Battle of Falkirk

0830 Collect group of Army personnel from Edinburgh barracks. Head North West to Stirling passing close to Falkirk where on Jan 17th 1746 there occurred a battle between Jacobite forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie and a Royalist army under command of Lieutenant General Hawley. The battle lasted just 20minutes and the result appeared inconclusive although the royal army lost around 350 men killed, wounded and missing with 300 captured. The Jacobites lost some 50 dead and 70 wounded. Hawley was a ruthless disciplinarian and his handling of the army was inept. Subsequently, the Duke of Cumberland arrived to take command on Jan 30th 1746.

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Bannockburn

We arrive at Bannockburn in the shadow of Stirling Castle. Here on June 23rd and June 24th 1314 was fought arguably the most decisive battle in Scottish history and which acted as a watershed in Scotland’s fraught relationship with England.

The catalyst for the battle was the Scots’ siege of Stirling Castle. This was the only remaining English occupied stronghold in Scotland which was to be surrendered on June 25th. 1314 if not relieved by that date.

King Edward II of England moved up a force of 17000 with some 200 supply supply wagons. Against this force King Robert had just 5000 foot soldiers and 500 horse (cavalry) plus a reserve of some 2000 lightly armed Clansmen.

The Scots made use of natural defences, occupying an elevated position with wet ground of the Bannock Burn in front supplemented by concealed pits and traps sown with triangular spikes (calthrops) to maim horses.

The English resolved on a frontal assault combing both cavalry and foot (archers). However, the defensive obstacles took their toll and the English advance faltered aggravated by lightening attacks from the Scots cavalry.

Due to a combination of strong defences and a strategy blunder, the English withdrew with the King deciding to focus solely on the relief of Stirling Castle and embarked on a forward strategy which ignored the possibility of a Scots attack. At this stage the English were bogged down and crammed into an area of half a square mile.

On the morning of June 24th the Scots advanced at 2.30 am. They were in good spirits whereas the English had experienced an uncomfortable night with little food or rest.

However, the English position remained tenable; the Right was protected by the Bannock Burn and the army enjoyed numerical superiority. The key weakness was lack of space.

Initial contact resulted in a section of the English army fleeing in a disorderly manner. However, the main advance was halted by the sheer concentrated mass of the English foot.

The battle raged, inconclusively, for an hour but after 20 minutes gaps began to appear in the English ranks and then defeat became imminent. King Edward had failed to demonstrate generalship and was persuaded to leave the field, an action which proved negative for English morale. At this time the Scots reserves came up which triggered a collapse of the English army which suffered losses of between 3000 and 4000. Scots casualties were about one tenth of this figure. Following this defeat Stirling Castle surrendered to the Scots.

After visiting the memorial to the battle and statue of King Robert we move on to Stirling Castle which occupies a commanding position, high on a 350m year old volcanic rock formation.

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Stirling

This is Scotland’s sixth ranked city. To reach the castle we drive up through the medieval Old Town. On arrival we use the Castle car park as a view point to see the battle sites of Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge. In the distance we can also view the Wallace Monument of Braveheart fame.

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Battle of Stirling Bridge: September 11th 1297

This was another defining battle in the fraught relationship between England and Scotland. It took place on and around a wooden bridge across the River Forth (some 180 yards upstream of the 15th century stone bridge which still remains in situ).Key protagonists are John de Warenne, Governor in Scotland for Edward I and William Wallace aka ‘Braveheart‘. The battle was won by the Scots.

After spending some time viewing the battle site and various aspects of Stirling Castle’s exterior, including various memorials to fallen British soldiers-Boer War and Various Indian military actions-we move on into Perthshire

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Ardoch Roman Fort

The route takes us through some stunning and rugged scenery augmented by vibrant rainbows which are a function of the constantly changing weather conditions.

Ardoch is located at the edge of the village of Braco and, sadly, has no visitor centre or even conspicuous direction signs. The casual visitor would be unaware of the existence of this magnificent Roman site, possibly the largest of its type in Scotland. An aerial view can be found in catswhiskers photo gallery

Ardoch was built by and occupied by the Romans intermittently over a period of some 36 years between AD 80 and AD 160. It is one of a chain of garrisons established along along a line running from Camelon on the Forth to Bertha on the Tay. During the late first century it may have comprised part of a frontier system encompassing the Findo Gask Ridge and which is now a candidate for recognition as a World Heritage Site in conjunction with similar Roman frontier sites in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

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Aberfeldy

After spending some time inspecting the Ardoch site and its stunning series of defensive earth built ramparts and ditches we move on through the country town of Crieff to a similar small Perthshire town of Aberfeldy.

