With only 2 weeks to the Glasgow 2014, the eyes of the world will be turning to Scotland, once they’ve finished focusing on Brazil. I decided that in advance of the games, I’d focus on some Scottish books, while at the same time visiting the places involved. – a mini tour if you will, arriving in Glasgow in time for the opening ceremony on the 23rd.  Ready?

First port of call is to visit this chap, Robert The Bruce, King of Scots, astride his steed on the hill at Bannockburn, just outside Stirling.


He’s waiting to give the English a hiding – one that the Scots haven’t stopped talking about since 24 June 1314.  (Behave yerself, Sassenach!)

I’m not going to tell how 700 years ago an 8,000 strong Scottish army, armed with 12-foot pikes,


saw off an English army of 16,000 plus, including 2500 heavily armoured knights and a quiver or twenty of archers.    There are plenty of sources for those kind of details.  I will recommend the recent BBC 2-part series on The Quest for Bannockburn, currently available on iplayer.

There’s no disputing that the battle of  Bannockburn was a glorious victory for Scotland, one that secured the heroic reputation of The Bruce (as he is known in these parts).  But what about the reality of the man himself?

When Edinburgh publisher Birlinn approached James Robertson to write the text for their recent publication, they asked him for a straightforward retelling of the story in just 2500-3000 words.  The text was to appeal to all ages and would be lavishly illustrated throughout.   Speaking of condensing The Bruce’s story and this complicated period of Scottish history in this way, Robertson spoke of the difficulties writing an unpatronising text, in which there was no space for if, buts, maybes or rationalisations.  It also needed to serve as an interface between legend, myth and fact …

The Bruce and Spider by Jill Calder

… because what do most people outside Scotland know about The Bruce.  The story of  the spider.  Did it happen?   The incident was first narrated by Sir Walter Scott in Tales of A Grandfather, published some 500 years after the event.  So …. 

…. Returning to,facts, what is clear from Robertson’s text is that The Bruce was a man of his time, a 14th century guerilla warlord, ruthless and ambitious, capable of heinous deeds but yet a subtle and clever leader.  His own interests and that of the nation overlapped to propel him into immortality. Those were dark and violent times and Jill Calder’s illustrations reflect that.  Her Bruce is no romantic hero but a dangerous and at times desperate man.

 And yet, in Robertson’s words:

Without his personal ambition and careful planning, Bruce would not have succeeded where another hero, William Wallace had failed. Wallace lit the torch of Scottish liberty; Bruce carried it triumphantly to victory.  In doing so he forged the Scots into a nation.

This book is a fitting testament to this legacy, and, I hope, the first in a series on Scottish history from Birlinn.