Inventory Battlefield

Battle of BarraBTL18

Date of Battle: 22-23 May 1308

Status: Designated


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Designation Record and Full Report Contents

  • Name
  • Summary Information
  • Overview and Statement of Significance
  • Inventory Boundary
  • Historical Background to the Battle
    • The Armies
    • Numbers
    • Losses
    • Action
    • Aftermath and Consequences
  • Events and Participants
    • Context
  • Battlefield Landscape
    • Location
    • Terrain
    • Condition
  • Archaeological and Physical Remains and Potential
  • Cultural Association
    • Commemoration and Interpretation
  • References


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
NJ 79623 26408
379623, 826408

Overview and Statement of Significance

The Battle of Barra is significant as it marks the end of any coordinated opposition to King Robert I (the Bruce) within Scotland. The Comyn's had been Bruce's most notable Scottish adversary up to this point, and with the destruction of their power base, both in the battle and the subsequent ravaging of Comyn lands in Buchan, they were no longer able to resist the King. With their demise, Bruce was able to turn his full attention to English garrisons, embarking upon his 'scorched earth' campaign against their castles and leading to the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Barra thus marks the end of one phase of Bruce's military and royal career, and the beginning of the next.

The Battle of Barra was one of the many battles fought by Robert the Bruce in the period between his inauguration in 1306 and the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. With the English distracted by events at home, Bruce turned to securing Scotland under his rule. At Barra, the King engaged an army led by John Comyn outside Inverurie and the battle quickly turned into a rout, with much of Comyn's army captured or slaughtered as they ran.

Inventory Boundary

The Inventory boundary defines the area in which the main events of the battle are considered to have taken place (landscape context) and where associated physical remains and archaeological evidence occur or may be expected (specific qualities). The landscape context is described under battlefield landscape: it encompasses areas of fighting, key movements of troops across the landscape and other important locations, such as the positions of camps or vantage points. Although the landscape has changed since the time of the battle, key characteristics of the terrain at the time of the battle can normally still be identified, enabling events to be more fully understood and interpreted in their landscape context. Specific qualities are described under physical remains and potential: these include landscape features that played a significant role in the battle, other physical remains, such as enclosures or built structures, and areas of known or potential archaeological evidence.

The Inventory boundary for the Battle of Barra is defined on the accompanying map and includes the following areas:

  • Barra Hill, including the hillfort on the summit.
  • The line of the modern B9170 between Oldmeldrum and Inverurie along which Bruce's army marched.
  • The Bruce Field, which has traditionally been associated with the fighting and which is recorded as having silted trenches and an English billhook in 1845.
  • The land west of the B9170 where the fighting is most likely to have taken place.
  • Land to the south and north of the A920 that covers the likely route and killing during the pursuit.
  • Land to the east of the battlefield that covers potential routes of escape along Meadow Burn.

Historical Background

Accounts of the battle are sparse and offer little detail about the fighting. Following the death of Edward I in 1307, Bruce took the opportunity presented by a lack of attention from the new English King, Edward II, to reduce internal opposition to his rule and take full control of the kingdom. In the autumn and winter of 1307, Bruce attacked the strongholds of the Comyns and their supporters in the north-east, but fell ill at Christmas 1307. By May, he was still unwell and quartered outside Inverurie, with John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, mustering at Oldmeldrum. The first hostile action was in the early morning of 23 May (the more probable date of the battle), when Sir David de Brechin attacked a detachment of Bruce's men that were in Inverurie, although most of Bruce's men were outside the town. Bruce's army formed up and marched towards Oldmeldrum, where Comyn and Sir John Mowbray were drawn up below Barra Hill on the road between Inverurie and Oldmeldrum. Comyn and his men were aware of Bruce's illness and seem to have assumed that he would not be present in the fighting. However, as Bruce's army arrived, they could see Bruce on horseback in the midst of his army. According to the sources, this unexpected appearance of Bruce so discomfited Comyn and his supporters that they started to edge back; this small movement was enough to cause the levies to break and they scattered. Bruce's army charged what was left of Comyn's line, and the fighting very rapidly became a complete rout. Comyn fled towards Fyvie and then Turriff, finally making his way to England where he subsequently died.

Numbers of participants are hard to judge, but Barbour's nearly contemporary account gave Bruce 700 men against Comyn with 1,000 men. There is no record of the casualty figures, but the fact the battle quickly degenerated into a rout would suggest that there were numerous fatalities amongst Comyn's men and few on Bruce's side.

