THE life-changing journey undertaken by Robert the Bruce, the 14th century king of Scotland, when he was a fugitive being hunted down by his enemies has been relived by a Scottish author and his Border collie, Meg.
Gregor Ewing tried to “get into the mindset” of the newly-crowned king, who found the fortitude during this turbulent time to turn his fortunes round despite being defeated three times in battle, eventually leading Scotland to independence in the wake of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
The legend of “Bruce and the spider” whereby the king gained renewed resolve watching a spider try again and again to spin its web, is associated with his time on the run.
Mr Ewing, 41, from Falkirk, whose book Bruce, Meg and Me is published by Edinburgh-based Luath Press this month, said: “I started at Dalrigh near Tyndrum, the beginning of Bruce’s days as a fugitive after he disbanded his troops following the Battle of Dalrigh in 1306, and took to the heather.
“He was a trained knight, used to jousting and operating on horseback, but here he was forced to be like any Highlander. He no longer had a privileged life and was living like the poorest of the poor.”
Mr Ewing consulted Barbour’s 14th century The Brus and Robert Bruce by Professor Geoffrey Barrow to research the journey. He said: “Bruce was forced to live rough, hunting for food dealing with terrain only the hardiest of souls could cope with. The landscape was dull and dreich and foreboding. Bruce was trying to evade the English he had enraged by taking the Crown and Scottish factions who thought it belonged to them.
“I was imagining myself back in 14th century Scotland and could almost see a blood-splattered knight suddenly appearing through the mist. I realised the sheer amount of fortitude and determination Bruce had to keep going, using the unmapped land to his advantage.”
There are various claims for the location of Bruce’s cave. Mr Ewing visited one north of Inversnaid on Loch Lomond.
“It was dark and dank but big enough for two or three people to sit in,” he said.
His six-year-old dog Meg carried a small rucksack containing her food and a blanket on the journey, which finished at Arrochar at the head of Loch Long.
“She loved the freedom of roaming the hills. She was a great ‘ice breaker’ running up to people we met on the way.”
Mr Ewing completed another two walks, covering 1,000 miles from the Highlands to the Borders, during his nine-week trek, visiting places significant to Bruce during the eight years of civil war and its aftermath.
Scott McMaster, manager at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre in Stirling, said: “By going through the terrain, Gregor got a tangible, physical feel for this complex time in history.”
Mr Ewing is giving a talk about Bruce, Meg and Me on 4 June at the National Library of Scotland.
His previous book tracked Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape from Scotland in 1746.