Down Memory Lane

No one knows exactly where the first Battle of Falkirk took place in the town
No one knows exactly where the first Battle of Falkirk took place in the town
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Monday is the anniversary of the first battle of Falkirk - fought somewhere near the town on July 22, 1298.

On Saturday the Society of William Wallace will hold an annual memorial service at the cairn in Callendar Park rather than on the field of battle for the simple reason that we don’t know where it was.

Surprising really when we know so much about the events of that fateful day when the mighty ‘schiltroms’ of William Wallace, packed with thousands of spearmen like giant hedgehogs, faced the mounted knights of King Edward of England.

The eyewitnesses and their stories tell us that the Scottish spears repulsed the knights three times only to fall below a hail of arrows from the longbows of the English and Welsh archers.

We also know that at the end of a disastrous day for Wallace and Scotland many thousands of dead soldiers were buried in great pits near the battlefield. They have never been found and so we don’t know exactly where the armies came face to face.

We do have some clues. The Scots were drawn up on rising ground with the English facing them across a stream or marshy ground. For 100 years people thought Victoria Park was the spot, hence Wallace Street and the 1912 memorial fountain to Sir John de Graeme. It is only one of a dozen possible locations including Slamannan (too far south?) and Grangemouth (too far north?).

Nowadays most folk think that the battle took place to the east of the town and many have identified what they call the ‘back of the woods’ as the most likely place. In this version the Scots would be near Woodend Farm with the Callendar Woods at the back of them and the English army across the other side of the Hallglen to Redding Road and the Westquarter Burn.

The area near the ski slope at Polmonthill has many of the required features and is another worthy candidate, but my own particular favourite is down at Beancross. Once again we have the Westquarter Burn dividing the two armies with Wallace and his men lining up on the slopes of Mumrills Farm and the English advancing from the south east.

It ticks all the boxes and it’s such a nice spot that it deserves a bit of recognition.

It also lies close to the line of the Antonine Wall and I suspect that the great ditches which would have been a lot deeper and more obvious 700 years ago would have been ideal burial grounds. Not too much digging required!

Some years ago John Walker managed to persuade psychic Uri Geller to come and try to find the pile of bones. He was supposed to go up in a helicopter so that he could feel the vibes rising up from the ground, but the weather was poor and the flight was abandoned.

Instead, he asked for a map of the whole Falkirk area and, or so I’m told, he put his finger on Grandsable Cemetery. I think that the fact the words ‘Grandsable Cemetery’ were written on the map may have given him a clue, but on the other hand it is next door to Beancross. Spooky or what?

So the search goes on and the disagreements will not be resolved anytime soon. Just as well really because for local historians it remains the inspiration for many happy hours of discussion.