Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Footsteps of Robert Bruce

For someone who looms so large in Scottish culture, Robert Bruce remains an elusive shadow in Angus.  The fullest legend concerning his military prowess in the county celebrates an encounter which almost certainly did not happen.  Bruce is said to have met his arch-enemy John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, in a narrow mountain pass near the Hill of Rowan, Glen Esk.  Both leaders were aware that the terrain favoured Robert Bruce’s guerrilla forces so the encounter came to nothing as Bruce was anxious to be elsewhere.  A less anticlimactic version of the event says that the Bruce butchered the Red Comyn’s men one by one as they squeezed through the pass.  Before the fight began, Bruce planted his banner on the nearby Cross Stone (which is actually an early Christian relic, possibly associated with St Drostan), then shouted the war cry ‘Row in!’, giving the Hill of Rowan its name.  (Compare the story of the stone with the Borestone at Bannockburn, where the king planted his flag before the battle.)  Cairns at the foot of the hill where the Comyn men were buried are actually Bronze or Iron Age monuments.  Another stone, at Ardoch, is scored with peculiar grooves which were said to have been caused by King Robert sharpening his broadsword upon it.  Needless to say, unpatriotic killjoys insist that Robert the Bruce never fought anyone in the glen.  Bruceton, by Alyth in Perthshire, is alleged to have earned its name following another fray fought by Robert.  Here he is said to have defeated the English near Ruthven, on the Angus side of the River Isla.

The Cross Stone on the Hill of Rowan

   Returning to reality, few people remember that the monarch’s eldest son is buried in Angus.  His illegitimate namesake, Sir Robert Bruce, was given the barony of Finavon and the lands of Carsegownie in Aberlemno.  But he enjoyed his estates for only a few years, before dying at the Battle of Dupplin in 1332.  His remains were interred within ancient Restenneth Priory.

Restenneth Priory

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