Forty years ago the powers-that-be chopped up our local authority areas without a thought to the history that had bound communities together for centuries.
For us in Falkirk there was some good news as the Bo’ness area with its fabulous history was added to our district, but across in the west the brain boxes cut Kilsyth adrift and handed it to North Lanarkshire. Thus an ancient link was broken and the lands once ruled by the Livingstons of Callendar and their ‘cousins’ in Kilsyth became the responsibility of new authorities.
As part of this we also lost the site of yet another battle, that of Kilsyth on August 15, 1645, fought over part of the Colzium Lennox estate near the remnants of the Livingston castle.
Colzium is a wonderful place to visit and to walk. Lying just a mile east of Kilsyth not far from Banton village the estate is full of history. The ruined castle dating to the mid 15th century is a disappointment but more than made up for by the beautiful Colzium House, built by the Edmondstones of Duntreath, who acquired the land in the 18th century and modernised and extended it in 1861.
Not far away to the east is Banton Loch, once known as Townhead Reservoir, created in 1770 to supply water to the Forth and Clyde canal. Under its tranquil waters lies the site of the Kilsyth battle where the Scottish army of the Covenant was swept from the field by the Highland soldiers of James Graham, the celebrated Marquis of Montrose.
It was all part of what we often mistakenly call the ‘English Civil War’ and when trouble began in 1637, Montrose, like most of the Scottish nobility, rejected King Charles I’s attempt to force English styles of worship on Scotland. However, he soon changed tact and became Charles’ champion north of the border.
From a near standing start he built an army inspired by the great Highland Warrior, Alistair McColla, and together they routed the Scottish army all over the north of Scotland. By August 1645 they were on the march south and set up camp near Colzium Castle where they met up with the latest army sent against them commanded by General William Baillie of Letham. Advancing from Hollandbush near Banknock with nearly 4000 men Baillie intercepted Montrose just west of Banton and after some jockeying for position the battle began with a flanking attack by the dragoons repulsed by a ferocious frontal attack by McColla’s Highlanders.
All was confusion for a time but soon the rout began and Montrose had another resounding victory. Many hundreds were killed, some say thousands, and the places nearby bear names like Slaughter Howe and Bullet Knowes.
It was the high watermark of the Montrose campaign. Defeat at Philiphaugh a month later was followed by exile and capture. He was executed in Edinburgh in 1650 the year after King Charles went to the scaffold in London. In 2003 a small cairn was erected at the side of the loch by the Marquis of Montrose Society to remind visitors of one of the most turbulent periods in Scotland’s long history.