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Richard Carlton is director of an archaeological practice and attached to Newcastle University. He gave a fascinating tour of excavations in North Northumberland.

Monday, 5th February 2018, 12:00 pm

The Flodden Pathways project (2016) focussed on the aftermath of the battle, examining maps, footpaths and place names, and noting the differences North and South of the border.

The project set out to identify the routes taken by James IV and his army going to Flodden in 1513, and of the defeated troops straggling back, looking at roads, river crossings, buildings and the muster and battle sites.

The project concentrated on more than 20 ecclesiastical sites, the majority of buildings known to be in existence at that time, and on Norham and Wark castles, which were taken by the Scottish army.

James IV’s invasion was no small undertaking. Estimates of the number of armed men vary from 20,000 to 100,000. Along with non-combatants, it is likely there were at least 40,000 people from all over Scotland, plus animals.

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The majority of the army journeyed towards Flodden from Edinburgh by Haddington, and assembled at Ellen, North of Duns. The artillery came via Dalkeith and Kelso, crossing the Tweed at Coldstream.

The likeliest route for retreat is the Staw Road, which runs from Kirknewton, through Kirk Yetholm to Otterburn.

It was a wet, late summer so streams and rivers were to be avoided. The Tweed was a major obstacle. The Border Survey (1541) lists 31 fords between Berwick and Crabbestream, but there was only one bridge, at Twizel.

James and 5,000 to 6,000 men were killed at Flodden. Churches and monasteries may have been important places of sanctuary for the survivors.

Located along the Staw Road, St Ethelreda’s Chapel is mentioned in 13th to 16th century texts, but its exact location was unknown. The project team identified four possible sites, excavating one on a low ridge by a flood plain to reveal a wall and fragment of medieval pottery.

In Scotland, far fewer churches survive in their 16th century form. However, the medieval walls and pottery of the nunnery at Abbey St Bathans may be relevant, while a project at the Lennel found the floor plan of a church abandoned in 1704.

Excavations in 2016 at Norham Castle found only later roadways. At Wark Bastle excavations revealed the footprint of St Giles chapel, medieval coins, weapon heads and deep pits containing fragments of pottery, suggesting a site where the army was fed.

Excavations on Holy Island in 2017 made new discoveries. On the Heugh were found the footing stones of a rectangular structure with two chambers and four doorways; aerial photographs show evidence of stone walls and post holes.

Near the war memorial, an extensive stone platform was found, possibly the base of a tower. The Lantern Chapel or Lookout Tower has footings and thick walls, and a void cut into the whinstone revealed the remains of seven individuals. The full results are yet to be published.

The next meeting is on February 14, when Wade Sherman will speak on Alnwick Castle and the History of St Cloud State University.