The visit here is twofold: to view (a) the famous military bridge built by General Wade and (b) the memorial to raising of the famous Black Watch regiment which occurred very close to the military bridge.

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General Wade

General Wade was charged by King George I in the 1720s to build a series of roads in Scotland to facilitate troop movements in response to the Jacobite threat. The bridge over the River Tay at Aberfeldy was designed by William Adam and cost about GBP1M in today’s money. It formed part of a vast network of military roads which later grew to over 1000 miles. This existence of the bridge acted as a catalyst to the development and growth of Aberfeldy which until then was little more than a hamlet.

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The Black Watch

This is one of Scotland’s finest and best known military regiments. It existed for over 266 years from September 1739 to March 2006 during which period the regiment gained 164 battle honours and 14 Victoria Crosses.

Lunch

Not forgetting that every army marches on its stomach, we follow the course of the River Tay to Birnam where we enjoy an excellent ‘pub lunch’ at the Birnam House Hotel, which itself has an interesting history dating back to the early 1800s.

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Suitably refreshed we move on up the A9 via Pitlochry to Killiecrankie.

Killiecrankie

This famous battle occurred on July 27th 1689 the catalyst for which was a vote by the Scottish Parliament to replace the catholic James VII with his protestant nephew William of Orange. Supporters of James were known as Jacobites.

A Jacobite army of 2500 under Viscount Dundee vied for control of Blair Castle with his opponent General Mackay who led a Williamite force of 4000. The Jacobites won the race for Blair Castle whilst Mackay established his H.Q. at Urrard House, a few miles away, a positioned his battalions for for the expected attack. However, due the difficult terrain, Mackay lacked heavy guns.

The Jacobites swooped down from Craig Ealloch leaving Mackay trapped between the River Garry below and rising ground in front.

The Jacobites charged after the bright sun began to wane at 8.00pm. Mackay had made strategic errors in positioning his troops which gave his opponents an advantage. The famous Highland Charge struck hardest on the left. The bayonets of the Williamites proved no match for the Highland Broadsword and the ranks began to break and run.

Mackay managed a fighting retreat, falling back along the pass towards Stirling. About half his force was dead or prisoner whilst the victors lost about 600 including their General, Dundee.

After driving around visiting key features relating to the battle we park at the Killiecrankie Visitor Centre where the young soldiers try to emulate the Olympic long jump of Government soldier Donald MacBean as jumped the river to escape the victorious Jacobites. After spending some time at the very scenic Pass of Killiecrankie we move back down the A9 to the small town of Dunkeld where there was a secondary action after the Battle of Killiecrankie.

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Dunkeld

Following their victory at Killiecrankie, the Jacobites marched down and attacked the town of Dunkeld which was garrisoned by Williamite, Cameronians comprising a body of raw recruits.

On the morning of August 21st a body of some 4000-5000 Jacobites furiously attacked Dunkeld pushing the defenders back to a position behind a wall surrounding a house belonging to the Marquis of Atholl

The Jacobites also occupied houses in the town which they used as vantage points to pour fire on the defenders from the windows. A contingent of the defenders set fire to the houses whilst locking the doors and thereby causing the occupying attackers to be burned alive.

With the town ablaze, the battle lasted four hours after which the Jacobites began to fall back in disorder to Blair Atholl, near Blair Castle. The entire town with exception of the Cathedral and three houses was burned down with inhabitants taking shelter in the Church.

The defending Cameronians suffered severe losses, including their commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Cleland and their Major.

On the 24th of August, just four weeks after the battle of Killiecrankie, the army of the previous victorious Jacobites had ceased to exist and Blair Castle opened its gates to General Mackay.

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We pay a visit to the tomb of Lt. Colonel Cleland in Dunkeld Cathedral and then head back down the A9 to Edinburgh and army base returning about 6.15pm.

All agreed this was an informative and interesting tour.


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