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In the Footsteps of Braveheart, Stirlingshire

The year 2005 marked the 700th anniversary of the death of Scottish hero William Wallace: immortalised as Braveheart on film and in legend. On August 23, 1305, after defeat at the Battle of Falkirk and eventual betrayal, Wallace was publicly hung, drawn and quartered in Smithfield, London. Seven hundred years on, Braveheart has lost none of his power to lure pilgrims.

On September 11, 1297, at Stirling Bridge, Wallace's volunteer army of 16000 routed one of Europe's most formidable fighting forces in Europe, the 50000 foot soldiers and 1000 cavalry of the English King Edward I.

Wallace Monument courtesy Visit Britain The 220-foot high Gothic tower of the Wallace Monument stabs the sky from the top of densely wooded Abbey Craig that was formed by an erupting volcano 300 million years ago. Standing 310 feet above sea level, it beckons to visitors strolling the ramparts of Stirling Castle, occupying its own great rock, one mile away, across the River Forth.

William Wallace statue courtesy Visit Britain The statue of Sir William Wallace, Scottish hero, stands some 21 feet high on his ten-foot plinth. He clutches a broadsword with his shield resting alongside. The Dryburgh statue, which was unveiled in the grounds of Bemersyde House on September 22, 1814 is believed to be the first monument to be raised to Wallace in Scotland. Built of red sandstone, the figure, commissioned by Stuart Erskine, the 11th Earl of Buchan, is a testament to the cult of Wallace that swept across Scotland in the 19th century and which persists to this day.

A big-screen video presentation in the 80-seat auditorium in the castle's visitor centre sets the scene. Standing at the lowest crossing point of the River Forth, Stirling formed a natural fortress. For more than a thousand years, warring tribes fought to possess it. When the Scottish King Alexander III died in 1286 without an heir, Edward I seized control of Scotland, its government and institutions.

William Wallace was born in the village of Elderslie, west of Glasgow, around 1270. Drawn into the guerilla war being waged against English rule, Wallace murdered William Hazelrig, the Sheriff of Lanark in the spring of 1297 to avenge the killing of his wife and was immediately outlawed.

Now the principal focus of Scottish rebellion against English rule, Wallace joined forces with fellow freedom fighter Andrew de Moray at Dundee and prepared to meet the English army which was travelling north to Stirling Bridge, beneath the Abbey Craig.

The English rode the bridge into a bloodbath of their own making. Cavalry horses floundered in the boggy ground. Riders were drowned under the weight of their own armour. Troops were literally cut to ribbons by Scottish swords, spears and daggers.

The triumph was short-lived. In the July of the following year came the defeat at Falkirk, midway between Edinburgh and Stirling, followed by Wallace's capture and eventual execution.

An exhibition tells the story of the building of the monument and details of the nationalist struggles that were being waged across Europe which brought about a worldwide resurgence of interest in Wallace's story. The Wallace National Monument was built entirely by public subscription – but with nationalist campaigners Kossuth of Hungary and Garibaldi of Italy among the donors.

The building has 244 steps to its summit. Wallace's five and a half foot broadsword on display gives this information: “In order to wield a sword of this size, Wallace needed to be of considerable stature, about six foot, six inches in height."

Scotland has at least 20 monuments that commemorate Wallace, including a Wee Wallace on top of the Athenaeum in Stirling and a bronze statue in Aberdeen. At St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, in the historic Clerkenwell quarter with its village-like atmosphere, Wallace's execution is commemorated by a plaque.

On September 11, 2005, Stirling Bridge Day, the coffin containing the spirit of Wallace is expected to be symbolically laid to rest at St Kentigern's church in Lanark, where the warrior was married.

Dryburgh Abbey courtesy Visit Britain The very first of Scotland's Wallace monuments is in Dryburgh, where the pink-hued ruined abbey is the resting place of another local hero, novelist Sir Walter Scott.







Attractions

The National Wallace Monument, Abbey Craig, one mile north-east of Stirling town centre. Open all year, weather permitting.
Tel. 01768 472140

Stirling Castle, Stirling Old Town. Open all year. Tel. 01786 450000

Dryburgh Wallace Monument, from the B6404, St Boswells to Kelso Road, turn onto the B6356 road, signposted Dryburgh Abbey. Along this road, a junction is signposted for Scott`s View. Follow the road for half a mile.


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