William Wallace – standing tall in the Scottish Borders – There may be as much Hollywood as there is historical fact in much of Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’ but it does nothing to diminish the stature of Scotland’s national hero Sir William Wallace.
To the English he was an outlaw and murderer while in Scotland he is credited with laying the foundations for an independent Scotland under Robert the Bruce.
A giant of a man at 6ft 7 inches tall, Wallace was the son of a Scottish knight and minor landowner; a family whose motto was appropriately ‘Pro Libertate’ or ‘For Freedom.’
During an eight year period from 1297 until his capture in 1305 he waged total war against the English under Edward 1 – the ‘hammer of the Scots.’
Wallace’s connections with the Scottish Borders are numerous. From his base in Ettrick Forrest he waged guerrilla warfare against his more powerful foes; tactics that inspired others such as Andrew Murray in the north and fanned the flames of revolt throughout the Scotland.
As much of Scotland took the path to liberation, Wallace and Murray faced their sternest test in 1297 when they met an English army in open battle at Stirling Bridge. They achieved a stunning victory, leaving the English with 5,000 dead, including treasurer High Chessingham.
Wallace is reputed to have had Chessingham’s flayed skin made into a belt for his sword.
He was appointed Guardian of Scotland in 1298, a ceremony that Selkirk in the Scottish Borders claims to have taken place at its Kirk o’ the Forest. In the years that followed Wallace laid waste to towns in the north of England and was a constant thorn in the side of his enemies.
But he was betrayed, taken captive and put on trial in London. The outcome was a forgone conclusion and Wallace as hung, drawn and quartered.
On Edward’s orders Wallace’s head was impaled and displayed on London Bridge, his right arm on the bridge at Newcastle, his left at Berwick, high right leg at Perth and the left leg at Aberdeen.
Edward may have thought this would break the spirit of the Scots but he was sadly mistaken. His actions only served to strengthen the Scots resolve to be free.
The first memorial to be built in Scotland to be built in Wallace’s memory stands near Dryburgh Abbey in the Scottish Borders. It was paid for by David Steuart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan and unveiled in 1814.
It remains a impressive piece of public art; 21ft of red sandstone on a 10ft plinth, in a commanding position overlooking the Tweed Valley and the Eildon Hills.
Wallace’s statue is easily reached from a small car park and a sort walk through the woodlands.