In the countryside to the west of Inverness lies a curious little building sat inside a graveyard. To the casual observer it’s merely a beautiful old building worthy of a glance. But its history is fascinating to researchers, sleuths and Outlander fans all over the world as it holds questions hundreds of years old. Inverness Wardlaw Mausoleum is a burial place located at Wardlaw Graveyard in Kirkhill village and is absolutely worth arranging a tour in advance to get the most from it.
It was originally built for the Lovat Fraser family in 1634 but later fell into ruin only to be was restored in the 1990s when the Wardlaw Mausoleum Trust formed to repair and maintain it. It has become a popular tourist attraction in recent years, due to connections with the Outlander book and TV series. The last known burial in the Mausoleum was in the late 19th Century.
Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, or ‘Old Fox’ features in the Outlander series as grandfather of main character Jamie Fraser. It is this connection that has sparked a new interest in the burial site, putting it on the must-see list for Outlander fans from all over the world. The series author, Diana Gabaldon, and several members of the TV cast have visited too.
Lord Simon Fraser was the last peer of the realm to have his head chopped off in the Tower of London in 1747. This was because he was unsure which side to join during the Jacobite uprising, until deciding to support Bonnie Prince Charlie. After their defeat, he was taken to London for trial under charges of treason. Found guilty, his sentence of being hung, drawn and quartered was reduced to simply beheading, as the king took pity on his frailness at the age of 70.
Were his remains carried back to the Highlands afterwards? That’s what most people beleived, even although official records indicate that he was interred at the Tower of London. There is a double-lined coffin at Wardlaw Mausoleum marked as Lord Lovat’s. This double lead coffin is consistent with transporting a body a long distance – for example, from London to Inverness. However recent studies of bones found in his coffin indicate a female skeleton instead. Could the Old Fox’s remains have been swapped out? Buried elsewhere? Or at the Tower of London all along? Right now, we just don’t know.
The barrel-vaulted crypt contains six lead-lined or double-lead-lined coffins in total, including a particularly poignant one of an infant, John Fraser, who died in 1779 and represented the end of this line of the Fraser family. The diagonal flagstone floor in the chamber is unusual.
You can visit the Wardlaw mausoleum by pre-arranging in advance. If you want to get as much information as possible about this fascinating piece of Scottish history, it is definitely worth booking in advance. The tour is free, but donations to help with the upkeep of the building are warmly welcomed. If you turn up without an appointment, you may still get a tour, but it is not guaranteed. Give the house on the right at the entrance to the graveyard a knock when you arrive. There is no entry fee but small donations are welcome.