BannockburnManaged by the National Trust for Scotland, Bannockburn is one of Scotland's most important historical sites. It was here that under the leadership of Robert the Bruce, the grossly outnumbered Scots slaughtered the English in a resounding victory that brought them freedom from their oppressive rulers.
Now a national hero, Robert the Bruce crowned himself King of Scotland in 1306 despite much opposition from both Scottish nobles and the Crown. Often lacking both funds and support, Robert the Bruce spent 8 years masterminding and conducting guerilla attacks on the English. With success came support and by 1314, the English were holding on for dear life to their last stronghold in Scotland, Stirling Castle. Located on the road to the highlands, Stirling Castle was the military key to the country, whoever held the castle ruled the country. The English were desperate to hold on to it and resisted Edward Bruce's siege on their stronghold. However, as supplies ran short Sir Philip Mowbray made a pact with Edward Bruce to relinquish Stirling Castle should the English army fail to relieve them from their plight.
In the meantime, Edward II had raised an enormous army of 20,000 so as to put down the rebellious Scots once as for all. However, on their way to Stirling, the English were met by Robert the Bruce and his seemingly negligible force of 7,000 men. Although clearly outnumbered, the Scots were well prepared and Bruce's years of guerilla fighting plus his knowledge of the terrain would soon pay off.
In preparation for the famous battle, Robert the Bruce 'had many holes dug, a foot in diameter and all as deep as man's knee, so thickly (placed) that they could be compared to a wax-comb that bees make'. These pits were then deviously obscured with turf and branches. The camouflage probably also concealed sharpened stakes to heighten the pits' effectiveness. Over-confident with their numbers, 2,500 strong cavalry and weaponry, the English attacked as soon as they saw the Scots. As the English cavalry floundered in the pits, their riders were easy pickings. However, the real Battle of Bannockburn was not played out till the following day.
It would again come down to Robert the Bruce's astute planning saving the day. The boggy ground was well chosen. The heavy armour worn by the English sealed their fate as they sunk and stuck in the terrain. The English charged with great force only to be met by solid phalanxes of spearmen or Scottish schiltrons. Suffering heavy losses, the English fought stolidly on despite being thwarted at every turn – if nothing else, their sheer number would surely win the day. However, when a hidden force of Highlanders suddenly charged down the hill, the surprised English broke ranks in an attempt to flee. The English lost approximately a fifth of their army, their baggage train (reputedly 20 miles long) and most important of all, they also lost Scotland.
Your tour of the Bannockburn Heritage Centre will take you onto the Bannockburn Battlefield where you'll see a large statue of Robert the Bruce within the rotunda. Scientists successfully recreated his features after Robert the Bruce's body was found in a tomb in Dunfermline Abbey. The skeleton wrapped in gold cloth was sealed within an oak and lead coffin. Measuring 5ft11 or 180cm the skeleton clearly showed that the chest had been cut open and its contents removed. The skeleton was reburied after a plaster cast was made from the skull.
In the Bannockburn Visitor Centre itself you'll see an audio-visual show relating the dramatic events of the Wars of Independence, learn more about Robert the Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn and see an exhibition called "The Kingdom of Scots". The best time to visit is the third weekend of September when you can witness a re-enactment of the Battle of Bannockburn by hundreds of English and Scottish forces.
Address: Bannockburn Heritage Centre, Glasgow Road
Postcode: FK7 0LJ
Town/city or near: Stirling
National Trust Scotland