Scotland – Forget Braveheart, visit The William Wallace Monument
Braveheart. The Scots love it.
Even though historically it’s nonsense, containing more inaccuracies than a Tabloid newspaper on heat.
It’s Hollywood hyperbole. Gibson grandstanding. Entertaining enough, but basically raucous rubbish.
If you don’t believe me take a look here or here, or here or here.
All of which is a bit of a shame, because there is a really rather good true story to be told about William Wallace.
But until Hollywood does the unthinkable and produces an historically accurate movie, the best place to find this story is at the William Wallace Monument in Stirling.
So who was William Wallace?
Well, he was a Scottish hero and he did inflict a famous defeat on the English at Stirling Bridge – the site of which is overlooked by the Wallace Monument.
Born in the 1270s in Elderslie in Renfrewshire into a gentry family, he sparked a full-blown rebellion against the English and Edward I – who had imposed himself as ruler in Scotland – in May 1297.
He drove the English out of Fife and Perthshire; and in September 1297 defeated a much larger English force at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
Wallace even launched raids into England, and was appointed ‘guardian of the kingdom’ in the name of John Balliol, the deposed king of Scotland.
But Edward’s forces rallied and when the English king marched north, Wallace’s tactic was to withdraw, burning the countryside as he went.
The opposing sides eventually clashed near Falkirk in July 1298, where the Scots were defeated. Wallace escaped and, at one point, headed over to France to try to garner support for the Scottish cause.
While he was away, Robert Bruce accepted a truce with Edward I – setting terms Wallace was excluded from. The English king then offered a huge reward to anyone who killed or captured Wallace.
He was eventually captured in or near Glasgow in August 1305, transported to London, charged and tried for treason and executed on August 23.
His head was placed on London Bridge, and his limbs displayed in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth.
And all that history is at the Wallace Monument?
Yes, and a lot more beside.
Inside the monument people can learn the real story of Robert the Bruce – he comes out of it a lot better than he does out of Braveheart – and a host of other Scottish kings and nobles.
The Hall of Heroes also celebrates other great Scots, including Rabbie Burns, Adam Smith and Sir Walter Scott.
Perhaps the most impressive artefact is the Wallace Sword. This weapon is absolutely huge: five foot, six inches tall.
One thing is certain, William Wallace must have been a giant of a man – the sword’s size indicates he must have been at least six foot six inches tall – and formidably strong to wield such a weapon.
The tower stands on the summit of Abbey Craig, a hilltop near Stirling situated above Cambuskenneth Abbey, from which Wallace was said to have watched the gathering of the army of Edward I before the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
The views from the top of the monument have to be earned though: it is a steep uphill climb to even reach the base of the tower followed by 246 narrow, winding steps to the top.
The spellbinding views over Stirling and the beautiful Scottish countryside are well worth it though.
The Wallace Monument was the result of a resurgence of Scottish national identity in the 19th century.
A fundraising campaign, backed by donors from across Europe including Italian leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, eventually saw the tower completed in 1869.
The National Monument Committee – formed in the 1830s – had originally intended to build the Wallace Monument at Glasgow Green.
But then chaplain of Stirling Castle, Rev Dr Charles Rogers, managed to persuade them that Abbey Craig was a more suitable site.
A design competition was launched and won by Edinburgh architect, J T Rochead. The foundation stone was laid in 1863, in front of a crowd of 70,000 people, but arguments among the committee and financial problems – the monument cost twice the original estimate – meant it wasn’t completed until 1869.
Meet the real Wallace
The best thing about the Wallace Monument is learning about the real man.
You’ll find he was far from perfect, but if you are looking for a hero who can argue with a giant of a man with a fearsome claymore and the patriotic hopes of a nation behind him.
The official website of the Wallace Monument calls him, “a hero of Scotland and a true patriot, (who) had a burning desire for peace and freedom which united the country’s clans, gained the loyalty of its people, struck fear into his enemies and defied the cruel hand of an evil, warring and invading King – Edward I of England.”
Beats Hollywood any day.