Buried church links Wallace and Selkirk

Dr Chris Bowles, Scottish Borders Council archaeologist, left, and Colin Gilmour, Selkirk Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme Project Manager at the site of the recent revealing geophysical survey.
Dr Chris Bowles, Scottish Borders Council archaeologist, left, and Colin Gilmour, Selkirk Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme Project Manager at the site of the recent revealing geophysical survey.

Geophysics study reveals possible Kirk o’ the Forest in the heart of the town

An extraordinary find in the heart of Selkirk has strengthened the town’s links with William Wallace – and could yield a huge tourism boost.

A geophysics study of the Auld Kirk has uncovered what appears to be the underground remains of a medieval church where William Wallace was likely to have been made guardian of Scotland in 1297.

It is hoped that new signs and information boards showing the exact spot where Wallace would have stood will bring fans of history and the 1995 Mel Gibson film Braveheart alike to the Royal Burgh.

Dr Chris Bowles, Scottish Borders Council’s archaeologist, commissioned the survey by the Durham University in conjunction with the Selkirk conservation area regeneration scheme.

Chris said: “Ruins of the Auld Kirk date from the 18th century, but we knew this had replaced earlier churches on site from the 12th and 16th centuries.

“It has been widely acknowledged that this was the site of the Kirk o’ the Forest where Wallace was made guardian of Scotland following his and Andrew Moray’s defeat of the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

“We had been expecting the geophysics survey to uncover a 16th century church that we know to have existed and which was a replacement for the medieval church, but the only evidence in the survey is in relation to the medieval church.”

“The association between Wallace and the local area is quite well documented, with Wallace using guerilla tactics to fight the English from the Ettrick Forest, and the Scottish nobles made Wallace Guardian of Scotland in recognition of his military successes. Wallace went on to become the legendary figure he remains today.

“The history of Selkirk is known to an extent, but there has been little archaeological work carried out to date.

“While these geophysics results suggest a medieval, possibly Norman, chapel beneath the later church, we are very restricted by the burials in the area to allow any excavation.

“But in the future, it may be possible to conduct limited investigations in areas where there is no evidence of burial.”

Conservation area regeneration scheme project manager Colin Gilmour said: “There is nothing in the town currently signposting people to the Auld Kirk site, but with this latest discovery it could become a major attraction and assist with the regeneration of the town centre. We hope to work with the community to make the most of this fascinating discovery and the tourism potential it has.”

Councillor Ron Smith, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for planning and environment, said: “This is a fascinating discovery and further strengthens the links between William Wallace and Selkirk.

“Working with the community, we hope to be able to make the most of this discovery.

“Thanks to the geophysical study of the site, we can almost pinpoint where Wallace would have stood when he was made Guardian of Scotland.

“I hope it will be possible to install information and interpretation boards for visitors.

“This discovery adds to the historic attraction of Selkirk, and of the Borders as a whole, and will surely draw in even more visitors.”