THE lie of the land at Bannockburn as Robert the Bruce's legions defeated the largest English army to invade Scotland is to be recreated in its entirety for the first time.
The move by a Stirling University academic could show King Edward II's tactics – criticised on the assumption the ground where he camped his army was unsuitably boggy – were not as bad as originally thought.
Dr Richard Tipping of Stirling University will lead the first environmental reconstruction of the entire landscape of the Battle of Bannockburn as it looked 700 years ago.
He has been granted nearly £120,000 by research grant provider Leverhulme Trust to study the topography of the Carse of Stirling so the land surrounding Bannockburn may be recreated.
Mr Tipping said: "The terrain and ground conditions of the battle remain unknown.
"We judge Edward II's tactics on the battlefield by what we know of the topography now, but we may have done him a dis- service. By recreating the landscape, we will assist historians to determine the ground conditions which he faced.
"No-one has been able to do this before, but improvements in radio carbon dating mean we will be able to date ground conditions to within a decade.
"We will be using scientific techniques to solve a historical problem – the story of the battle now is to explain the landscape, which plays a more important role than in most battles.
"All sorts of environmental issues affected the battle – for example, how many trees were there, where were they positioned and was Robert the Bruce hiding among them? The terrain was crucial to Edward's cavalry – was it peaty, a bog or well cultivated and drained farming land?"
The researcher said Edward II's troops are likely to have camped somewhere on the Carse to the south-east of Stirling Castle, a level plain imagined to be peat bog and sticky clay. This camp is almost always assumed to have been ill-suited to English cavalry, Edward II's strongest weapon, he said.
The choice is seen by some as a major error on the part of the king, the researcher went on.
The second day of the battle ended in many English deaths from drowning in the River Forth and the "great ditch" of Bannock Burn, now an insignificant shallow stream.
Mr Tipping said: "We will also study the 'great ditch' of the Bannock Burn, across which the English were unable to retreat.
"This may be because it had developed a deep ditch in the centre as a result of significant climate change which began around 1280."
The research will be used by the National Trust for Scotland to recreate the battlefield in a new visitor centre.
Historic Scotland, provided a £5 million grant to fund the visitor centre development and has been working with the National Trust for Scotland to deliver the project.
It is hoped the new centre could increase visitors to the famous site from an annual total of 65,000 to 85,000, with an estimated 100,000 expected in the first year it is open.
A recreation of the famous battle and the opening of the centre are among the is attractions planned for the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a key event in the Homecoming Scotland 2014 programme, a series of events designed to attract people of Scottish ancestry to visit Scotland. It coincides with Scotland's hosting of the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.
The first Year of Homecoming, in 2009, attracted about 47,000 people and generated £10.4m for the Scottish economy. However, there was criticism after the private company running the event collapsed, despite receiving £500,000 in grants and £180,000 from the Scottish Government. As of October last year, 100 creditors were still owed about £300,000.