Has William Wallace’s hidden fort been found?

Historians have long believed that the 13th century Scottish general William Wallace had a hidden fort during his battles with the English. Now, an archaeological survey by Forestry and Land Scotland believes they may have found it.

A site in Dumfriesshire was surveyed by Skyscape Survey, who used a drone to fly over a massive earthen rampart and the promontory formed above the confluence of the Black Linn and the Tor Linn.

Matt Ritchie, an archaeologist for Forestry and Land Scotland, explained, “In recent years we have been working with Skyscape Survey to develop the methodology of drone-generated photogrammetric survey, combining accurate survey methods with innovative visualisation techniques. Hundreds of photographs taken from the air by remote-controlled drone are stitched together using point-matching software to create a 3D terrain model, stripping away scrub and ground vegetation. Height detail is refined by adding close contours and orthographic colour.

“It’s a fascinating and revealing technique that really begins to open up the landscape and this seemed like an ideal site to investigate. There isn’t much evidence on the surface, but the rampart and topography matches the historic description very well.”

The Dumfriesshire site is recorded in The New Statistical Account of Scotland (published 1834-1845) as the location of a small fort occupied by William Wallace. The entry states there was:

…a small fort, commonly called Wallace’s House, adjoining Torlinn, a glen filled with natural oak… This fort commands an extensive view to the south, occupying the summit of an angle formed by the junction of two branches of that steep ravine; and being protected on its third side by a large fosse [or ditch], it must have been a strong place of defence. Sir William Wallace, while meditating the capture of the castle of Lochmaben in 1297, is said to have kept sixteen men there, with whom he sallied forth to annoy the English garrison under Greystock and Sir Hugh of Moreland.

Having taken some of their horses, Wallace was pursued to Tor-head by Moreland, who, in the encounter which ensued, was slain, with several of his followers. Greystock, enraged at this defeat, and strengthened by fresh supplies from England, immediately proceeded to attack Wallace with 300 men. Overpowered by numbers, he fell back among the hills; and being joined by Sir John Graham of Dundaff with thirty men, and Kirkpatrick, his kinsman, with twenty of his retainers, was overtaken on the north border of the lands of Holehouse, near the bottom of Queensberry, where a general engagement took place. Greystock fell; the victory was complete; and the survivors seeking shelter in the wood from which they had pursued the Scots. Wallace reached Lochmaben before them, and took possession of the castle.

Image courtesy Forestry and Land Scotland

“The new contour model adds to a history of cartographic work that began with the Ordnance Survey in 1857,” adds Matt Ritchie “Our new 3D model enables the massive rampart of the fort to really stand out, and the deep gullies of the two linns to be appreciated.

“It must have been the ‘strong place of defence’ described by the Account, the rampart topped with a timber palisade and enclosing timber buildings built to house the soldiers and their horses. But could the fort really have been built by William Wallace and his men? I’d like to think so – and, either way, the survey has added a new chapter to an old story!”

The glens around the site still contain ancient semi-natural woodlands that form a key part of an important habitat network. Rich in biodiversity with mature native Oak, Ash, Birch, Rowan, Alder, Willows and all the associated flora and fauna, Forestry and Land Scotland is working to restore the site to a native condition.

“This is a site where ecological and heritage objectives come together to create a special place and it’s important that we look after it,” commented Bill Coombes, FLS Regional Environment Advisor. “Over the past six years our apprentices have been working to remove the non-native conifers from the two steep sided Linns which protect and create the promontory fort. We are increasing the area of native broadleaves that we plant along the riparian corridors and, by retaining deadwood on the site , are also looking to enhance the biodiversity.”

Top Image: FLS survey maps potential site of William Wallace fort – FLS by Skyscape Survey 2020

 

 

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