I’M SURE you’ve heard the expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. So have I. But not until recently did I fully understand the truth of this wise saying.
However, first, a bit of background. Way back in 1298 William Wallace with his Scottish army in tow were given a sever gubbing in a battle which was one of the biggest and bloodiest ever fought on British soil.
Although there are facts and figures about the number of deaths and so on, nobody seems to actually know exactly where it took place, other than it was near Falkirk. Though there are some theories.
Falkirk historians thought it would be a bit of a wheeze to bring in my good friend Uri Geller to see if he could use mind power to locate the site. So, in October 2002 Uri and the Press Pack descended upon Falkirk. Plan “A” was to take Uri high above the area in a helicopter. Unfortunately, atrocious weather put an end to that idea.
As a result, Uri was limited to a restricted geographic area and no conclusion was reached.
What has all this to do with judging a book by its cover, you ask? Well, not so long ago I was out with my metal detector in a Bathgate park and was approached by a “yoof” or, to be more exact, a “chav yoof”. You know the type: weird bunnet, track suit and a bottle of tonic wine.
I tried to ignore him but he was most insistent that he engage me in conversation. He suggested I should take my metal detector to Falkirk and see if I could find the Falkirk Battle site. “Mind you,” he said, “they had that Uri Geller fella’oot there, but they had him lookin’ in the wrong place.”
Okay, now he had my attention.
In open-mouthed admiration I listened as this young fellow – whom I had taken for a Bathgate Bammer – recount the entire minute-by-minute movements of the Scottish and English armies from dawn on the day of the battle when Edward I had left the outskirts of Linlithgow heading west. (Did you know that Edward I’s battle-charger trod on him while he was camped near Torphichen and broke his ribs? Neither did I.)
“It was the day of the Magdalene, a holy day, you know” he said.
Nope, I didn’t know that. And I bet few Historians are aware of the fact either.
The lad’s knowledge was encyclopaedic, and he described the events in a way that I could clearly visualise. I was impressed beyond words.
He talked of the first sighting of the Scots by the English on a ridge generally taken to be Redding Muir and how, when the English got there, the Scots had vanished… On and on it went, with him sidetracked into the location of the Scottish Mint at Linlithgow and what the “riggs” are that give their names to so many of the towns around West Lothian.
After a while he paused and drew breath. “Some of them historians think the battle was near Callendar Wood.” He looked around, conspiratorially. “But it wizna.”
“It wiznae?” I asked. “I mean, it wasn’t?”
“Nah. Ah’ve read the fancy theories a’ they smart folks came up wi’. They’re talkin’ rubbish.” (Of course, he didn’t actually use the word “rubbish”.) He then revealed the exact location of the battle site.
I’m giving nothing away except to say that it is a short distance from one of the main theoretical sites, but once you know where it is, the descriptions given by the writers of the day all make perfect sense.
I asked how he could possibly know for certain. How could he have definitive proof of information that had eluded intelligent, academic historians for years?
It turns out that the reason he knows is because he and his chum had worked on their own theory then visited the site with their metal detectors. There, they discovered hoards of arrow heads, crossbow bolts, metal from horse harnesses, pike heads and so on. “There’s tons o’ stuff there, man.”
He then shuffled off across the park before I had time to ask him who he was. He was gone – home. Home to where some of this “tons of stuff” had ended up in a Boghall cupboard.
Amazing, is it not? So, consider this: the next time you look down your nose at one of these strange “yoofs” it might just be the very one who holds the secret location to one of Scotland’s greatest mysteries; a puzzle that has beaten historians, celebrities and psychics alike.