History was sometimes made in lonely places. A minor road climbs east from Dunblane onto the broad western end of the Ochil Hills. As the vistas open up you find yourself in an area of undulating moorland punctuated by forestry plantations. This is Sheriff Muir. A large monument standing beside the road is the first sign that it is somewhere special. Beyond it is a layby with another, smaller, cairn, complete with plaque.
The plaque on the smaller cairn, which was placed here by the 1745 Association, notes that: "On this moor on 13 November 1715, a Jacobite army composed largely of Highlanders under the command of the Earl of Mar met a Hanoverian army consisting mainly of regular British soldiers under the Duke of Argyll, at what has become known as the Battle of Sheriffmuir". It goes on to say: "The result was indecisive, but Mar's failure to take advantage of Argyll's weakened position in the closing stages of the conflict and subsequent withdrawal from the field contributed to the failure of the Rising... in favour of the exiled King James VIII." It's about as succinct a description as you could ever hope for of the inglorious culmination of what had been a real dog's breakfast of an uprising from start to finish.
John Erskine, 23rd Earl of Mar had initially been an enthusiastic supporter of George I on the latter's accession to the throne in 1714. But after being publicly snubbed by the new king, Mar decided to back a different horse, and on 1 September 1715 raised a standard for "King James VIII" at Braemar. He rapidly gathered an enthusiastic army of 10,000 men and started to gain considerable ground in northern Scotland. There were three main problems with all of this. The first was that Mar had neglected to tell James in advance of his planned uprising; the second was that he had failed to coordinate his actions with Jacobite uprisings that by coincidence occurred in England at the same time; and the third was that Mar was a very poor general. As a result, what was by far the best opportunity the Jacobites would ever have of regaining power was squandered.
On 13 November 1715, a large part of Mar's army advancing from Perth met a much smaller government army under John Campbell, the 2nd Duke of Argyll, at what is now known as the Battle of Sheriffmuir. Mar's forces probably just about won on the day, but he failed to take advantage of the open road that now lay to the south, and withdrew. Meanwhile, James Stuart or James VIII was only able to reach Scotland on 22 December, when he landed at Peterhead. He was too late, the uprising was all but over. The Jacobites abandoned Perth on 31 January 1716, and on 4 February James Stuart and John Erskine, 23rd Earl of Mar, sailed out of Montrose, bound for France. Neither would ever return.
Opinions differ about the exact deployment of the opposing sides on the day, but with the Jacobites approaching from the north-east and the Hanoverians from the west, one version of history has the latter lined up along the modern road, facing north, while the Jacobites lined up further north, facing south. There are four things to look out for today. The first is the circular cairn referred to above. Much grander is the nearby Clan Macrae Monument, which commemorates the members of Clan Macrae who fell during the battle.
You get a sense of the landscape over which the battle was fought, albeit with the addition of areas of modern forestry, by following a signposted path through the forest and then across open moorland to a copse of trees. Here you find the Gathering Stone, a fallen standing stone protected by iron hoops. This is said to have been the place where the Jacobite standard was placed at the start of the battle, and where some of the approximately 600 men killed in the battle were buried. There was a time when the gathering stone was all but lost in the landscape, but a nearby inscribed stone notes that the pathway to it was cleared in 1990 in memory of Lawrie Boyd Wilson.
And the fourth thing to look out for at Sheriffmuir? This is the Sheriffmuir Inn, which stands on what was probably the eastern edge of the area of conflict, and which provides a comfortable and convivial way of rounding off a visit to the battlefield.