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Issue 89 - Roslin Glen

Scotland Magazine Issue 89
October 2016


This article is 2 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Roslin Glen

In search of Wallace's Cave in Roslin Glen

On the night of 24 February 1303, a brutal 24-hour battle took place in Midlothian between the English army under Sir John de Segrave, and a contingency of Scots led by John Comyn, Sir Simon Fraser and Sir Henry St Clair, whose early castle stood upon the spot now occupied by the iconic Rosslyn Chapel.

The Battle of Roslin, considered to be one of the most important confrontations of the Scottish Wars of Independence, culminated in the English being driven over the ravine into Roslin Glen where the waters of the River North Esk, which bisect the woods, allegedly ran red with their blood for three days. However, unqualified legend suggests that the English offensive on Roslin was to some degree of a personal nature. Despite being married, Sir John de Segrave, King Edward I of England's Governor of Scotland and Commander of Edinburgh Castle, had his eye on the comely Lady Margaret Ramsay, whose family resided at nearby Dalhousie. As might be expected, Lady Margaret was far more attracted to the handsome William St Clair, son of Sir Henry St Clair of Rosslyn, and when their engagement was announced de Segrave was determined to put an end to it. Mercifully, he was taken prisoner during the battle, and Lady Margaret had 28 years of happiness with William St Clair, until he was killed in Spain on a Crusade with the heart of King Robert the Bruce.

Another tradition has it that William Wallace, who had been appointed Joint Guardian of Scotland in 1297, took shelter in a cave high up on the cliffs of Gorton on the eastern side of the river. Since there is no evidence that Wallace took part in the Battle of Roslin, it is rather more likely he took refuge here at an earlier or later date. Certainly, the hiding-places of Roslin Glen and adjacent Hawthornden became significant hot spots of resistance during the 14th Century, and Wallace's Cave can still be seen – a crude opening inserted into the pinkish sandstone slopes of the steepest crag.

With the hush of the fast flowing river below, time does seem to stand still in such places. A word of caution, nevertheless. The densely tangled jungle of damp and lush vegetation, traversed by man-made footpaths, should not to be ventured into after heavy rain or winter snowfall as it can become really treacherous. The English soldiers certainly found this out to their cost.