Sun 18 Mar 2007
Scotland on Sunday

IT PLAYED a key role in the greatest ever Scottish victory over the English but - almost 700 years after the fight ended - it now faces annihilation.

Robert the Bruce's camp followers sheltered behind what became Gillies Hill during the 14th-century Battle of Bannockburn until their legendary, and decisive, charge against the enemy towards the end of the conflict.

But the historic mound - renamed after the battle in their honour - is set to be eradicated as a result of quarrying for stone to use in making roads.

Although the site has been scarred by small-scale quarrying for more than a century, the local council admits far more extensive work is about to begin and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Historians and campaigners last night warned that an important landmark in Scottish history was about to be obliterated. Bannockburn expert Dr Fiona Watson, a lecturer in medieval warfare at Stirling University, said the site played a "huge part in the story of the historic battle in 1314".

"Traditionally, the Gillies Hill provides the setting to a turning point in the Battle of Bannockburn," she said. "Bruce's 'small folk' were concealed behind the Gillies Hill, and when they emerged the English thought they were reinforcements. It was the final straw for the English and chaos ensued.

"Whatever was left of the English army fled. This was the moment when Edward II was persuaded to leave the field."

The "reinforcements" were in fact servants, members of the baggage train and men who had joined Bruce's ranks late on.

"Others may simply have been locals who wanted to claim they had been a part of such a famous victory," Watson said. "There is no doubt in my mind that this event happened and it would be a great shame if something like this hill, which still represents such an important moment in our history, was lost."

The new quarrying plan has also angered locals. One, who asked not to be named, said: "This physical icon of Scotland's greatest battle should not be smashed away. It is a beautiful area for people from Cambusbarron and further afield and the impact of the quarrying on wildlife will be immense."

Cambusbarron Community Council has set up the Murrayshall Quarry Liaison Group to ensure the concerns of the community are heard.

Convener and former community council chairman Michael Graham said the proposals would involve the removal of substantial proportions of the hill.

"There is an awful lot of history at Gillies Hill and I am sure 99% of local people would back the sentiment that it should not destroyed. The impact of quarrying there is a real concern but whether anything can be done about it is another matter as a planning consent is already in place."

Stirling Council's regional archaeologist Lorna Main said that quarrying the Gillies Hill would also impact on an Iron Age fort in the area.

"The area has been nibbled at for up to 150 years," she said. "When they [the quarry companies] are finished there may be no hill left."

The two companies involved in the quarrying plan are Hanson Aggregates and Tarmac, which will extract whinstone for road building.

A spokesman for Stirling Council's planning department said consent to quarry the site was originally granted in 1982 and that the new work could start within "a couple of months. Both companies propose to reactivate the Murrayshall Quarry at Gillies Hill. Tarmac will begin work again in the next few months, and Hanson have advised they will start in the summer. A substantial part of the area will be quarried out."

The spokesman confirmed that the council could not stop the work taking place as consent to quarry the area had already been given. "There are conditions affecting access, hours of working, dust, noise, blasting and vibration, but nothing to prevent the work taking place," he added.

A spokesman for Tarmac, which owns part of the Murrayshall quarry, said: "There is already a hole in the hill, and that hole will become larger.

"There is an approved planning scheme, but it is difficult for me to picture the difference to the overall size of the hill."

A spokesman for Hanson Aggregates said the company could reactivate part of the quarry "later in the year" but added: "We are aware of local concern and we are speaking to the local community council.

"We have also spoken to Historic Scotland and Scottish National Heritage and have also had archaeologists look at the site to review our information. It is not in Hanson's interests to work against communities."