Battle may yet appear on Historic Scotland inventory

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HISTORIC Scotland has once again failed to include the important Battle of Nechtansmere at Dunnichen in 685 AD in their Inventory of Scottish Battlefields.

On their website, this hugely important conflict which virtually ended the Northumbrian influence north of the Forth, is merely listed under “further sites to be considered”.

Angus South MSP Graeme Dey is disappointed that the battle has not made the premier list.

He commented: “This is deeply disappointing news, particularly in light of Nechtansmere’s influential role in Scottish history. If the battle hadn’t been won there would have been no Scotland to fight for at Bannockburn.

“It also appears the decision to discount Nechtansmere from consideration was taken at the initial, desk-based stage of the review.

“I have contacted Ruth Parsons, chief executive of Historic Scotland, seeking an explanation of the basis for discounting Nechtansmere’s claims.”

A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland responded: “The second round of names that have just gone out for consultation are part of the first of two stages to create the first Inventory of Battlefields in Scotland.

“We are also working on the next set of sites, researching each battle and establishing if it meets the criteria of national importance. The Battle of Dun Nechtain is included in this round which will be finalised in 2012.

“The Inventory is an active list and will be continually reviewed over time. The work undertaken in 2010/11 and 2011/12 represents a major phase of development.”

She concluded: “The stage at which a particular site is researched and consulted on does not reflect on its relative significance.”

In 685 AD, Ecgfrith, the king of Northumbria, received word that the Pictish king Bridei mac Billi was gathering the tribes. He ordered the Fyrd raised and the men came in from the farms, the workshops and other places of employment and the army grew. Northumbria like all Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had an army of experienced warriors, but in time of battle the army was swelled by the Fyrd, a force of part-time warriors, who would return to their jobs when the battle was over.

Once the army was assembled Ecgfrith led them north, beyond the river Forth, across the river Tay and yet further northward to Dunnichen where the Pictish army waited for them at Dunnichen Moss. King Bridei had formed up his army on the low-lying ground between two hills to await the army of Northumbria.

As the Angles fell upon the tribesmen the battle of Nechtansmere began. The tribesmen fought well, but as Ecgfrith threw more men into the battle they were forced to give ground and scenting victory the Angles pushed them until the inevitable happened. A few of the tribesmen fled and then a few more, until the whole of the Pictish army fled the battle and the victorious men of Northumbria chased after them.

But it was a trick, a trap. Prior to the arrival of Northumbrian army, king Bridei had split his forces and the other half of his army was hidden on the hills either side of the marsh. Drawn deep into the marsh between the hills the Northumbrians were struck by a hail of stones and spears. The lightly armoured Fyrd with only thin helmets and leather coats for protection fell in untold numbers and the more experienced and heavily armoured warriors fared little better. Those who managed to run the gauntlet were either killed by the previously retreating tribesmen, or were drowned in the marsh.

Ecgfrith was killed in the battle and his army so badly mauled that from that day on, Northumbria never attempted to advance their borders beyond the line of the Forth.