

In the face of all this evidence could anyone doubt the traditional

location of the famous cage? Well, it would appear that the answer is a

clear ''yes''. There have been questions raised and respectable authors

like Walter Blaikie, Eric Linklater, and Affleck Gray are only some of

those who have expressed doubts about it in their writings.

For many years I have been fascinated by the mountain route taken by

Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden and I followed the actual route

across the Highlands in his footsteps. In order to relive as much of the

Prince's experience as possible I travelled across the mountains at

night as he had done. As far as I know, I am the only person ever to

have done this. It was on this journey when I was carefully picking my

way across the slopes of Ben Alder in the middle of a dark night that I

began to have serious doubts about the place where Cluny's Cage actually

was. Ever since then I have been on a journey of a different kind -- a

journey in search of the exact location of the Cage.

The first stage in my journey was to find historical evidence. The

Cage, I discovered, was definitely not a cave, but rather an artificial

structure of two storeys on the face of a rocky hill in a thicket of

holly. It was so located that sentries could give warning. The trunks of

the holly trees were wattled with branches and it was covered with moss

to keep out the rain. The upper room was for eating and sleeping and the

lower one served as a storage and cooking place. The place was

deliberately chosen so that the cliff face of the mountain above was the

same colour as smoke, a clever strategy that provided a natural

camouflage ensuring that no-one from a distance could ever see the smoke

from the Cage's cooking fire and discover its location.Ironically, it

was on the very day the Prince moved into the Cage that two French

ships, L'Heureux and Le Conti, were dropping anchor in Loch Nan Uamh on

the west coast of Scotland near Arisaig. According to The Lyon in

Mourning, the Prince had moved to the Cage from a ''superlatively bad

and smoky'' sheiling called ''Culra'' (from the Gaelic Chaoil Reidhe)

just a few miles away. After spending six days there a messenger arrived

at one o'clock in the morning with the news about the French ships.

Escorted from the Cage that same night, the Prince began a dangerous

76-mile journey to the coast and at daybreak he stopped and hid in the

nearby Culra sheiling.

Why would a man with a price on his head, an army searching for him,

and two friendly ships waiting for him, travel a few miles to Culra and

hide there for the day? The Prince took six days to cover only 76 miles.

This was a slow time when you consider, for example, that a respectable

time for the 92 miles of the West Highland Way is five days. Why did

they waste the first night by travelling a mere four miles?

Maybe it took them too long to get ready or perhaps they were drunk

when the messenger arrived! But if either of these situations were the

case then why should they move at all from a cleverly concealed and

comfortable hide-out to an exposed and extremely uncomfortable sheiling?

It began to be clear to me that the Cage must have been in fact much

further away.

My next doubt was related to the historical descriptions of rocky

slabs above the hide-out disguising the smoke. There are no cliffs above

the traditional site and in any case the track just below it beside the

loch is so close that soldiers on patrol would smell the smoke!

Then there were the dangers encountered on the journey to the coast.

Every time the loyal clansmen travelled at night with their precious

human cargo they crossed a dangerous road or a loch -- every time, that

is, except for the first night. The short journey to Culra crosses

nothing dangerous. I came to the conclusion that the Cage must have been

further away and across some military hazard. Where could it be?

The only place was the other side of Loch Ericht. I went there,

searched around and found a huge crag opposite Alder Bay. I estimated

that the Cage must have been somewhere here. High above were gigantic

steep slabs of rock sweeping down from the hill top. They would easily

camouflage smoke rising from the Cage. Modern maps call the place

''Creag na h-Iolaire'' (the crag of the eagle) and it seemed to me to

fit the description of the Cage in The Lyon in Mourning perfectly. High

above a sentry would see an enemy boat coming down the loch when it was

miles away.

If the Cage was in fact at the other side of Loch Ericht, it would

have been too dangerous to cross the loch during the day. A boat could

be seen for miles up the loch and, once seen, would almost certainly

provoke a widespread and most unwanted search. Therefore, the speedy

departure of the Prince at 1am now becomes very logical. It would be

absolutely imperative for him to be taken across the loch immediately

under cover of darkness. By the time the Prince reached the other side

of the loch and was escorted across Ben Alder to Culra it would be

daylight and they would have to hide up for the day. The location of

Cluny's Cage across the loch makes a lot of sense.

The next stage in my journey took me to Edinburgh where I visited the

National Library to study Roy's Military Map which shows a track down

the west bank of the loch. In the library I discovered a map, Map of

Counties of Perth and Clackmannan (1783), by a certain James Stobie. To

my utter amazement I saw on the east bank of Loch Ericht opposite Alder

Bay the handwritten words: ''Place where C. S. hid himself 1746''. It

was the date of the map which caught my attention. 1783 was within 40

years after Culloden and there could be no doubt that Stobie was acting

on local information from people who had actually lived through the

Jacobite rebellion. The cryptic reference to ''C. S.'' (Charles Stuart)

and the omission of the designation ''Prince'' was understandable

considering that in 1783 Charles Edward Stuart was still very much alive

in Italy calling himself King Charles III of Great Britain and Ireland!

Is James Stobie a reliable source? My next step was to visit Blair

Castle where I discovered that Stobie had been a well-respected estate

manager employed by the Duke of Atholl. His work as a surveyor is

considered to be of a very high standard. The map which he spent two

years surveying is reckoned to be one of the best county maps of


My next discovery was to happen by the chance reading of a travelogue

by an English woman, Sarah Murray, who toured the Highlands in 1796. In

her book, A Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland, she

describes how she was taken by a local Highlander to Alder Bay from Loch

Rannoch and, obviously acting on local knowledge, she clearly indicates

the location of the Prince's hide-out on the mountainside at the eastern

side of Loch Ericht: ''On the east bank of this lake is a prodigiously

high, rough, bare mountain, in the hollows of which poor Charles Stuart

concealed himself.''

There can be no doubt that all the evidence points to the location of

Cluny Macpherson's Cage on the east side of Loch Ericht at ''Creag na


The Ordnance Survey Map of Scotland published by Sir Henry James in

1873 clearly indicates Cluny's Cage on Ben Alder with the title ''Prince

Charlie's Cave''. Right up to the present day all the Ordnance Survey

maps have repeated this error and for some mysterious reason the

location across the loch has faded into oblivion. There probably was

some kind of a hide-out on Ben Alder, but, with respect to the Ordnance

Survey, to The Lyon in Mourning and (dare I say it?) to Robert Louis

Stevenson, it was certainly not Cluny's Cage.

As I stood with two friends on the grassy hill high above the true

site of Cluny's Cage, we looked across Loch Ericht to a bleak-looking

Alder Bay overshadowed by a dark, mist-capped Ben Alder. The magnificent

view of the loch below us was quite breathtaking. There is a tangible

stillness in this extremely remote and inaccessible spot and we paused

for a moment to reflect on the great secret that this quiet hillside has

kept for more than 200 years.