The fourteenth century archer’s right hand pulls his bow string taut. Suddenly, his arrow is released, flying over my head. I turn to see another soldier, his heart pierced by the arrow, stumble and fall.
The Interpretive Center at Bannockburn marks the spot where the Scots won a decisive victory over the English 700 years ago in 1314. In the year of the Scottish referendum on independence, this is an emotive place. The victory over the English led to the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, when Scotland declared its right to be an independent country.
In Your Bucket Because…
- This is a significant moment in Scottish history.
- It’s an interactive experience that brings the battle to life.
- Suitable for families with children and all history buffs.
How the Battle was Won
The Battle of Bannockburn was fought over two days between Edward II of England and King Robert the Bruce of Scotland. Despite having a much smaller army, Robert the Bruce’s men were highly trained and took full advantage of the terrain, leaving Edward’s men struggling to cross the Bannock Burn (a Scots word for a stream or small river) in their haste to retreat from the Scots. On the battlefield, the armies rallied round the colors carried by the standard bearers and worn by knights on their shields and tabards so that they knew where the enemy was and did not attack soldiers from their own side.
All this history is explained to us by a young man dressed in medieval clothing who uses a laser pen to point out interesting features of the battle on a scale model of the battlefield. He explains the Scots use of the schiltron, a tight formation of up to 1000 spearmen. They presented a solid mass of spears to the enemy and could move across the battlefield like a porcupine in full defensive mode. Despite the power of the English archers, the schiltron simply closed ranks when any of their men were downed and continued their advance. No wonder the English army were in disarray!
Visiting the Field of Battle
When we visit the battlefield itself, we walk through a parkland that takes us up to the Borestone where Robert the Bruce raised his standard. The Borestone was a millstone with a hole in its centre which Robert used to hold his flag. Only a few fragments of the original stone are left as, over the centuries, people have hacked pieces from it to take home. Now what remains is kept under glass in the Center and in 1957, a commemorative stone engraved with the words of the Declaration of Arbroath, was raised on its site along with the Saltire, Scotland’s flag.
In the distance, we can see Stirling Castle which returned to Scottish hands after the battle. Whoever held Stirling Castle, situated as it is on the main road north, ruled Scotland, so its ownership often changed hands and several other battles were fought in the vicinity.
Nowadays houses and roads have encroached on the battlefield but it is still possible to see the hill where the camp followers watched the proceedings, the carse, or flat land where Edward’s army were ensnared, and of course, Stirling Castle, and all from Robert’s viewpoint at the Borestone.
A huge equestrian statue of Robert the Bruce was erected in 1964 and a rotunda built around the Borestone allowing spectacular views of the statue and Stirling Castle.
Songs and Poems about Bannockburn
The story of Bannockburn has fired the imaginations of many Scots writers and poets. Robert Burns wrote Scots Wha Hae in 1794 using as its music, the battle march of Bruce’s men; Sir Walter Scott finished his poem The Lord of the Isles, with an account of the battle and in 1968, the Scottish folk group, The Corries, composed Flower of Scotland which has become Scotland’s unofficial anthem and which tells of the rout of Edward and his men.
An Ancient Battle Fought with Modern Technology
Then back to the Interpretive Center where we form into two teams, the Scots and the English, and fight the Battle of Bannockburn again on the scale model with the latest technology allowing us to advance or retreat our armies. But will the English win this time or will it be the Scots again? Despite our best efforts the English archers lead the way and retake Stirling Castle, defeating the Scots. The smiling games master assures us that some days the Scots win and other days, it’s the English. Whatever, we all survive to fight another day!
- The Bannockburn Interpretive Center is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and as such is free to members but a charge is made for non-members. Visiting the Borestone and the statue of Robert the Bruce is free to all.
- Booking is essential for the Battle game in the center.
- There is a cafe and a gift shop with imaginative toys associated with Bannockburn for children.