Robert de Brus 1st of Scotland – part three

At the end of part two of Jim Henderson’s account, we heard that during the later part of January 1307, two of Robert de Brus’ staunchest supporters arrived in Rathlin to join him. Sir Robert Boyd and Sir James Lord Douglas then volunteered to sail with 20 men to investigate the strength of the English on the Island of Arran. Around the same period Robert’s two younger brothers, Sir Thomas Brus and Alexander Brus – Dean of Glasgow, led another group of 700 men from Ireland bound for Loch Ryan. Their mission was to attack the English supply route from Carlisle. In the next part we hear about the arrive of Robert de Brus in Arran.

Arriving in Arran

Shortly after, the Brus brothers arrived on the mainland via Loch Ryan but were overpowered by the McDougal Clan of Galloway, supporters of the Balliol clan and the English. Many of the Scots were captured and the officers, including the Brus brothers were sent to Carlisle, where they were beheaded. (Owing to an absence of communication, Bruce and his men knew nothing of his brothers’ fate).

Meanwhile, Boyd and Douglas, accompanied by a score of men, set out for the island of Arran via Spoon Island. Their mission was to investigate the strength of the English forces on the Island. Records show that they may have landed on the sandy beach of an area now known as Blackwaterfoot, dragged their two craft above high-water mark among the sand-dunes, and concealed both, by using the shrubbery close at hand.

Having never been on the island before and with no roadwork to guide them, they headed up the valley, possibly following drovers’ paths, that existed on the left-hand side of the burns and sleeping rough in the open at night. Wet, tired and hungry, as they had not eaten a substantial meal since they left Rathlin Island and having to deal with the February weather and short days, progress was slow, darkness making travelling at night over the terrain impossible.

On reaching the summit, of what is now the area of the String Road, they could see their goal, Brodick Castle, where 3 schooners lay at anchor in the bay. By the afternoon of the next day, they managed to take refuge in trees close by the stockade without being detected.

At this time Sir John De Hastings (1262-1313) governed Arran with an English garrison located at the Castle, of Knights, Squires and Yeoman with a detachment of troops camped in the stockade grounds. [The Castle in the early 1300’s was constructed mainly of timber].

As the Scots approached the Castle area, they came upon the crew of the schooners in the process of transporting supplies to the Castle. The Scots ambushed the English sailors, the surprise attack working to their advantage, overwhelming them and taking possession of the provisions.

The sailors who survived the attack fled for the safety of the schooners and the Scots retreated to the woods of ‘Glencloy’ where they sought shelter and feasted on the English stores. They also met up with an Islander who offered them hospitality. His name was Fergus McLouis or Foulerton.

Within the next two weeks King Robert de Brus left Rathlin island with 300 men in 25 galleys, heading for the south of Arran and landed near an area now known as Kings Cross at the south end of a sheltered bay. Robert and his men received temporary shelter from a local lady before the group headed for Brodick to meet up with Boyd and Douglas who were taking refuge in an area now named ‘Kilmichael’.

With all the men now together and itching for action, Brus led them on their first quest to overcome and take Brodick Castle, with the surviving English fleeing on the schooners.

[No part of the Castle which Brus attacked exists today, the timber structure being destroyed by fire by the Stewarts in the early 1400’s and the first stone construction in the form of a Tower House dating from 1510, built by the Earl of Arran.]

A few days later Robert returned to Kings Cross, where the ‘Birlins’ had been safely beached.

With the Scots invigorated and ready for more action against the enemy, King Robert asked Sir James Douglas with about 10 men to sail over to Turnberry to report on the strength of the English in Ayrshire. They arrived safely, only to discover the area was overrun by English forces, so not a good time for the King to attempt another crack at defeating them and establishing his kingship.

Douglas had been instructed to light a beacon when it was favourable for the Scots to mount an attack or land in Ayrshire.
Some days passed with no sign of any fire or some form of beacon and King Robert became impatient, the inaction of the past few months beginning to take its toll; both the King and his troops were more than ready for an altercation, following their brief yet successful raid on Brodick castle. By this time, they were now in the month of March.

Sir Douglas was preparing to return to Arran with his news when someone lit a large bonfire that created a lot of smoke. This was witnessed from Arran and created a lot of excitement, lifting the spirits of the troops.

The galleys were soon launched in the sheltered bay of Kings Cross and as soon as all preparations were completed, the King and his troops set off in the late afternoon, to arrive at the Ayrshire coast near Turnberry Castle (Robert’s home) in the cover of darkness.

Turnberry Castle, Ayrshire

On arrival there was an eerie silence only disturbed by the seagulls and waves rolling onto the beach. Moonlight gave a clear vision of the Castle that sat on a rocky outcrop overlooking the beach, presenting an austere formidable sight. The group met up with James Douglas, just south of the Castle area, who gave news of the English occupation. Despite this set back, a number of the Scots refused to return to Arran and encouraged the King to proceed.

Robert rallied his troops and with his knowledge of the area and of the strengths and weaknesses of the Castle, sought his revenge on the English by mounting a raid on the area surrounding it.

To be continued in part four – Claiming Independence and being King of Scotland.