The most important ditch in the history of Scotland and England

The Battle of Flodden changed the course of history - but with a bit of better drainage, it might have been a very different story.

Stichill Linn Waterfall, Scottish Borders

The Battle of Flodden could have been a famous Scottish victory over the English.

Instead it ended in carnage on a First World War scale and changed forever the relationship between Scotland and England.


For centuries the two countries had slugged it out on the battlefield, with each recording notable victories, but in the second decade of the sixteenth century they were enjoying a relatively quiet period. That all ended when Henry VIII of England declared war on France in 1512.


Stichill Linn Waterfall

Under the Auld Alliance, the Scots decided to join in on the side of the French. The king, James IV, sent a large Scottish army marching south into Northumberland and they had already recorded a series of victories by the time they reached Flodden Edge near the village of Branxton to await the arrival of the 30,000 strong English army - under the command of the Ear of Surrey - which had been dispatched to meet them. It was 1513 and the decisive battle would take place on the 9 September.



Using a smokescreen, James moved his forces onto what should have been a commanding position on Branxton Hill and the battle kicked off at about 4pm. The English got off to a flying start, with the Scottish artillery failing to find their range and the nimbler English guns proving highly effective.


But the first Scottish attack was far more encouraging - so much so that it encouraged their centre to advance. Armed with pikes, they reached the ground between the two slopes and discovered that weeks of rain had turned it into a quagmire.


The front ranks faltered, the rear pressed on. Chaos ensued. The English, armed mainly with shorter billhooks, prevailed.



Within a few hours 14,000 men lay dead or dying - 10,000 of them Scots. The dead included the Scottish king, James IV.


So disastrous were the Scottish losses that Flodden became the last major battle between the two countries before the union of 1707.



And the ditch?


It wasn’t there.


Had it been, the land would likely have drained, there would have been no quagmire, the Scottish advance would not have faltered and the balance of power between the two countries would not have tilted England's way.



Interestingly, there's one place in Scotland that doesn't regard Flodden as an unmitigated disaster and that place happens to be our very own Selkirk.


Legend has it that of the 80 men from the town who set out for battle that day, only one - a man called Fletcher - returned alive. He is said to have staggered into the town carrying an English banner, which he waved forlornly, unable to speak through exhaustion.


However, the very fact that he'd been able to capture an English banner was a matter of immense pride to the town and so Selkirk still celebrates his efforts to this day in the casting [ceremonial waving] of flags during the annual Common Riding - and Flodden is regarded as a score draw with the English.


How to get there:


The site of the battlefield can be difficult to locate - best to head for the village of Branxton then follow the road out west for a short distance to reach the path to the memorial looking out over the battlefield.


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