The Armies

Both armies comprised a mixture of armoured knights on horseback with a larger number of foot soldiers who were in many cases levies rather than professional soldiers. Bruce's men were the more experienced and battle-hardened, having been on campaign for an extended period.


There is very little information on numbers in the sources.

Bruce: Barbour puts the number of Bruce's company at the battle at 700. McNair Scott says that Bruce had 700 men, including Edward, the Earl of Lennox, Gilbert de la Haye and Robert Boyd, plus various knights of Moray, including Sir William Wiseman, and Sir David Barclay (McNair Scott 1996).

Interestingly, Barbour quotes Ross in his letter to Edward informing him that he had made a truce with Bruce, as saying that although he had 3,000 men he could not stand against Bruce, because the keeper of Moray was away and his forces would not respond to Ross in his absence (Barbour 1997). This begs the question of the size of Bruce's forces in October 1307. Ross would hardly have said he could not prevail with 3,000 men unless significantly out-numbered, but by the time of the battle Bruce had only 700. Even allowing for garrisoning captured castles and occupying territory, this seems a huge difference.

This is even more puzzling if Traquair is right in suggesting that during his campaign in the north prior to the battle Bruce had a core force of only 50-200 men and that he could only have forced truces and taken castles by drawing on local manpower where needed, from both the northern knights and the sma' folk.(Traquair 1998).

Comyn: Fordun says only that Comyn and Mowbray with a great many Scots and English were gathered at Inverurie (Fordun 1872).

Barbour says that at Inverurie Comyn had a thousand men (Barbour 1997).


No figures are given in any of the sources, although there is a general perception that the Comyns lost heavily. It is likely that there were very few casualties for Bruce, and that most of the killing took place in the pursuit.


In common with most of the fighting in this period of Bruce's career, there are few historical records of the events, and what remains is sketchy. According to John of Fordun, writing in the 1360s to 1380s, when Bruce heard that Comyn and Mowbray were at Inverurie, he commanded his men to arm him and put him on his horse, even though he was still sick. He rode out to the battle ground, although

'by reason of his great weakness, he could not go upright, but with the help of two men to prop him up.'

His very presence, ready for battle, made his opponents 'sore afraid' and they fled, being pursued as far as Fyvie, twelve leagues away (Fordun 1872).

Barbour, also writing in the fourteenth century, provided further detail. According to his account, Mowbray and Comyn lodged for no more than one night before Christmas Eve at Oldmeldrum (although it was more likely to have been 22 or 23 May 1308). In the morning Sir David de Brechin, Comyn's ally, appeared in the outskirts of Inverurie so suddenly and unexpectedly that he slew some of the King's men, and others withdrew and fled towards the King, who was then lying with most of his force on the further side of the Don. Confusingly (since Barbour had previously noted that Bruce was recovered before reaching Inverurie), on hearing of this attack, although not completely recovered, Bruce called for his horse and ordered his men to prepare for battle. Barbour's poem has Bruce saying to his attendants

'without doubt their insolence has made me more hail and sound, for no medicine could have made me recover as quickly as they have done.'

Bruce and his company, who were heartened by his presence, then moved towards Oldmeldrum where the enemy lay. Buchan arrayed his men (presumably knights and men-at-arms) with 'their rabble behind them'... 'and they waited, making a great display, until they were nearly at impact.' However, when they saw the King come on bravely without hesitation they withdrew a little 'on the bridle' and Bruce, recognising that he had the advantage, pressed on them with his banner, so that they retreated more and more. The result was that the sma' folk, seeing their lords pull back, turned and scattered; the lords, seeing this flight, fled in their turn:

'There was never so miserable an outcome after such a sturdy display for when the King's company saw that they fled so disorderly, they chased them with all their might and, took some and killed others. The rest kept on fleeing- (the man) with the good horse got away best' (Barbour 1997).

The pursuit took place over a considerable distance, with Comyn fleeing for Turriff and being pursued at least as far as Fyvie, some 7 km to the north-east.

Modern secondary sources have little to add to the primary sources, although their dates differ slightly. Young gives no details of the battle and simply says the battle took place on 22 May on the Inverurie ' Oldmeldrum road (Young 1997). Burns says that Bruce, having recovered from his illness, moved to Inverurie. Comyn, Mowbray and Brechin made an attack on his quarters, killing some of the outposts. Bruce got up and coming upon his enemy at Oldmeldrum, 'Buchan and his confederates were defeated with great slaughter'; he does not give his source for this last statement. He quotes both Barbour's date of 25 Dec 1307, and Hailes' date of 22 May 1308 (Burns 1874). McNamee says only that Bruce inflicted a severe defeat on Comyn at Inverurie in May 1308 (McNamee 1997).

