Volunteers bring the action to life

The din of battle surrounds you.

To your right a mass of archers draw their bows and with a heavy twang their deadly rain is unleashed, decimating the spearmen standing in tight formation to your left. You hear the quake of horse’s hooves growing louder, but your attention is suddenly commanded by the open doors of the Battle Room. Passing through, you are met by a hooded figure clad in armour unlike any you have ever seen. The excited murmur among your fellow commanders stills to a hush in anticipation of this sentinel’s instructions. Finally, the figure lowers their hood and breaks the silence. 

“Ladies, gentlemen, generals… I am your Battlemaster.”

Presenting the story of the Battle of Bannockburn with drama, enthusiasm and historical rigour is all in a day’s work for the three Battlemasters at the National Trust for Scotland’s new Bannockburn Heritage Centre in Stirling. I have the great fortune to be counted among their ranks, alongside Amy Cassells (24) of Glasgow and Ned Sampson (48) of Kent. Together we face the challenge of delivering a type of visitor experience never attempted before.

The role of Battlemaster represents the altogether different approach that the Heritage Centre takes to presenting Scotland’s history to the public, due in no small part to necessity. To date, no archaeological evidence has been recovered from Bannockburn that can be definitively linked to the two days of battle, June 23 and 24, 1314. This potential liability has been turned into an advantage, according to learning manager Calum Price. 

“We’re not constrained by using physical artifacts or a traditional museum approach.”

“It’s freed us up to do something new, different and exciting, and just tell the story. We’re not constrained by using physical artifacts or a traditional museum approach.”

The centre has thus stepped away from the traditional format of text-based interpretation, and goes beyond the usual accompaniments of figurines, video clips and static displays. Instead, the approach of the centre is to allow people to learn by doing. It is an experience that has been described as going into the future to learn about the past. 

In 2012 the Trust launched an initiative to understand how they might increase their profile among the vibrant student community in Scotland. For this they turned to FreshSight, a student consultancy firm based at the University of Edinburgh, for whom I was a fresh-faced volunteer recruit. I leapt at the opportunity to work with the Trust from a different angle, and the process culminated with my being hired on with them as a project manager. I am now responsible for the newly formed Edinburgh University National Trust for Scotland Student Group, though the volunteers that make up the group have long since left me in the dust in terms of capability – proving yet again the extraordinary asset that volunteers are within the Scottish heritage community and industry. 

You can imagine, then, the force of the pinch I had to self-administer when I saw an opportunity for something called a “Battlemaster” at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre on the National Trust for Scotland jobs webpage. Could I really take up arms in the shadow of Robert the Bruce, hero of my youth and champion of Scotland? 

To the delight of my wildest imagination, it turned out that I could. With passion and a keen eye, who knows how you might become a part of Scotland’s story? 

Heritage Centre Facts

  • Stand shoulder to shoulder with medieval warriors while learning about the tactics of two opposing kings
  • Pre-booking is essential for Battle Room experience
  • Ticket prices – Adult £11; Child £8; Family of 4 £30
  • Opening times – 10am – 5.30pm daily (March-October); 10am – 5pm (November-February)