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The Borders Connection in the Wars to retain Independence
In March 1296, Edward I of England, crossed the Tweed, devastated Berwick and defeated a Scots army at Dunbar. He marched unopposed as far as Elgin and deposed John Balliol on the way. He made all important Scots swear allegiance to him on the document known as The Ragman’s Roll and thought that Scotland was conquered at last. He reckoned without the tenacity of the Scots to retain their independence. In 1297, an uprising under the leadership of William Wallace achieved a victory at Stirling Bridge despite the previous capitulation of the Scots nobility. It was a fluke and the ever superior English forces routed the Scots the following year at Falkirk.
However the spirit of freedom burned bright in Scots hearts. Guerilla warfare was conducted by Wallace and his followers from the comparative safety of Ettrick Forest and other wild places. Even the capture and execution of Wallace in 1305, did not quench the desire to retain their independence.
Robert the Bruce reaped the benefit of the seed of freedom sown by Wallace and his followers.
The Auld Kirk in Selkirk
In early 1298, Wallace was proclaimed Guardian of Scotland at the ‘Forest Kyrk’. Tradition and history places this as Selkirk whose early spellings of Scheleschirche means the Kirk in the Forest. Selkirk was the capital of Ettrick Forest and the one place of importance in Scots hands at the time. At this time Wallace and his band were using Ettrick Forest to harry the English garrisons holding Roxburgh and Jedburgh Castles.
Selkirk had been a seat of the Kings of Scots and Scots parliaments and had been held there for two hundred years. In historical fairness, one or two historians reckon that the Forest Kirk could have been at St Mary’s of the Lowes, the foundations of which can be seen near St Mary’s Loch in the Yarrow Valley.
Wallace’s Trench in the Yarrow Valley
In July 1297, Edward’s Treasurer in Scotland records that Wallace was in Ettrick Forest with ‘a graunt compaigne’. For those with a stout heart and strong boots, a hike from Yarrowford (NT 408300) two miles up the ancient road called The Minchmoor, leads to the entrenchments reputedly made by Wallace’s ‘gruant compaigne’ before they went to defeat the English at Stirling Bridge on 11th September 1297. NB - It is a steep two miles but worth it for the view alone.
The Wallace Statue at Drygrange
Commissioned by, David Stuart Erskine, the Eleventh Earl of Buchan and unveiled on 22nd September 1814, this was the first monument to be erected in Scotland to the great Scottish patriot and, fittingly, looks towards Ettrick Forest. It was the work of a local sculptor, John Smith of Darnick. The imposing 31-foot, red sandstone statue depicts Wallace, Scotland’s national hero, dressed in ancient Scottish armour, resting on his sword and with his huge shield at his side.