Barrow discusses the differences in dating the battle, which he says took place on the road from Inverurie to Oldmeldrum. Fordun places the battle in 1308, i.e. the twelve month period running from March 25 1308 to 24 March 1309. An anonymous verse chronicle inserted in some texts of Bower's Scotichronicon dates the battle to Ascension Day, which fell on May 23 in 1308. This, Barrow says, agrees well with two official English documents written some time after this date which recognise the loss of control of the area and he simply discounts Barbour's account that the battle took place on Christmas Day (Barrow 1988).

Aftermath & Consequences

The victory at Barra, and the manner in which the Comyns broke and ran, ended effective resistance in the north-east to Bruce. As a centre of Comyn power, Bruce used his victory to ensure his control over this Comyn heartland. According to Barbour, Bruce proceeded to ravage Buchan: 'He harried them in such a way that a good fifty years afterwards people bemoaned the devastation of Buchan', in what came to be known as the 'Herschip [hardship] of Buchan'. The King then took control of the north 'so that north of the Mounth there were none who were not his subjects, one and all' (Barbour 1997). Fordun says that when the rout was over

'King Robert ravaged the earldom of Buchan with fire; and, of the people, he killed those whom he would, and, to those whom he would have live, he granted life and peace'.

He also says that thereafter he was always fortunate in his fights, and gained ground, becoming ever more hale, 'while the adverse party was daily growing less' (Fordun 1872).

In Barbour's account, the Earl of Buchan and Mowbray fled to England where they were given refuge by the King before both dying soon afterwards. Brechin fled to his own castle, but shortly thereafter joined Bruce (although Duncan, Barbour's editor, doubts that this happened).

Bruce's control of the north, combined with successes later that year in Argyll and Galloway against his remaining opponents, meant that he now had control over all of Scotland apart from a few castles and towns still in English hands. Although Balliol was still alive, the St Andrews parliament in 1309 upheld Bruce's right to the throne, despite the continued opposition of many who did not attend, and in the same year he was recognised as King of Scotland by the King of France. John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, was the leading Comyn after the death of his namesake the Red Comyn, so the combination of his death in England in 1308 and the dividing up of Comyn lands amongst Bruce's supporters effectively meant the end of the Comyns as a political force in Scotland (Young 1997). The threat from south of the border remained, however, and hostilities continued for many years, even after Bannockburn in 1314, until the First Scottish War of Independence was finally concluded by the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328 (Barrow 1988).

Events & Participants

King Robert I of Scotland (Robert the Bruce) is one of Scotland's most famous historical figures. His grandfather was one of the claimants to the Scottish throne in the dispute following the death of Alexander III. Bruce was crowned King of Scots on 25 March 1306 at Perth, after murdering his rival John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, also known as the Red Comyn, at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. Although Bruce had authored his own inauguration, he would become the focus of Scottish resistance to the English occupation. However, his initial efforts were less impressive than his later accomplishments. He suffered defeat to an English army under Aymer de Valence at Methven in June 1306 and again by the forces of John of Lorn, a relative of John Comyn, at Dail Righ in August, and Bruce was forced to flee mainland Scotland, while many of his family were killed or imprisoned. While in hiding that winter, the legend of the spider spinning a web is said to have inspired him to return in 1307, where he met with more success. He won an important victory against de Valence at Loudoun Hill in May, and gained further advantage when Edward I died at Burgh-by-Sands, near the Scottish border, in July 1307. With the English threat now drastically reduced, Bruce turned to deal with his internal enemies. All of Comyn's supporters opposed Bruce, at least initially, and he faced a long struggle against them in the south-west and in the north-east. The Battle of Barra two years after his coronation was the critical victory of this campaign, leaving him a relatively free hand to deal with his last few Scottish enemies and then to pick off English garrisons one by one, destroying the captured castles in his wake to prevent the English returning to them. After his overwhelming victory in 1314 at Bannockburn, Bruce was able to turn onto the offensive, raiding into England until a settlement was finally signed in 1328 under the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton.

John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan, was a cousin of the Red Comyn. He was Constable of Scotland in 1293 under John Balliol, and after Balliol's removal by Edward I, became one of the leaders of the Scottish resistance to Edward. Following the Battle of Dunbar in 1296, Comyn was required to submit to the English Crown and was dispatched home to deal with William Wallace's ally Moray in the north-east, but showed little enthusiasm for the task. With the murder of his cousin in 1306, Buchan became one of the leading representatives of the pro-English party in Scotland. After his rout at Barra, Comyn fled south and died in England before December 1308.

