Cambusbarron Community Council
Cambusbarron Community Council:
Reponse to Historic Scotland’s Battlefield Initiative
Cambusbarron Community Council urges the preservation of that landscape
associated with the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, which has so far escaped
inappropriate development; further, it commends to Historic Scotland, before the
2014 celebrations, a series of sensitively designed and placed, preferably in situ,
explicatory and educational notices that outline possible stages in the events of June,
Further again, it strongly recommends the inclusion in that landscape of Gillies Hill.
We recognise at once the difficulties in the above: that no-one can claim a water-tight
knowledge about any aspect of the details of the Battle, beyond its date(s) and
broadly, its location. Yet, quite correctly, this has not prevented scholars in
developing persuasive theses in which evidence is adduced to argue their case very
effectively. The fact that such persuasiveness can, for Scholar A, argue powerfully for
a point that is opposed just as strongly by Scholar B should, nevertheless, not be a
barrier to such a proposal: such variations in interpretation can surely be adequately
addressed, perhaps literally so, in the proposed initiative – perhaps teaching, or
reinforcing in the public, the useful understanding that history, like much else in life,
can sometimes defy an objective, scientific standpoint.
We realise the Gillies Hill’s role in the events has, as with other aspects of the battle,
been questioned. But we would ask you to consider the following.
Firstly, seeing things after an event is usually easier than envisaging them before it.
While Bruce may well have intended to confront the English in what many today see
as his preferred location, and where, in all likelihood, the battle was indeed fought –
down towards the Carse – before it, neither he, nor anyone else, could, of course,
guarantee this. The camp-followers, therefore, had to have a refuge that was
comparatively safe, given any number of possible eventualities. Surely Coxithill,
overlooking one possible English route to Stirling Castle, was too unsafe: an English
breakthrough could involve a drive across or around that slope and towards Stirling
via Torbrex and/or skirting the King’s Park, on the land largely occupied today by the
M9 (Again: no-one today knows if trees and/or bog occupied this terrain then. Or if
they did, how thickly – as is the case with the New Park also) Battles in retrospect,
can look, in strategical terms, safe and settled; in prospect, they are endlessly and
perilously variable. And such a good strategist as Bruce appears to have been, would
surely have planned for as many outcomes as he could envisage, with his prime
motivation always: stay in the struggle – live (as many of his army as possible) to
fight another day. And for that, he would need his ancillary men as much as his
Secondly, the Coxithill can be seen as an outcrop of Gillies Hill: many people assume
the present walled limits of the Hill, and the roadway today mark its boundary.
Topographically, it descends in an easterly direction towards Coxithill. The valley
thus formed, might well be that referred to by Barbour, the poet1. It’s difficult to
envisage another such ‘valley’ in the area. We recognise that Barbour, as a primary
source, is today often maligned, but it is possible that he reported some things
accurately. It is surely not beyond the realms of imagination to envisage the sma folk
firstly on the higher slopes of that valley (where, possibly in 1314, both trees, and the
rocky banks of the Bannockburn below Gillies Hill might have given them added
security in the event of disaster) and then, as the battle developed, their bolder
elements descending the slopes, and as the noise of fighting becomes more distant
from the north-east, to follow that stage in the battle from the Coxithill, before making
their intervention – probably, being then convinced that the struggle was won, an
attempt at plunder.
Thirdly, we would ask you to consider something often disdained by historians: the
oral tradition, with all its concomitant dangers: deliberate or unintentional
misreporting; exaggerated addition; subtle subtraction; unconscious distortion - how
easy it is for posterity to receive from the past a flawed inheritance. Yet it’s also easy
on posterity’s part, as one modern historian, EP Thompson, asserts, to display
‘enormous condescension’ to that past. Yet, we would also assert an obvious truth:
our forefathers and mothers spoke of, addressed, and came, in the original sense of the
phrase, to terms with experiences both mundane and significant, and passed on to
their children and grandchildren what knowledge and wisdom they had garnered from
these - all in speech, for centuries, before humans recorded these in writing. The
primacy of the written word in the modern world should not stop our ears to what the
past, literally, has to say; or make us despise and dismiss it as unworthy of our
For centuries local people have spoken of the Gillies Hill and the origin of its name.
There have been attempts in the past to claim that its name was a ‘modern’ invention:
one commentator suggested that both had been an invention of Sir Walter Scott. Yet,
a 1685 map clearly shows the terrain with the words ‘Gillies Hill’ across it. A 1662
sasine of William Murray of Touchadam mentions meas terras integra and toti de
Gillies Hill, and follows an earlier sasine, of 1369, frustratingly so far undiscovered,
but possibly referring to the same land, in similarly explicit language. This suggests
that the term 'Gillies Hill' was part of the day-to-day speech of local people: why
would it be enshrined in a 1662 legal document, if it weren't already part of the
recognised discourse of local place-names long before then?
Fourthly, another aspect of the oral tradition in our area is that Bruce visited
Cambusbarron Chapel on the eve of battle, and that possibly there, apart from taking
the sacrament, a council of war, of all his generals, was held. There is no written
evidence for this. It is simply that the Chapel Well, then known as Christis Well, from
which, local legend says, water was taken to be sprinkled on the battlefield, became known thereafter as ‘Bruce’s Well. (The field nearby is still called today
‘Brucefield.’) This may all be fantasy, but again, we cite our belief that the oral
tradition deserves greater weight than it presently, and somewhat disdainfully,
receives. But if he were here, it would suggest that he knew the terrain around
Cambusbarron, and, of course, the Gillies Hill, well.
Finally, the belief of many earlier commentators was that the battle had taken place on
land between the Borestone and landscape to the west/ north-west of it: basically, the
southern side of the old Roman road down which Edward II is assumed to have come.
Today, most historians favour that landscape around Bannockburn High School, and
the carselands to its north-east. We agree with this view.
But the key point once again: no-one knows: it is at least possible, if unlikely, that in
the future, historians and/or archaeologists may shift the focus away from the
carseland; or perhaps that terrain will be scientifically, and irrefutably confirmed as
that of the battle. In either case, the possible role of the Gillies Hill cannot be excised
from any argument, and the present is going to look very foolish to the future if we
allow such an emblematic landscape of our past to be marginalized and legally
Thus, Cambusbarron Community Council urges the inclusion of Gillies Hill within
Historic Scotland’s plans for the future of the Field of Bannockburn.
(Chair: Cambusbarron CC)
1 Syne all the sma folk and vital
He sent with harness and victual
Into the park, well far him fra
And fra the battles gart them ga;
They held their way to a valley
Out of the fight of the battalaye.
The Brus 420-425