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Its a hard re-enact to followWhat could possibly be better than the glorious victory of the Scots over the English in 1314? Reliving it, discovers JENNIFER CUNNINGHAM
If your electricity lines are in danger from overhanging branches, Andrew Logan may be the man to climb up and remove them. This weekend he will keep his feet firmly on the ground, but exchange his safety helmet for a fourteenth-century model when he becomes an English knight in Edward II's army, prepared, with the benefit of hindsight, for defeat at the hands of the much smaller Scottish force of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. Originally from Lancashire, 27-year-old Logan has been reliving battles for 13 years, usually in the person of Sir Wadard du Mortain, a Norman knight, whose name he borrowed from the Bayeux tapestry and added that of a Norman town. Unrepentantly, he says he enjoys the fighting - and using weapons (strictly blunted) including swords, axes, spears, and a mace. For that pleasure, he's prepared to spend about three months of evenings joining his chain-mail together with pliers, which even a tree surgeon admits is tough on the fingers.
Today Alan Gault is working in a brewery. Tomorrow he will be sweating under 65lbs of chain-mail and helmet on the field of Bannockburn. The 33-year-old from Port Glasgow has been reliving the days of Bruce and Wallace since he was 17, spurred into action by the stirring tales of history his grandfather told him. "He hated tartan tat and made sure my brother and I heard the real version," he said. Far from growing out of it, the organiser of the Scottish half of today's combatants is planning to spend the winter making himself a new suit of chain-mail. Gault has the task of mustering the Scottish forces for the first major re-enactment of Bannockburn this weekend. Although he belongs to Gaddgedlar, a group keen on authenticity, he acknowledges that the battle of Bannockburn 2002 will be a distinctly bowdlerised version of the original. He will be joined by the custodian of Stirling Castle (when he's not on official duty), a district nurse, students, supermarket cashiers, lawyers, accountants, and people who work in insurance companies, all keen to throw off the tedium of the 21st century to spend the weekend in a fourteenth-century encampment. In Gault's experience, the prospect of a fight with ancient weapons is what draws people, but once there they become interested in other aspects of medieval life.
Gault's opposite number, gathering the English forces, is Mark Johnson, who runs Plantagenet Events to re-enact history - mainly in the form of battles - all over England, in the spare time from his paid job as the deputy manager of an acrylics company. "It's pure escapism. You forget all your troubles and it's very enjoyable to pass on a sense of history to kids. Some groups make their own weapons and armour and research into fight techniques and historical accounts, but they do that for the sheer love of it - and half an hour of glory every weekend," he said. For years, Bannockburn has figured as a hazy dream in the campfire smoke as his troops and opposing forces rest their battle-weary bodies at the end of the day. So when the National Trust for Scotland asked if they would take part in a re-enactment to raise funds for a new £2.5m heritage centre they did not hesitate.
When Herald Magazine columnist and novelist Manda Scott was the only person to turn up for a writing course and the tutor invited her to come and kill people instead, she found a whole new way of life as a member of the Commission of Array, based on a real company of mercenaries. As the owner of a chain-mail shirt (at a cost of £100), she's one step up from the unarmoured peasantry, but has no desire to be a knight, largely because the armour is so heavy. When she worked as a vet, she spent her weekends off fighting battles for the adrenalin rush. "In a battle you know that people will not break the rules and you will not die, but there is a bit of your brain saying if you don't kill the person coming for you, you've had it. The level of concentration required means that it is a total escape, because if you think about anything else you die. For however long the battle lasts you are free from whatever problems you have." It has also given her a profound respect for the people who took part in such battles for real. "You cannot understand what it is like to face a spear wall, when the only way to attack is to run at it, until you have done it, but we know we can have a nice warm shower and go home. I have never been so exhausted as the day after a big battle," she said. Even with the prospect of a shower afterwards, very few women engage in battles, many preferring to recreate domestic life, cooking over an open fire and weaving. "I've learned far more history in this way than I ever did at school," added Scott, who is using much of this knowledge in a series she is writing on Boudicca.
Andrew Nicholson's been caught joining chain-mail links together at his desk at lunchtime. He can get away with it, because it's not entirely unrelated to his day job as an archaeologist at Dumfries and Galloway council. His fellow archaeologists tend to look down their professional noses at people who spend weekends play-acting. HOWEVER, it's precisely because he and his fellow enthusiasts are willing to put the received wisdom to a practical test that they sometimes prove the academics wrong, he says. For example, it's assumed the two small lugs projecting below the head of a spear are to stop people running on to it. But a different use emerges when you use them against a wall of enemy shields. "You discover they can be used to break apart someone's shield from the next, so that the spearman standing next to you can gut him," Nicholson says candidly.
In the course of talking to other re-enactors, whether Roman legionaires or roundheads and cavaliers, they have discovered that, throughout history, military protection and equipment has weighed about 60-65lbs per man - and that holds true of the modern infantry soldier. "It seems to be the optimum weight a man can carry and still fight," says Nicholson. Historical re-enactment has exactly the same effect on the time and wallets of its adherents as other hobbies and sports, according to Mark Johnson. A shield, the first requirement, can cost from £15 to £150, while a full suit of armour will set you back between £3000 and £4000.