Sir David de Brechin was another Scottish noble fighting for the English after 1296. He fought for Edward I in the Battle of Methven in 1306, Bruce's heaviest defeat, and continued to oppose Bruce's claim to the throne. After his involvement in the Battle of Barra, he retired to his castle in Brechin from where he made peace with Bruce and later even became his brother-in-law; the peace between the families was short-lived, however, as David's son (also David) was executed in 1320 for his part in the plot to put William de Soulis on the throne.

Edward Bruce was Robert the Bruce's younger brother and a companion throughout his campaigns. He was probably in command of the army during Bruce's period of illness, and was certainly present at Barra during the fighting. He played a prominent role in Bannockburn, allegedly agreeing the truce with the governor of besieged Stirling Castle that acted as the casus belli for the English invasion and also commanding one of the schiltrons during the fighting. He went on to claim the throne of Ireland, intending to drive the English out and create a Scotto-Irish kingdom in Ireland, but was killed at the Battle of Faughart in County Louth in 1318.


Scotland's history in the late 13th and 14th century was one of turmoil and conflict. Following the accidental death of King Alexander III in 1286, the heir to the throne was his three-year-old granddaughter, Margaret of Norway (the Maid of Norway). King Edward I of England proposed that she should marry his son and a treaty of marriage was signed in 1290. A ship was sent to fetch Margaret that same year, but she died in Orkney while on her way to Scotland for her inauguration, thereby scuppering Edward's plans.

,Many of the Scottish nobility had some claim to the throne in the absence of a clear successor. The two candidates with the strongest claim were John Balliol and Robert Bruce the Competitor. To settle the position, Edward I of England was asked to decide who should succeed. This process was known as the Great Cause and resulted in a total of 14 claimants competing for the Scottish crown, including Balliol and Bruce.

This situation provided Edward I with a new opportunity to bring Scotland within Plantagenet control. He was asked to preside over the court of inquiry to the dispute, but first insisted on recognition of his overlordship. The Scottish nobility would not agree to his overlordship of the country, unwilling to compromise the rights of the Scottish crown, but they were prepared to accept him as overlord on a personal basis. This was sufficient for Edward, together with control of several royal castles, and he led the court that finally decided on 17 November 1292 in favour of John Balliol.

John's inauguration as king was the start of his downfall. Edward clearly saw the election process as a way to bring Scotland under his control. He behaved towards John like a feudal overlord, repeatedly humiliating John and refusing to treat him as a fellow monarch.

The breaking point for the Scots came in 1294 when Edward summoned John and the Scottish lords to join his army in France as his feudal vassals. This rejection of the sovereignty of the Scottish nation was unacceptable to king and nobility alike. In 1295, the Scottish nobility concluded that John was totally compromised and they elected a council of twelve to run the affairs of the kingdom. In an attempt to counter Edward's power, the council made an alliance with Philip the Fair of France (this was the start of the 'Auld Alliance'). This was effectively a declaration of war against Edward and a rejection of his claim to overlordship, which Edward could claim as an act of rebellion. In support of their new allies, the Scots launched an attack against Carlisle in March 1296.

Edward responded by invading Scotland in 1296, razing Berwick and massacring its inhabitants. His army, under John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, went on to defeat the Scots army at Dunbar, effectively ending organised resistance. It is important to note that, although the armies were nominally serving the respective English and Scottish Kings, many of the Scots nobility served within the English army in this campaign, including Robert the Bruce, and in other campaigns throughout the Wars of Independence. This reflected both the shifting balance of power between various factions within Scotland, and the fact that the English King compelled some Scottish lords to serve him. After the Battle of Dunbar, Edward advanced through Scotland with almost no opposition. John Balliol was forced to surrender, abdicate his throne and renounce his alliance with France, and was stripped of the royal insignia. Edward also removed the Stone of Destiny from Scone to England, together with the Holy Rood of St Margaret and other symbols of the Scottish crown.

