David R Ross

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Scottish patriot, writer and historian

Born: 28 February, 1958, in Giffnock, Renfrewshire.

Died: 2 January, 2010, in East Kilbride, aged 51.

DAVID R Ross, who has died suddenly of a heart attacked aged 51, became known as "the biker historian" after writing a string of highly acclaimed books on Scottish history, notably about William Wallace. For his research, he travelled his native land in full black leathers on his black Kawasaki ZZR motorcycle. At 6ft 5in tall, and in the kilt when not in leathers, he was often told he'd have made a far better Wallace in Braveheart than "that wee Aussie".

Nevertheless, Ross respected Mel Gibson's 1995 movie and believed it "raised the profile of Wallace and pricked the Scottish psyche to a great extent. There had been nothing like this in Scotland since 1978 when we were going to win the World Cup in Argentina with Ally's Army," he said.

In 2005, the 700th anniversary of Wallace's execution for treason, Ross gained domestic and international prominence when he set off on a Walk for Wallace, retracing his hero's final trip from Robroyston, Glasgow, where he had been betrayed and captured, to Smithfield in London, where he was hanged, drawn and quartered. Along the 450-mile way, "Big Davy" was cheered by Scots and hundreds joined him for the final six-mile hike into London. There, he presided over a symbolic funeral service for Wallace at the St Bartholomew the Great church in Smithfield, close to the spot where he died.

Ross's dream, was to bring the Scottish patriot "home" for a symbolic funeral he had been denied 700 years earlier when his body was cut into pieces to be displayed throughout the land as a warning to other would-be independence fighters. From London, Ross and his supporters carried a coffin they said was carrying Wallace's spirit, packed with letters, poems and good wishes from Scots. On their return to Scotland, they held a torchlit parade in Lanark and buried the coffin there, at St Kentigern's church.

David Robertson Ross was born in Giffnock in 1958. His family moved to East Kilbride when he was five and he attended Halfmerke Primary and East Kilbride High School, leaving at 16. He would live in East Kilbride for the rest of his life. "At school, I was taught history from a 'British' perspective," he once wrote, "in fact, an almost-wholly English perspective – the Norman Conquest, 1066 and all that.

"At 14 or 15, I discovered the novels of Nigel Tranter, first the Bruce trilogy, then the Wallace. These books were like doors opening to me. They were about my history, my people, and were set in places that, even at that tender age, I knew passing well. These led on to me devouring everything I could find in print that spoke about the colourful, proud, sometimes tragic history of Scotland.

"At the age of 17, I purchased my first motorcycle and started to visit all the places I had been reading about, where the great deeds that shaped my nation had occurred. All my spare time was spent acquiring knowledge of Scotland, its history, geography, just enjoying the scenery of this little scrap of mountain and moorland on the edge of Europe."

One day, he was at a lecture in Glasgow given by the director of the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling, Dr Elspeth King, who happened to mention that somebody should write a book listing the many Wallace-related sites in Scotland. Ross thought: "I could do that," and the next day set off on his motorbike. The result was his first book, On the Trail of William Wallace, which became a best-seller in Scotland. His later books, all published by Luath Press, included On the Trail of Robert the Bruce, On the Trail of Bonnie Prince Charlie, A Passion for Scotland, Desire Lines: A Scottish Odyssey, For Freedom and On the Trail of Scotland's History. His last book was James the Good: The Black Douglas, about the Scottish knight and fighter for independence who followed a generation behind Wallace.

He said: "I was not trying to blind anyone with detail, or go into heavy academic depth. I wrote for everyday Scots and others interested in our history."

In between riding his beloved bike and writing about his country, Ross practised martial arts, towering above most of those he sparred with, notably, in good fun, his friend and fellow Scottish patriot and author Linda MacDonald-Lewis, who now lives in the United States. Hearing of her friend's passing, Ms MacDonald-Lewis recalled a poem she had written to mark the Walk for Wallace, and said it could almost describe Ross himself:

Mourn now, weep on my countrymen

For the man that stood

Steadfast to passioned principles

When few if any would.

Call him giant, call him mad

Or Sir if you will

The Wallace and his Mighty Sword

Stirs the young hearts still

Ross was serving convener of the Society of William Wallace, set up to preserve the memory of the Scottish patriot, which meets in Elderslie, Renfrewshire, where Wallace was born. Commemorating Ross on its website yesterday, the society wrote: "If there's a heaven, David will be up there right now, sitting with William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, the Douglas and all the other great Scottish patriots, and he more than deserves his seat at that table."

David Ross was twice married and divorced. He is survived by his 22-year-old daughter from his first marriage.