Just don't mention Braveheart. Re-enactors take their history seriously. None more so than the Saunders family from Edinburgh: Alastair, Nicky, and their daughters, Hazel and Mairi. Alastair and Nicky met at a Viking event where he was demonstrating weaving techniques. Now they often spend their holidays in the seventh century in an excavated Anglian village near Bury St Edmunds, where they recreate everything as faithfully as possible with the exception of the toilet facilities. They won't be going to Bannockburn, having time-travelled all over the country for several weekends, but also because they are keen on historical authenticity, which is not the main focus of Bannockburn battle as the first salvo in a fundraising campaign for a new heritage centre.
There will be about 150 on each side on Saturday and Sunday, although in the original confrontation, the Scots were heavily outnumbered. Edward II's army will be abandoning their horses in the interests of safety and the large area over which the battle raged will be condensed into a much smaller area. Before the battle proper commences, the famous confrontation between Robert the Bruce and Henry De Bohun, a young English knight seeking glory - which actually took place on the eve of battle in 1314 - will be re-enacted on horseback. De Bohun, fully armoured and riding a heavy cavalry horse at a gallop, lowered his lance and aimed straight for the king. He, armed only with a battle axe and on a smaller horse, held his ground until the last second. Just before De Bohun hit him, Bruce quickly moved his horse aside and in one blow split open the young knight's head with his battle axe. The armies will have their camp followers just as they did 700 years ago and when victory is declared (promptly at 5pm) the "wee people", who almost certainly included late arriving troops, giving the appearance of a second army, will emerge from the surrounding countryside. Then, happily contradicting history, the two armies will get together to swop battle yarns and plan the next encounter.
The Battle of Bannockburn, Scotland's famous defeat of the English in 1314, will be recreated at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre, Stirling, on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Craft demonstrations, falconry displays, and a market will be open from 11am to 5pm. Tickets, including entry to the NTS heritage centre, are £13 for a family and £3.50 single, per day.
The Mystery Of The Battleground* Among the many controversies surrounding the Battle of Bannockburn is where exactly it was fought in the midsummer of 1314. * The Bannockburn Heritage Centre run by the National Trust for Scotland is at Borestone, on the hill where the Scottish army encamped and Bruce raised his standard. Although not intended to represent the battle site, it's often assumed to be where it took place. * According to Fiona Watson, an environmental historian at Stirling University, commissioned by Stirling Council to pinpoint the site of the battle, the most likely spot is at Balquhidderock, now part of the playing fields of Bannockburn High School. Her main evidence was recurring references to a broad ditch into which the English cavalry was driven back on itself until their bodies "lay so thick a man could cross dry-shod". * Balquhidderock provided the only suitable ditch, but there is no other evidence. The battlefield was picked so clean by the Scots that no artefact has ever been found. * The council is now considering how to mark the spot identified by Dr Watson, although local historians claim a triangle of ground at the Pelstream Burn, to the east of the Balquhidderock site, is the more likely spot. * The Battlefields Trust has now stepped into the row, asking for protection for an area of flat land where the Bannock Burn flows into the Forth and the Pelstream Burn area as possible battle sites.
The people who are living in the pastSome of the living history groups which operate in Scotland. Members from Gaddgedlar and Regia Anglorum will perform this weekend.
Gaddgedlar Medieval group, principally fourteenth century, but extending into the fifteenth and sixteenth. They perform battle re-enactments and give demonstrations around Scotland. The name means "foreign Gael".
Regia AnglorumNationwide society with independent local groups. Regia attempts to recreate a cross-section of life from the turn of the first millennium and places great emphasis on authenticity. Dedicated members will not wear or use any item for which there is not contemporary proof, and spend a lot of time and money getting it right. The name means "the kingdoms of the English".
Society for Creative AnachronismFounded in California, the SCA is a worldwide organisation with more than 30,000 members. Groups in Scotland include Harpelestane in Edinburgh, Caer Caledon in St Andrews, and Brighthelm in Kirkcaldy. Members are interested in all aspects of life prior to 1600, and, while event attendees are encouraged to dress and behave in a suitably accurate historic manner, the emphasis is on enjoyment rather than authenticity.
Medieval MethilCommunity-based project which aims to promote interest in medieval times throughout the Levenmouth area. The group receives lottery funding for its annual festival in September, when members recreate a medieval village on the Leven sea front.
LotheneEdinburgh-based society involved in researching and recreating aspects of life in the eleventh century. Lothene is the old name for Lothian.
Fire and SwordRe-enactment group specialising in the days of Robert the Bruce. Based in Kilmarnock, Fire and Sword can be seen at events on Historic Scotland sites where members perform full-contact combat and display medieval crafts.
Carrick 800Named for its base in the heart of Robert the Bruce's stamping ground in Girvan, this is rather unusual in that it specialises in three distinct periods: Viking, Medieval Scotland, and Covenanters. It can be seen performing living history displays across Scotland.
JENNY TWEEDIE - Aug 30th
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