With Balliol removed and his own position strengthened by his victory, Edward again requested Scottish support for his ongoing war with France, but the outcome was not as he hoped. Resistance to his rule remained, but Edward's delegates in Scotland believed the Scots were no longer in a position to oppose him. Consequently they were taken largely by surprise when the Scots rose against English authority in earnest, in spring 1297. Among the notable figures leading the cause this time were William Douglas, Andrew Moray and William Wallace. William Douglas was soon captured following the Capitulation of Irvine, when a number of Scots nobles negotiated a peace with the English king. Wallace and Moray, however, continued the fight against Edward and resisted quite effectively, particularly with the victory at Stirling Bridge in 1297. Moray died in November 1297, but Wallace was knighted and made Guardian of the Realm, and led a punitive raid south into England in early 1298.

These successes came to nought as Philip of France provided no assistance and instead made peace with Edward, leaving the English king free to concentrate on suppressing Scotland. Edward's view was that the Scots were rebels against his authority; this was the terminology he used throughout. He personally led a force to Scotland later that year, inflicting a catastrophic defeat on Wallace's force at Falkirk. Wallace then resigned his position as Guardian, but continued to resist Edward's rule. He sailed to France in 1299 to petition Philip for support, who introduced him to Pope Boniface VII, who had been given custody of John Balliol by Edward. Balliol was released to Philip's custody in 1301, but he was never to return to Scotland - unlike Wallace.

Meanwhile, the debacle of the Scottish defeat at Falkirk had given Edward I the opportunity to conduct several leisurely campaigns over the next few seasons. He consolidated his control over central and southern Scotland by taking numerous strongholds, including Caerlaverock (1300) and Bothwell (1301). By 1302, most of the successes of Wallace and Moray's uprising had been reversed. The majority of strongholds (such as Edinburgh, Berwick and Roxburgh) had remained in English hands, while Stirling was retaken by the English directly after their victory at Falkirk. With central and southern Scotland being pacified, Edward I returned to England leaving garrisons, sheriffs and a lord lieutenant of Scotland in the person of John Segrave to maintain his authority.

The Scots were still unwilling to bow to Edward's authority. John Comyn was chosen as Guardian in 1302 and began a guerrilla campaign against the English king's forces in Scotland. In 1303, a Scottish army under Comyn destroyed a much larger English force at Roslin. However, the war remained in Edward's favour, and Comyn and his supporters negotiated terms with Edward in 1304. After Comyn's submission, Edward adopted a more pragmatic approach to Scotland, realising he needed support within the country if he was to retain his grasp. He restored dispossessed lands to many nobles and placed Scots in positions of authority, but he exiled many others whose loyalty could not be guaranteed. Finally, in 1305, Edward's bitter enemy Wallace was captured by John Stewart of Mentieth, the Keeper of Dumbarton Castle, and surrendered to Edward. Wallace was tried and brutally executed in London ' and Edward's control of Scotland seemed assured.

In 1306, Robert the Bruce, grandson of the Competitor and previously a supporter of Edward against the Balliol loyalists, began to move against Edward. Bruce murdered John 'the Red' Comyn in Greyfriars Kirk, Dumfries, and had himself inaugurated as King Robert I of Scotland at Scone in March 1306. Edward was enraged, again treating it as a rebellion, and declared that there would be no quarter for Bruce or his supporters. He despatched Aymer de Valence with an army to deal with Bruce. Valence, who was a brother-in-law of the murdered Comyn, inflicted a heavy but largely bloodless defeat on Bruce at Methven in June 1306. Bruce was then defeated a second time at Dail Righ by a force of Macdougalls, losing most of his men. Following this, the remainder of Bruce's army was dispersed and many of his family members were captured, each facing execution or long periods of imprisonment for their part. Bruce himself was forced to flee the mainland and went into hiding, possibly on Rathlin Island or in the Western Isles. This is the point at which the legend of the spider spinning a web is said to have inspired him to continue his efforts.

Bruce returned to the Scottish mainland in early 1307 at Turnberry. He now switched to a guerrilla campaign, engaging English forces at Glen Trool and, finally, in the Battle of Loudoun Hill, where he put Valence's army to flight in April 1307. Edward then mounted another invasion, but the English king died at Burgh-by-Sands in Cumbria in July, before crossing the border. Although his son, Edward II, continued the campaign briefly, it soon came to an end. Edward was too distracted by internal difficulties in England to deal effectively with Bruce, including problems at home caused by the hostility of the English barons to Edward's favourite, Piers Gaveston.

