Scotched by the Scots

Byland Abbey, where Edward II may have taken shelter during the Battle of Byland in 1322.
John Bunting’s Chapel near Sutton Bank
The view from John Bunting’s Chapel towards the village of Kilburn and Vale of York beyond.

When I was little we used to go on holiday for a week every year to the Lake District, and an en route landmark was Scotch Corner, the point at which the A66 from Penrith joins the A1. We were always excited to reach it as it felt like a good chunk of the boring car journey was already behind us.

It was only when reading my dad’s column from 24th May 1980 that I was reminded that there was a second Scotch Corner much closer to my home village of Ampleforth. This Scotch Corner, sometimes called Scot’s Corner, lies between Oldstead (now famous for Tommy Banks’ Michelin-starred Black Swan restaurant) and the White Horse above Kilburn.

I’m ashamed to say that I never took the trouble to find out anything more about it, nor troubled myself to work out exactly where it was. In fact I have lost count of the amount of times I have climbed the steps up to the White Horse without ever realising this Scotch Corner was just a stone’s throw away.

I checked on an Ordnance Survey map, and sure enough, the less famous Scotch Corner is marked upon it. It lies in the woods, high above Oldstead, and you will find it if you go down a track known as Hambleton Road that leads east off the narrow tarmac lane running past the Yorkshire Gliding Club. The track isn’t shown on less detailed maps, although it is, I believe, a public right of way.

The area around Sutton Bank and the White Horse was the scene of intense fighting in the 14th century, and thanks to reading Dad’s column and conducting my own research, I feel far better educated today than yesterday on the moment in mediaeval history that became known as the Battle of Byland.

This spot, hidden among the Hambleton trees, is said to be where King Edward II’s army was defeated by the Scots during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Since his victory over Edward at Bannockburn in 1314, Robert The Bruce had wanted to be recognised as the King of Scotland and he made his way south with his armies in pursuit of the defeated king.

On 14th October 1322, Edward is believed to have been taking rest in one of the abbeys at either Byland or Rievaulx, despite knowing that the Scots were ransacking nearby Thirsk. He thought they were safe from attack, his armies having taken up a defensive position atop Roulston Scar, the plateau now occupied by the gliding club. The vantage point offered unrestricted views of approaching enemies, with the seemingly impenetrable sheer cliffs giving them the confidence to think they would be able to ward off any approaches.

Unfortunately, while the English forces were distracted by a Scottish attack from below, a unseen breakaway band launched a surprise offensive from behind and Edward’s men fell into panic and disarray.

On hearing that his army was being routed, Edward fled the abbey, abandoning not only the Crown Jewels and the Great Seal Of England, but also, according to some accounts, his wife, Queen Isabella. He ultimately found his way to York, and the reputation of the fortified city meant the Scots did not attack it, and Edward was never captured.

Interestingly, on a detailed map you might see the letters ‘PW’ near Scotch Corner. PW means ‘Place of Worship’, and is where renowned Ampleforth artist and sculptor John Bunting converted derelict farm buildings into a memorial chapel. Bunting was educated at Ampleforth College, and later returned to teach there, while continuing to work on his sculptures. He dedicated his chapel to three former pupils, Hugh Dormer, Michael Allmand and Michael Fenwick, who all died as young soldiers in World War II. A fourth name was added when former pupil Robert Nairac was killed while serving in Armagh in 1977.

Although the chapel is kept locked, you can visit the site and see some of John’s remarkable work, which was influenced by his strong Catholic faith, and by mentors such as Robert ‘Mousey’ Thompson and Henry Moore. Bunting spent time working with Thompson in his Kilburn workshop and was encouraged by Moore to go to art school after visiting him in his studio.

There are still some people who think the Battle of Byland was fought in a different spot, further north, nearer Old Byland. What do you think?

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 22nd May and the Gazette & Herald on 20th May 2020

2 thoughts on “Scotched by the Scots”

  1. Another interesting column. I always look forward to reading them and I keep learning more and more from you about my native county of North Yorkshire (or The North Riding). Keep up your excellent work.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: