Bonnybridge archaeologist discovers 700-year-old relics from the battle of Bannockburn

Renactments of the battle of Bannockburn are held annually near the statue of King Robert the Bruce, which is built close to the spot where he commanded his army in 1314
Renactments of the battle of Bannockburn are held annually near the statue of King Robert the Bruce, which is built close to the spot where he commanded his army in 1314

An amateur archaeologist from Bonnybridge is hoping his remarkable discoveries can shed more light on one of the most famous episodes in Scottish history.

James Bayne (64) used a metal detector he was given as a birthday present three years ago to unearth a number of number of intriguing artefacts from the site of the Battle of Bannockburn, the great conflict in 1314 in which the Scots army under the command of Robert the Bruce vanquished the much larger force of King Edward II of England.

The retired maintenance engineer has unearthed a variety of items including a bronze pendant and the remains of a brutal medieval dagger known as a ‘bodkin’.

But perhaps his most exciting find is what appears to be the poleaxe end of a metal battle axe - unearthed close to the spot where Robert the Bruce famously broke his battle axe over the head of the English knight Sir Henry de Bohun, who had charged at the Scots king before the battle had officially commenced.

According to contemporary sources, Bruce spotted the surprise charge at the last moment, but still reacted in enough time to manoeuvre his horse to the side and split de Bohun’s head open as he charged past.

It was an event that is said to have inspired the Scots army to go on and achieve victory against a formidable enemy that was twice its number.

James said: “The poleaxe is causing a bit of a stooshie because of where it was found - 60 yards from King Robert’s tented pavilion in June 1314.

“That’s where the king broke his battle axe over the head of the English knight Sir Henry de Bohun, which resulted in de Bohun’s skull being cleaved down to his chin, and left the Bruce to rue the breaking of his beloved axe.

“The million dollar question is, where I found the broken pottery and other pieces of miscellany, was it the camp midden, and was Bruce so annoyed after his return from the encounter with de Bohun, and near to his pavilion, that he chucked the broken axe into the midden?”

The other intriguing part of James’ story is that these finds were not strictly by chance. The former Longannet Power Station employee had suspected, ever since he was a small boy, that he knew where he could unearth some of the remains of Bannockburn.

He said: “I have been like a moth to a flame for some reason since the age of eight, borrowing my father’s old bike or walking in the summer months to Bannockburn from my home in Dunipace.

“I seemed to know where the actual battle took place long before historians did and would find myself crossing on to the carse across the railway line at the level crossing, storing my bike at the signal box and walking round the fields and along the Bannock Burn.

“I seemed to know what happened where and could practically see in my mind’s eye the battle, and even told aunts, uncles and parents when driving along the A91 through the Carse, ‘There is where the battle happened, there where the dead are buried, and there is something important there to find.’”

James had the chance to finally prove if his suspicions were correct when he joined a team a team of volunteers working alongside the National Trust for Scotland and the BBC on a project to mark the battle’s 700th anniversary in June next year.

To celebrate Robert the Bruce’s famous military victory against the English king Edward II, a new multi-million pound visitor centre will open at Bannockburn and a specially-commissioned television documentary, presented by Neil Oliver, will be broadcast as part of a month of celebrations to remember the battle, which was a turning point in Scottish history.

James own small part in the story of the battle began when his son bought him a metal detector for his birthday, and he returned to the carse to see if his long-held theory was correct.

He added: “Strange things have happened with regards to my finds.

“You just don’t walk onto fields of 40 hectares and find a silver and bronze pendant two inches in diameter. The thing that got me was I knew where it was for 56 years.”

James’s apparent good luck for discoveries continued when he accompanied Dr Tony Pollard, a battlefield expert from the University of Glasgow, and BBC presenter Neil Oliver to a dig organised at the Borestone, close to the Bannockburn visitor centre.

James continued: “I awoke at about 4 a.m. unable to sleep and told my wife that there was something important to find at the Borestone.

“By 6 a.m., riding my old motorbike, I got there and with no-one yet arrived I was standing in front of the bronze statue of the Bruce. I don’t know why I did it, but I bowed and said ‘take my hand my king and show me where history is hidden’.

“I about turned and walked in a straight line for about 100 yards, switched on my metal detector and made important finds - including a piece of medieval pottery, the first found at the Borestone - which made the BBC Scottish news that night.”

Members of the public now have the chance to make battlefield discoveries of their own at the next Bannockburn ‘Big Dig’ on Saturday, June 23 and Sunday, June 24 - the 699th anniversary of the battle.

The main hub will be Braehead field, close to the junction of the Broom Road and Pike Road, beside the Stirling to Falkirk railway line, where a team of experienced archaeologists will be at hand to show you how it’s done.

Spaces to take part in the dig work will be limited and on a first-come first-served basis. If you would like to take part in the Big Dig, or get information by emailing your details to bannockburnbigdig@nts.org.uk.

FACTFILE:

1. The English invaded in an attempt relieve Stirling Castle, which it had held since its capture by the late Edward I (the infamous ‘Hammer of the Scots’) more than ten years previously. Edward Bruce, brother of King Robert, led the Scots efforts to recapture the castle. The English governor, Sir Phillip Mowbray, struck a deal with Bruce that unless the castle was relieved by midsummer 1314, he would 
surrender it to the Scots.

2. Edward II marched north with an army of around 2000 cavalry and 16,000 foot soldiers, reaching Edinburgh by June 19 and Falkirk three days later.

3. Robert the Bruce’s army, estimated to be around 10,000 men, gathered at the ancient forest of Tor Wood, and moved north to an area close to Stirling Castle known as the New Park on June 22.

4. The two armies came face to face on June 23. The fighting raged until nightfall and resumed at first light. Due to a combination of dogged defence by the Scots, poor organisation by the English and several other factors, Edward’s army was comprehensively routed.