Edward's domestic problems provided an opportunity for Bruce to solidify his position in Scotland. He began a campaign to remove his internal enemies, taking control of castles at Inverlochy, Urquhart, Inverness and Nairn, and defeating the forces of the Comyns at the Battle of Barra and the MacDougalls at the Pass of Brander, at the same time as he was building his own support and strength. Once he had secured his own position among the Scots, he turned his attention again to the English. Most Scottish castles remained in English hands and Bruce began to seize these one by one, before destroying them to prevent their reoccupation by his enemies. By the end of 1309, Bruce was in control of much of Scotland, and was finally able to hold his first parliament at St Andrews. Edward launched a retaliatory expedition to Scotland in 1310, but it achieved nothing of note before he withdrew.

Over the next few years, Bruce continued a 'scorched earth' campaign to strengthen his position and weaken the English forces within Scotland. By 1313, only a few Scottish castles remained in English hands. This included Stirling, which was besieged by Bruce's brother Edward in June 1313. Edward Bruce came to an agreement with the governor of the Castle, Philip de Mowbray, by which Mowbray would surrender the castle if not relieved before 24 June 1314.

Meanwhile, King Edward II's political problems had been partially resolved by the killing of Gaveston in 1312 and the submission of the earls of Lancaster, Arundel, Warwick and Hereford in September 1312. The agreement made by de Mowbray made it politically unacceptable for Edward to leave the castle to its fate, while Bruce had also added Roxburgh and Edinburgh to the re-captured castles. The English King raised a large army and marched north to relieve the siege, although many of those present in the army had recently been his enemies.

Edward's army met Bruce's at Bannockburn, just outside Stirling. The Scottish scored a famous victory, which effectively gave Bruce complete control of Scotland while crippling Edward's authority in England. This in turn allowed Bruce to begin raiding into England in an attempt to force Edward to accept Scotland's status as a nation, and he recaptured Berwick in 1318. He appealed to the Pope for support with the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, and gained papal recognition as king in 1324. However, the English king did not relinquish his claim to Scotland, despite his defeat at Bannockburn and his ongoing struggles in England.. Edward II was deposed by his queen in 1327 and replaced by his 14 year old son Edward III. Finally, in 1328, with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which recognised Scotland as an independent nation and relinquished any English claim to the throne, the First Scottish War of Independence came to a close.

Battlefield Landscape

The landscape within which the battlefield took place is reasonably well preserved and can be reasonably well understood, though there has been a wholesale change in land boundaries and Oldmeldrum has increased dramatically in size since 1308. There is a field known as The Bruce Field where the English billhook is supposed to have been found prior to 1845. There has been remarkably little development along the B9170 between Inverurie and Oldmeldrum, and it is likely that the location of the fighting is still largely undeveloped. From the Hill of Barra, the Comyn line can be envisioned coming down onto the ground in front of Oldmeldrum. It is likely that the Comyns were aligned roughly NW-SE, anchoring their left flank on the slopes of the Hill of Barra. Bruce's army will likely have come along what is roughly the line of the B9170 from Inverurie, as this is the natural route through the landscape. The rout is likely to have been back towards Oldmeldrum behind the Comyn line, and north-west in the direction of Fyvie and Turriff.


Duncan, the editor of Barbour, says that Brechin crossed the river Ure to the northern edge of Inverurie and that Bruce's main force was further downstream across the river, on the same side as Oldmeldrum about 5 miles to the north (Barbour 1997).

The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845) for the parish of Bourtie, gives an account of Slioch and the Battle of Barra based on Barbour and adds:

'Boece says, 'Qua victoria ad Hene-raurie (Inverury) parta'. It is accordingly by some historians called the battle of Inverury, by others the battle of Old Meldrum. From Barbour's account, however, and from other circumstances there is no reasonable doubt, that the scene of the conflict was a level field lying immediately under the Hill of Barra, called at this day, 'the Bruce Field', which, though now levelled by the inexorable plough, contained, until very lately, a number of small elliptical entrenchments.

Scilicet et tempus veniet, quum finibus illis

Agricola, incurvo terram molitus aratro

Exaesa inveniet seabra rubigine pila.

The only witness of this kind found in the entrenchments was an English bill-hook, now in possession of the tenant of North Mains of Barra.'

Local traditions put the fighting in the area below the Barra Hill hillfort on the road between Oldmeldrum and Inverurie. The Bruce Field is marked on the OS 10,000 scale map, and is identified as the site of the battle in local blogs :

The link with the hillfort is made explicit in another blog site although direct references in support of the statements of these sites are limited:


A further modern source says that The Bass in Inverurie, the Earl of Garioch's motte and bailey built in the 1100s, was used as a base by Robert the Bruce before his defeat of the Earl of Buchan:



The landscape has changed relatively little since the battle, given the passage of 700 years. Oldmeldrum has recently expanded considerably, and probably covers part of the rout and pursuit. However, the expansion has been more on the northern side of the town rather than the south where the battle took place. However, there is some encroachment from industrial buildings at the roundabout, in the area immediately adjacent to the Bruce Field.

