Wallace stands tall in the Scottish Borders – There may be as much Hollywood as there is historical fact in Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’ but it does nothing to diminish the stature of Scotland’s national hero, Sir William Wallace.
To the English he was an outlaw and murderer while in Scotland he is credited with laying the foundations for an independent Scotland under Robert the Bruce.
The son of a Scottish knight and minor landowner he came from a family whose motto was ‘Pro Libertate’ of For Freedom, and during an eight year period from 1297 until his capture in 1305 he waged his campaign against the English.
From his base in Ettrick Forest, from where he employed highly successful hit and run tactics against a more powerful foe – deeds that inspired others such as Andrew Murray in the north and fanned the flames of revolt throughout Scotland.
With much of Scotland marching down the path to liberation Wallace and Murray faced their sternest test in 1297 when they met an English army in open battle at Stirling Bridge.
They achieved a stunning victory leaving the English with 5,000 dead on the battlefield, including the despised treasurer Hugh Chessingham. Wallace is said to have had Chessingham’s flayed skin made into a belt for his sword.
Wallace was appointed Guardian of Scotland in 1298, a ceremony that Selkirk claims to have taken place at the Kirk ‘o the Forest. In the years that followed Wallace laid waste to towns in northern England but was betrayed and eventually captured.
Taken to London for trial, the outcome a foregone conclusion, Wallace was found guilty and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. His head was impaled on a spike and displayed at London Bridge, his right arm on the bridge at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, his left arm at Berwick, his right leg at Perth, and the left leg at Aberdeen.
Edward I may have believed that with Wallace’s capture and execution, he had at last broken the spirit of the Scots. He was wrong. By executing Wallace so barbarically, Edward had martyred a popular Scots military leader and fired the Scottish people’s determination to be free.
The first memorial in Scotland to be built in Wallace’s memory was at Bermersyde, Dryburgh. It was paid for by David Steuart Erskine, the 11th Earl of Buchan and unveiled in 1814.
It remains an impressive piece of public art: 21 feet of red sandstone, on a 10 feet plinth, placed on a commanding position overlooking Dryburgh Abbey and the Tweed Valley towards the Eildon Hills.
It is easily reached, travelling through St Boswells to a left turn about a mile down the road following the Wallace Statue signs. There is a small car park and then a short walk through woodlands to the statue.
A short drive away is Scott’s View, a magnificent vista of the Borders countryside and said to be the favourite view of Sir Walter Scott.