THE remains of a lost 650 year old bridge described as “one of the most important structures in medieval Scotland” have been found in the Borders.

The Old Ancrum Bridge was built over the River Teviot during the reign of King David II, who ruled from the death of his father Robert the Bruce in 1329 until 1371.

It carried the “Via Regia” or King’s Way on the route from Edinburgh to Jedburgh and the Border, and stood for over 400 years before being replaced.

Important figures who used the bridge included the 14-year-old James V around the time of the Battle of Melrose in July 1526 and Mary, Queen of Scots following her tour of the Borders in 1566.

The bridge was also significant in the Battle of Ancrum Moor when an English force was attacked by a Scottish army in February 1545, during the Rough Wooing, while the Marquis of Montrose used the crossing on his way to defeat at the Battle of Philiphaugh near Selkirk in 1645.

It is thought young oak trees were sourced from the historic Jedforest in the Borders, although it remains unclear whether the crossing was built by the Scots or the English, ruled at the time by King Edward III.

Over the past two years, volunteer archaeology group Ancrum and District Heritage Society (ADHS) worked alongside Wessex Archaeology and timber experts Dendrochronicle to investigate the remains. The Ancrum Old Bridge Project, funded by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), identified stone cutwater platforms and oak timbers that once supported the piers of a multi-arched bridge.

Foundations for two piers were identified around 32 feet apart in the riverbed. Radiocarbon dating showed the timbers came from the mid-1300s, meaning they are the oldest scientifically dated remains of a bridge ever found in its original position across one of Scotland’s rivers.

Dr Coralie Mills, the dendrochronologist and landscape archaeologist, identified them as native oak, rarely found in Scottish sites after around 1450 when imported timber became more frequent.

Underwater archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology carried out a survey and assessment of the remains, which could aid future preservation.

Kevin Grant, Archaeology Manager at HES, said: “HES are delighted to have played a part in funding one of the most exciting and significant archaeological discoveries in Scotland in recent years.

“This project shows that discoveries of immense importance remain to be found by local heritage groups - and what can be achieved by bringing archaeological science and expertise together with local knowledge which has helped to unlock a centuries-held secret that will add to the fabric of Scotland’s story.”

Geoff Parkhouse from ADHS said: “Ancrum Old Bridge now has a 14th century date. In Scotland there is not a standing bridge that is earlier than the 15th century.

“In those times, during flood or highwater, the Ancrum Bridge may have been the only place to cross the Teviot between Hawick and Berwick, making it one of the most important structures in medieval Scotland.”

Dr Mills said: “The timber structure discovered by ADHS in the River Teviot near Ancrum is a rare survival of part of an early bridge in a hugely strategic historical location. The oak timbers are in remarkably good condition and provide really important local material for tree-ring analysis in a region where few medieval buildings survived the ravages of war.

“We can’t tell yet whether this bridge structure, which dates to the middle of the 14th century was built by English or Scottish interests. We are trying to refine the data to work that out.”

Dr Bob MacKintosh of Wessex Archaeology Coastal & Marine said: “The site was challenging to survey, and particular river conditions were needed to complete it safely. The regular monitoring of the site by ADHS, and the excellent photography and surveying they completed prior to our involvement made our work a lot easier.

“The results are really exciting. In addition to the surprisingly early date, it seems the foundations were built using branders, a wooden frame laid on the riverbed upon which the courses of stone were placed.

“This is the first-time branders have been found in an archaeological context in Scotland."