"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Thursday, March 27, 2008


The last time I was in Scotland in 1999, while traveling from London to Edinburgh on the train, I spied the towers of Durham Cathedral, but was disappointed that time didn't allow me a chance to return to explore this wonderful medieval town. So much of the Anglo/Scots border history is tied to the history of both Durham and Cathedral as the Cathedral's Bishops were not only the spiritual leaders of the north but also the political and military authority of the region. This trip I was finally able to visit the site.  

We hiked up to the Cathedral and I have to admit I was rather disappointed at the interior of the place. It seemed so plain, but I guess in comparison to Westminster Abbey in London it would seem sparse. Unfortunately, as it still has an  active religious congregation, we were not allowed to take pictures in the sanctuary. But the sheer size of the building, with its blending of both Norman and Gothic architecture was well worth the visit.  I especially liked the feel of the green which bordered  the Cathedral with buildings of the University of Durham. You could feel the pulse of the community just  sitting on the green and people watching.  As we hiked up to the location, my husband took pity  on me and let me take the bus back to the little square for a bit of lunch and shopping before we headed off for out next destination. 

From Durham we headed north toward Berwick on Tweed and  along the way we stopped at Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve.  I wanted to drive out to the Holy Island but the tide was coming in so we decided not to chance it. You see my husband was in a hurry to get to Berwick anyway because he had heard of a great golf course there, the most northern one in England  and he had made a goal this trip to play at least one golf course in each of the four countries  we would visit. With Berwick's incredible history I knew that I would have plenty to do exploring the walled city, so he could have his afternoon of golf. A bit of the history of the area is in order: during all the Border warfare over the medieval and renaissance period  Berwick changed hands from the Scots to the English to the Scots and finally in 1482  back to the English  who retains the  control today. The city was  under constant attack and a wall was built during the reign of Elizabeth I to keep the Scots out. Unfortunately, by the time we got there the weather had turned right nippy and cloudy and my husband had decided to play only a few holes of the course before we had to head back to Gretna Green where we were staying. The course is a lovely and located right on the North Sea with the walls of the city at its back.  As the days are much shorter this time of year we headed back toward Gretna didn't want to drive the Border roads in the dark.   But I had one important stop to make as we drove along the border thru the Border Marches,  of England and Scotland.

I wanted to stop at Flodden Field which is just about 12 miles or so inside England, just south of Coldstream which is on the Scottish side of the East March. The reason for this visit is that on September 9, 1513 Scotland suffered one of its greatest defeats at the hands of England.  There was scarcely a Scottish clan or family who didn't lose a loved one at this battle which occurred at Branxton Hill. My interest was because of Scotland's great King James IV, my favorite Scottish king, who was killed on the battlefield along with his natural son Alexander Stewart, who was Archbishop of St. Andrews as well as  three bishops, 68 knights, 12 Earls, and 14 lords of Scotland as well close to 10,000 Scottish men. In comparison the English who had a smaller overall fighting force only lost 1500 men. It was not only the largest battle between the two countries but it was the greatest defeat the Scots suffered at the hands of the English, much worse than Culloden two hundred years later.  

It was just about dusk with the wind and rain kicking up,  but after lot of grumbling from my husband  about the poor signage we finally found the small car park to the site. Unlike the Battlefield at Culloden, in the Highlands near Inverness, where there is a wonderful visitor center, at Flodden there is a rutted carpark with a small switchback gate that leads up the hill to the memorial (above). As it was now rather nasty out,  my husband opted to stay in the car and read while I trekked to the top of the hill by myself. It was really very lonely with the gray sky above and no sounds but the distant bleeting of some sheep. But to be honest it added to the solemn atmosphere  of the place and I welcomed the solitude.  I do know the place is reputed to be haunted with locals reporting sightings, even today, of soldiers in the period dress spotted leaving the area but as an intrepid watcher of Ghost Hunters, I kept hearing Jason and Grant's  voices saying residual ghosts can't hurt you. I sure hoped they were right. 

I have to say I was a bit nervous up there by myself at first. I am all for history renactments but I'm not sure I was ready for the ghostly kind.  But after sitting up there for about a half hour I was glad I  made the effort to go if  by myself.  It was peaceful and a great place to reflect on what it must have been like. There isn't much to see as the battlefield like many in the UK is now a farmer's field, but one does  get a sense of what it must have been like for the Scots and the English that day.  The picture above shows the battlefield as it is today looking south. Oddly enough the English were on this side (north with their backs to Scotland)  looking up at the hill to the south where King James and the Scots were located with their route to Scotland blocked by the English, which was probably much of the reason for the Scottish defeat.  

This  picture  is the small church, in fact the very  same church, where King James's body was taken by the English after he was killed on the battlefield.  His body was later taken to London but was never returned to Scotland, sadly. It isn't known where his final resting place is but there was some legend that his head was removed from his body and used by some local workers as a bizarre sort of  soccer ball, a very sad end to the first of the Scottish Kings (and in my opinion the best Stewart/Stuart king) to unite ALL of Scotland including the Lord of the Isle into one nation.   I will end this entry on this sad note, and the next entry will be on the Scottish Borders.   Enjoy.