The B9170 is the modern route between Inverurie and Oldmeldrum and it is likely to represent the rough line of approach of Bruce's army. It skirts the foot of the hills of which Barra Hill is a part. It leads NE-SW and runs into the centre of Oldmeldrum.

The general land use is open agriculture, allowing a good impression of the battlefield as a whole. From the top of Barra Hill, the entire battlefield can be seen along with the line of pursuit, where Comyn and his men fled towards Fyvie and then Turriff.


The site is generally in good condition, although some of the northern parts of the battlefield now lie under the recent expansion of Oldmeldrum. There are large sheds or barns immediately adjacent to the field known as the Bruce Field whose construction may have disturbed material relating to the battle. If this is the case, it was not noticed and nothing has been reported from this site.

The battlefield has been cut by roads, which have the effect of providing boundaries to the perception of the battlefield that may not reflect the contemporary reality. The roads have a relatively small footprint, however, and will have caused limited damage to the site.

Archaeological & Physical Remains and Potential

A local landmark is known as Bruce's Seat, and is supposed to be the place from which Bruce directed his troops; this unfortunately cuts across the tradition that Bruce (much like El Cid) was held on his horse and his presence was enough to put the enemy to flight. It is in rough ground adjacent to the roundabout on the B9170 outside Oldmeldrum; it has been moved here from its original position higher up the Hill of Barra. The Groaner (also known as the Groaning Stone, the Granage Stone, the Grenegle Stone or the Chronicle Stone) at grid reference NJ 8217 2760 on Oldmeldrum golf course is where Comyn is supposed to have sat behind the stone during the flight from the battle, groaning over the loss of his men. The New Statistical Account contains a series of elliptical trenches that were visible in the field prior to 1845, from which an English billhook had been recovered. However, there is no information about the trenches, and neither they nor the billhook necessarily relate to the battle. It should be noted that the events of the battle make it unlikely that any trenches were dug. No other artefactual material associated with the battle has been recorded.

The Barra Hill fort (NJ82NW 4) is traditionally the site of Comyn's camp before the battle. It is a multi-vallate hillfort at a height of 185 m OD 1.5 km to the south of Oldmeldrum. Material found on the site includes Iron Age, Bronze Age and Neolithic pottery, together with flint arrowheads etc. No artefacts related to the battle have been found within the hillfort. It is traditionally the location of Comyn's camp prior to the battle, but while the site gives a good view of the surrounding countryside, there is no reason to consider that the Comyn army was camped up on this site, and there are alternative records that state the Comyns were in Oldmeldrum. It may have been used to provide surveillance of the surrounding countryside, but this will have left little or no archaeological trace. There is also a glacial erratic within the fort called Wallace's Putting Stone (NJ82NW 107), which tradition has it was thrown by William Wallace from the top of Bennachie.

There is no indication in the brief accounts of the fighting that archery was a significant feature of the battle, so there are unlikely to be significant quantities of arrowheads in the soil. The fighting consisted of a limited amount of hand to hand fighting, which may have caused the loss of personal items and pieces of armour, while the rest was a rout and pursuit. This will again have led to the loss of personal items and pieces of clothing and equipment. There is a possibility of encountering human remains in the area because the sources give an impression of the Comyns having lost many of their men.

Barra Castle, which survives as a much altered fifteenth century tower house, had a predecessor that was apparently extant in the thirteenth century. It stands on the route between Oldmeldrum and Inverurie. However, it appears to have played no role in the battle and was not mentioned in any of the sources.

Cultural Association

The only commemoration of the battlefield is a small plaque at Bruce's Seat, which provides some information about the battle; it sits on the other side of the B9170 from a field that is traditionally called The Bruce Field. In literature, the battle is recorded in Barbour's Bruce, which is part historical record, part hagiography and part fiction. The Groaner, a large stone on the fourteenth hole of the Oldmeldrum golf course, is the emblem of the golf club because of its association with the battle. Beyond this, like most of Bruce's battles, it appears to have been entirely overshadowed by Bannockburn and has left little imprint on Scottish culture.

