Scottish fight for independence stretches back seven centuries in Bannockburn

Victory for Robert the Bruce re-enacted as Armed Forces Day celebrated nearby

Mon, Jun 30, 2014, 01:00

The rain fell heavily, the campfires threw off acrid plumes of smoke, camp travellers edged forward carefully on slippery ground. The camp at Bannockburn in Stirlingshire, Scotland, was not happy on Saturday.

Seven hundred years after Robert the Bruce’s victory over Edward II, thousands had come to commemorate the battle and watch it re-enacted, not by soldiers but by actors. Standing under sailcloth tents, a few actors dressed in period clothes that included chain mail, complained about the lack of food.

“I’m not happy,” said a corpulent man there to play a role in Bruce’s army. “I’m not happy at all. This is absolutely ridiculous. I’m not eating vegetable curry, I’m not. I’m starting to feel dizzy.”

Backed by £500,000 of Scottish government funding, Bannockburn Live was intended to attract 45,000 over two days, but ticket sales disappointed the organisers. About 10,000 attended on Saturday but grumbles filled the air when those with the £20 tickets found they had to queue alongside others had yet to collect theirs.

Once inside they had to queue again to get to the viewing stands for the battle – not everybody made it, which led to more bickering, prompting apologies from organisers.

The battle scenes were humorously delivered: “Give it up for Robert the Bruce, hero of Scotland,” said the announcer.

“That’s pathetic,” he said after a feeble response. “This is a king we are talking about. Again!”

This time the crowd, enjoying a brief break in the rain, responded enthusiastically. The actors cantered through their scenes, which included Bruce’s early killing of Sir Henry de Bohun, his head cleaved with “my good axe“, and the arrival of an informer from the English camp. In the end the Scottish schiltrons – tightly packed groups of men armed with 3.5m spears – moved forward, breaking the English ranks to loud cheers. By now the rain had returned and was coming down more heavily.

“Thank you for witnessing this,” said the announcer as the crowds headed quickly for the gates. “Will the dead now rise,” he said to the actor soldiers.

Independence supporters, wearing the light blue badges of the Yes referendum campaign, were there in numbers, but doubters such as 60-year-old Stuart Thomson, who lives in Ayrshire, were there, too. “The heart says Yes, because of Bannockburn and things like it, but the head says No. I’d rather be a little fish in a big pond.”

Just one of the group with him, unwilling to be named, expressed an intention to vote Yes, and had little confidence of victory: “It won’t happen. I wish it would but it won’t.”

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