Flodden Battlefield

Last year we did quite a few day trips up to Northumberland while Sam was training for a run in the Cheviots. I would drop him off at the start of the run, drive somewhere for a short-ish walk with the dogs, and then go and pick Sam up at the other end of his run. Being a total history geek, I tend to bore Sam to death when we visit historical sites, as I spend ages reading every last detail on the information boards! I therefore took the opportunity to make a quick trip to the site of the Battle of Flodden on the border with Scotland. It was a fascinating and moving experience on a crisp autumn day and I would definitely recommend it to anyone in the area – read on to see why…

The Battle of Flodden was fought in 1513 and was part of a complicated series of political events in which both England and Scotland were embroiled. To cut a very long story short, Britain was allied with Italy and the Papal States (amongst others) against France, who were invading Italy. Scotland, who was allied with France as part of the Auld Alliance, broke the Treaty of Perpetual Peace (signed by England and Scotland in 1502) to invade England and distract them from campaigning against the French. So much for perpetual peace if it couldn’t last longer than 11 years…

James IV of Scotland march south and captured several English castles on the border, before settling down at Flodden to await the arrival of the English army, led by the Earl of Surrey. The Scots occupied the advantageous position at the top of the hill, forcing the English to make a circuitous detour to reach the rear of the Scottish encampment. The Scottish army responded to this manoeuvring by shifting their position to the top of Branxton Hill.

After an initial exchange of artillery fire, the Scottish army charged down the hill to meet their English opponents. Unbeknownst to the Scots, they needed to cross a marshy, boggy stretch of ground to reach the English. The Scots, armed with long pikes which were not easily manoeuvrable in close combat, were slaughtered by the English, who were better equipped for this type of fighting with bill hooks.

The death count at Flodden was astonishingly high. An estimated fourteen thousand Scots lost their lives – according to the information boards on the site, the death rate for the first four hours of fighting was as high as the Battle of the Somme. The English reputedly were under orders to give no quarter, and this perhaps accounts for the total decimation of the Scottish nobility, including the King himself.

Today, the battle is commemorated by a stone cross on the battlefield, as well as the world’s smallest information centre in a phone box in the village of Branxton. The battlefield is easily navigated by following the sign posted battlefield trail, and illustrated information boards tell the story of the battle as it unfolded. The information boards were very, very good, as even I understood them and could imagine the battle vividly, despite being absolutely naff at military history!

The trail starts from a smallish car park just outside of the village of Branxton. While the trail is sign posted, I found this walk in my Pocket Mountains guide to Northumberland, which provides a slightly more descriptive version of the route for those who miss signs if they don’t know they’re looking for them (like I do!). The car park is free but there is an honesty box for donations towards the upkeep of the site which is maintained by a group of volunteers – who do a fantastic job!

Apart from a few steps out of the car park, the whole trail is along grassy paths, with a short section on a quiet road. There are no steep sections of ascent or descent except a short stretch up the hill to reach the area where the Scottish army was camped out.

I enjoyed this walk so much more than I expected to. It was a beautiful day with the kind of fluffy clouds and blue sky I used to draw when I was at school. The battlefield was so quiet – after our visit to Towton I expected it to be a popular local walk, and I did see a few local dog walkers, but for the majority of my visit I had the place to myself! It was a wonderfully peaceful way to pass a few hours and it was actually quite a moving experience. The information boards explain the battle so well that it’s really not difficult at all to imagine the chaos and violence of the fighting.

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. This is an excellent dog walk! There were no live stock in any of these fields so I was able to let them have a good run off the lead. Coal loved jumping in and out of the ditch at the heart of the battle site! It is worth bearing in mind that these fields are used to grow crops so please don’t let your dog trample across them and make sure they stick to the paths. The paths are nice and wide so this isn’t too difficult! Another big plus was the total absence of any stiles. It was lovely to have the place to myself as it meant that Coal really got to have fun and chill out without being scared of any other dogs too. It’s definitely a great place to walk your dog if you’re looking for somewhere slightly off the beaten track!

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