Commemoration & Interpretation

The minutes of Oldmeldrum Community Council for 25 April 2000 noted that the Battle of Barra was at that point one of the few battlefields with no commemoration or interpretation of any sort. In May 2008, an information plaque about the battle was erected alongside 'Bruce's Seat', the large stone from which Bruce is said to have viewed the battle, next to the Barra roundabout. The boulder had been moved from its original position beside the minister's path connecting Meldrum and Bourtie when the hill was ploughed over in the 1950s. The stone was moved to its current location through the efforts of the local history society.

There are longstanding traditions that link Barra Hill fort with the battle, both with the fort as the location of Buchan's camp for the night before the battle, and with Wallace's Putting Stone, which is said to have been thrown from Bennachie by William Wallace. This tradition indicates that there was an association between the fort and the events of the First War of Independence, which helps confirm the location of the battle in the near vicinity.



Barbour, J. 1997. The Bruce. Ed.Duncan, A.A.M. Canongate Classics, Edinburgh. 318-334.

Young, A. 1997. Robert the Bruce's Rivals: The Comyns, 1212-1314. Tuckwell Press, East Linton. 202-205.

Information on Sources & Publication

John of Fordun was a priest in the cathedral of Aberdeen who died in 1385. His Chronica Gentis Scotorum [Chronicle of the Scottish Nation] has been described as part of the first expressions of Scottish national identity, and as the first stages in the deliberate creation of a national self-image. Fordun died before completing his history to his own day, though in the 1440s Walter Bower incorporated the Chronica into his Scotichronicon, in which he continued the story to the murder of James I (McClure 2000).

An example of Fordun's approach is seen in his recording of the death of Edward I:

'This King stirred up war as soon as he had become a knight, and lashed the English with awful scourgings; he troubled the whole world by his wickedness and roused it by his cruelty; by his wiles he hindered the passage to the Holy Land; he invaded Wales; he treacherously subdued unto himself the Scots and their kingdom; John of Balliol, the King thereof and his son he cast into prison; he overthrew churches , fettered prelates , and to some he put an end in filthy dungeons; he slew the people and committed other misdeeds without end' (Fordun 1872 336).

John Barbour, the Archdeacon of Aberdeen, completed his epic poem The Bruce, devoted to King Robert I and his leadership of Scotland's successful fight for independence, in 1375. McClure notes Barbour's narrative skill and descriptive realism; his accuracy and authenticity; his even-handedness towards the English; and his use of vernacular rather than Latin. McClure argues that Barbour wrote from strongly patriotic motives, concerned to uphold the God-given right of the Scottish nation to defend itself against outside aggression, to recall the King and people to the nation's glorious past and their responsibility to prove themselves worthy of it (McClure 2000).

Duncan, the editor of the Barbour poem quoted says that Barbour has mistakenly put the date of arrival at Slioch rather than the date of Thursday 23 May, which Duncan says is the date which can be derived from the reference to Ascension Day in the Verse Chronicle by Bower).

Primary Sources

Barbour, J. 1997. The Bruce. Ed.Duncan, A.A.M. Canongate Classics, Edinburgh. 318-334.

Fordun, J. 1872. Chronicle of the Scottish Nation. In The Historians of Scotland Vol. IV. Ed. Skene, W.F. Edmonston and Douglas, Edinburgh.336-337.

Cartographic & Illustrative Sources

No further information.

Secondary Sources

Barrow, G.W.S. 1988. Robert the Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland. University Press, Edinburgh. 174-186.

Bisset, J. 1845. The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845) Volume XII ' Aberdeen.

Parish of Bourtie

Burns, W. 1874 The Scottish War of Independence Vol.II James MacLehose , Glasgow.265-268.

McNair Scott, R. 1996. Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. Canongate, Edinburgh.3-110.

McNamee, C.1997. The Wars of the Bruces. Scotland, England and Ireland 1306-1328. Tuckwell Press, East Linton. 36-46.

Traquair, P. 1998. Freedom's Sword. Harper Collins, London .154-156.

Young, A. 1997. Robert the Bruce's Rivals: The Comyns, 1212-1314. Tuckwell Press, East Linton. 202-205.

Barra Hill fort:

Battle of Barra blog:

Battle of Barra:

Inverurie Herald, 30 May 2008:

McClure, J.D. Scottish Literature in 1400..ASLS/DACE conference 18 November 2000:

Old Meldrum Community Council Minutes, 25 April 2000:

The Bass:

The 'Bruce Field'.

About the Inventory of Historic Battlefields

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

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The inventory is a list of Scotland's most important historic battlefields. Battlefields are landscapes over which a battle was fought. We maintain the inventory under the terms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

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