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Ancient Battles, Baldrics made of Human Skin, and Flipping Bebe the Dolphin

1997 is a glorious year for celebrations. It is 700 hundred years since the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace (whose great great grandfather was in fact Welsh) fought a decisive blow against the English. Wallace was the landless son of Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie, near Paisley, who was one of the few Scottish noblemen not to sign the Ragman Roll, the oath of allegiance to the English throne, and no more did his sons. William became an outlaw patriot, sallying out from his base in Selkirk forest to slaughter the despised English sheriff of Lanark, and attacking the English garrison at Glasgow. By the summer of 1297 he had joined forces with Andrew Murray, and in September they amassed their followers on Abbey Craig in Stirling. Below them was the lazy loop of the River Forth and its flood plain, and on the other side was the elderly Earl of Sussex, John de Warenne, ensconced in the Castle upon its dolerite ridge. De Warenne called his grandson up from Yorkshire, and Robert Clifford from Cumberland and together with the fantastically named Sir Marmaduke Tweng they got ready to attack the Scots. Unfortunately, on the morning of the battle, the Earl overslept and the troops were left milling about waiting for him to get his britches on sound the attack, giving Wallace and Murray ample time to prepare. Even more fortuitous for the Scots was that de Warenne chose to flatly ignore all sensible advice to take his troops upstream where they could ford the river sixty horses at a time, and instead decided to send them over the far nearer bryg of tre, a wooden bridge so narrow that only two men could cross over at one time. All the Scots had to do was wait until enough, but not all, the English troops had crossed and then they sounded the horn, and from the steep slopes of the Abbey Craig poured and roared their men, running down the wooden causeway above the bridge, cutting the English down in swathes. Among the dead was the immensely obese treasurer Cressingham, and, if the Lanercost Chronicle can be believed, William Wallace had the man flayed and his skin made into a baldric for his sword.

 Barely an hour after it had started, the battle was over.

It was a terrible blow for the English, and de Warenne fled from Stirling with indecent haste, leaving Marmaduke Tweng to man the castle. Not long back, archaeologists uncovered traces of the great stone buttresses of the bryg of tre in the waters of the Forth, pinpointing the battle precisely only a few metres up from the present bridge. And if you’re ever in Stirling, and you’ve the legs for it, be sure to climb the 226 steps that circle the tower of the Wallace monument on Abbey Craig itself, from where you can see the site of the battle, and of Stirling Castle, in all its glory. It was 11th September 1297, and 700 years later the Scottish Referendum of 1997 was held on 11th September, in mind of that historic day

1997 also celebrates the 500th anniversary of the discovery of North America by John Cabot. Cabot, or more properly Giovanni Caboto, was a Genoese-born navigator who had moved to England. Settling in Bristol it was from there that he sailed with two ships, three sons and the blessing of Henry II. Fifty two days later he spotted land, and on June 24th 1497 claimed North America for England.

Sadly this year also marks the death of former Scotland and Leeds United captain Billy Bremner (who was, incidentally, born in Stirling) at the tragically young age of fifty four. Also dead, and only marginally younger, having been born in 1947, is Bebe the dolphin, star of the fabulously successful TV show Flipper. And if you’re nostalgic for… hang on. What’s that you’re saying, Flipper? …click click click…finsplash…click click click… Someone’s in trouble? You might be if you’re fool enough to click on this link:

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