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Let battle commence

THE history books tell the story of how Robert the Bruce defeated the greater force of Edward II at Bannockburn.

It was a massive error on the part of the English king and clever tactics on the part of the Bruce.

But could there have been a different outcome? That's the question you face when visiting the newly revamped Battle of Bannockburn visitor experience.

The big thing about the £9 million plus attraction is that it is just that ... big. Gone is the pokey former "celebration" of the first battle in the Wars of Scottish Independence. Instead, welcome to the virtual 3D world of giant onscreen cavalry and bowsmen.

There are three parts to the experience and each offers something a little different.

For anyone who doesn't know their history then the film at the start, in glorious 3D, which tells what happened in the lead up to 1314 is a excellent way to learn and it is easy enough to follow.

Once full of knowledge, it's on to the giant screens and the story of the battle, but this time the action - mounted knights charging across the fields of archers firing at barrels - comes straight at you. It is brilliantly realistic and even the most jaded 3D-follower, cannot fail to be impressed.

Alongside the giant screens is the chance to stand in the footsteps of real and imagined characters from 700 years ago. The technology allows you to operate the person so you hear what they did during the battle - clever stuff.

But this is just the starter for the main course. Even the battlemasters can't quite prepare you for the feast on offer. And oh, what a dish.

The scene is set in a circular room. There is a round table in the middle and numbers from one to 30 are marked on its surface. Next to each is a coat of arms. And they surround the battlefield.

The battlemaster sets out the rules of engagement and battle commences. This is a game which tests strategy, team work, intuition and the ability to read minds. And it is great fun.

When we played there were 30 of us. We each stood behind a line and in front of our number and we were either cavalry, archers or shiltrons and we did not know whose side we were on until we took our places.

The rules were straightforward: archers attack, shiltrons stand strong, cavalry advance, all with the aim of destroying the opposing army, protecting their King, and on Edward II's side, to relieve Stirling Castle.

We were all looking at a massive 3D map of the Stirling landscape, giving a birds-eye view of the battle. And once you had decided your move the battlemaster set your horses off at a gallop or forced your archers on a march or allowed them to open fire.

So many things were happening at once that it took masses of concentration to realise how close you were to either taking the opposition's leader or losing your life. And the sneaky part of this is that if you are on Edward's side you have to try and avoid two traps which have been set by the Scottish army - with no idea, of course, of where they are.

The battle is set to last two days but by close of play on day one several regiments had fallen and as night fell, both armies withdrew to rethink their strategy.

Again the battlemaster led the proceedings but it didn't take long for the English to succumb to defeat.

With cheers ringing round the room a sobering note was thrown into the mix: "It could easily have gone the other way," said battlemaster Amy Cassells.

And that is what makes this such a good game - it really could have gone either way.

The only rules are that certain regiments have to move within a specified area, so whatever the result it is all down to the players. And at the end of the day it didn't really matter who had won, everyone had had a great time.

For my two 10-year-old apprentice fighters, it was an ideal way to gen up on their history and learn how bloody warfare is. Hats off to our battlemaster Amy who had taught a bunch of raw recruits the rudiments of battle strategy and kept us all on course to ensure a clean and fair(ish) fight.

With the spring break coming up, take a look and if you want to have a hand in Scotland's history, then take that trip to Bannockburn.

Tickets are on sale now (battleofbannockburn.com), from £8 for children/concessions to £30 for a family ticket, two adults and four children. Entry is limited to timed slots.

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