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Bannockburn: The big battle of the day ... to beat the crowds and get in to see the show

THE kilted Scots readied their schiltron spears and evoked 700 years of history as an RAF typhoon roared past overhead and brought spectators thundering back into the 21st century.

The crowds got into the spirit of the age, as the re-enactment, below, saw the Scots push forward towards the English linesPhotographs: Steve Cox
The crowds got into the spirit of the age, as the re-enactment, below, saw the Scots push forward towards the English linesPhotographs: Steve Cox

The anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn has brought contradictions since its inception and has struggled through being scaled back after poor early ticket sales to selling out on its first day.

Organisers, who said it was not a celebration of the bloody victory over the English Army but a commemoration, ended up having to think again their battle plan after complaints from visitors who had travelled hundreds of miles, paid hundreds of pounds, queued for hours and then did not get to see a re-enactment for the battle because too many people were trying to get into the battle area.

The organisers yesterday promised to solve the problem by today.

But while the three re-enactments with a capacity of 3000 did not cater for all of the 10,000 visitors to the battle site yesterday, the gathering meant a great deal to many including the clansmen who had travelled half way round the world, from Brisbane to Missouri.

A stone's throw away in Stirling a separate event related to war, Armed Forces Day, paid a military tribute by jet flypast to those lost in battle and to the work of the Army, Navy and RAF.

The importance of the 1314 victory to society today was highlighted in a more down-to-earth way by one of the half-dozen members of the Bruce clan from Down Under. Christopher Robert Bruce, 44, an electrical engineer from Sydney, Australia who was joined by the youngest Bruce clan descent, the Honourable Benedict Bruce, 11, at the bustling stall, said: "I gained my interest in the family history more in my teenage years from my grandfather.

"The small army winning with spirit against a bigger force was always where the interest was for me.

"There are people walking around here who are living descendents of people who died on this battlefield.

"It was a critical point in history and it also marked a change in attitude. Robert the Bruce forgave a lot of the people who fought against him ... and allowed most of them to go home. I regard that as still very important today."

A spokesman for re-enactment organisers Clanranald said: "It is the first big battle re-enactment in Scotland. In England they re-enact anything that is remotely interesting.''

Amy Kerr, 19, a student from Stirling, said: "This is a great day to learn about your past. There are people here who have a thousand years of history behind them."

Pete Irvine of organisers Unique Events, said the occasion was a commemoration of the battle rather than a celebration of it. What was being celebrated, he said, was Scottish culture.

Bannockburn Live was unlike any other festival Unique had delivered, he added. "The combination of the breath-taking battle performance alongside the incredible line-up of musicians, storytellers, ancestry and cuisine offers the perfect day out for families and friends, offering them a chance to immerse themselves in another world."

However, he had to personally visit the queue for the second battle re-enactment to advise those at the end to wait until the third staging at 4pm.

He said: "Everyone will get to see the show. We will be revising it for tomorrow [today] and sort the queues. People have enjoyed the event and we will ensure everyone gets to see the show.''

But not everyone had the patience to wait for the third show.

Rosemary Manson from Bearsden and her husband paid £40 for tickets and after being turned away from two shows decided to "cut their losses" and visit the free Armed Forces Day event, which attracted 35,000.

She said: "The very thing we wanted to see was the traditional encampment and we are not getting to see it. It has been a complete waste of money."

Fiona MacKay came from John O'Groats with her three children at a cost of hundreds of pounds. She said: "We left [home] first thing, we've been on the go for 12 hours, and we're not even getting in [to the re-enactment]. I can't believe it."

Around 7500 tickets for today's event had been sold yesterday and VisitScotland said it was confident the remaining 2500 would go on the day.

Those who did see the re-enactments were thrilled. About 300 actors took part in the staging of the battle that began on June 23, 1314. They portrayed the moment when Robert the Bruce took part in one-to-one combat with Henry de Bohun, the nephew of one of the English army leaders Earl of Hereford, and split his head with an axe.

Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland/EventScotland, said: "Never before has this stunning city hosted as many tourists from all over the world and it really is Stirling's time to shine, showcasing the attractions, landscapes and history of this amazing area.''

There had been suggestions of a competition for visitors and attention between Bannockburn Live and Armed Forces Days. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who visited both events yesterday, played down those claims.

He said: "It's a fantastic occasion, and great for Stirling with Armed Forces Day and Bannockburn Live in the same weekend. The city of Stirling is the epicentre of events.

"Bannockburn was there first, and it's the 700th anniversary but I don't think that mattered.

"We were happy to support both events. I don't see a conflict at all, and if anyone tried to produce one I think they have been sorely disappointed."

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