CAMPAIGNERS working to maintain the memory of Scottish patriot Sir William Wallace have called for action to protect a Borders kirkyard as one of the few places boasting a physical link to the martyred medieval hero.
Both the Auld Kirk and the associated graveyard in Selkirk are B-listed, but have now been on the Buildings at Risk Register for more than a year.
Maintained by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland on behalf of Historic Scotland, the register describes the condition of both the ruined kirk and the graveyard as “poor”.
Back in June 2011, inspectors found the graveyard littered with broken and fallen gravemarkers, missing sections of ironwork and vegetation growing on mausolea.
Although the kirk dates only from the 17th century, experts believe there has been a church on the site since the Middle Ages.
The connection with Wallace, commemorated by a plaque, stems from the legendary freedom fighter’s appointment as Guardian of Scotland in 1298, which is said to have taken place in the Selkirk church, known as the “Kirk o’ the Forest”.
A scene depicting this ceremony, which is believed to have followed Wallace leading a Scottish army to victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, can be found in the Oscar-winning 1995 movie, Braveheart, starring and directed by Mel Gibson.
That particular building was demolished in the 16th century and a new structure erected.
By 1747, the congregation had outgrown this and therefore the kirk, which is now ruinous, was built. This became redundant in 1861 when St Mary’s West church in Ettrick Terrace was built as the new parish church.
Duncan Fenton, convener of the Society of William Wallace, wants to see something done to rectify the condition of the ruined Selkirk church and the graveyard.
“Places like the auld kirkyard in Selkirk are very important because of their association with Wallace – even the places which have tenuous links with him,” Mr Fenton said.
“There are 83 places listed by Blind Harry [the author of the epic 15th-century poem The Wallace] as having a link with Wallace.
“We just can’t afford to lose any, basically, and it would be a tragedy if such sites were lost to the public.”
The Selkirk area boasts another link to Wallace, for it was from his base in Ettrick Forest that his followers launched raids on Scone, Ancrum and Dundee in 1297.
Mr Fenton says sites such as the Auld Kirk and graveyard have a vital role to play in educating the young.
“We keep saying such places are kind of a living history book, helping put flesh on the bones of where events, such as Wallace’s appointment as Guardian of Scotland, actually happened.”
Scottish Borders Council heritage officer, Mark Douglas, says the gravestones and mausolea in the kirkyard are the responsibility of the descendants of those buried there and not the local authority, which only has a role in terms of public safety.
As far as the ruined kirk is concerned, Mr Douglas believes the old Ettrick and Lauderdale District Council did work on it back in 1994, while the local community council and Selkirk regeneration group have recently removed some ivy.
“We have included the Auld Kirk in the successful bid to Historic Scotland for the Selkirk CARS [conservation area regeneration scheme] but this scheme has not yet kicked off and we will need to do some work to agree responsibilities for work to the ruin, but this is definitely on our radar,” he said.
Selkirk historian Walter Elliot agrees the ruined kirk is in a parlous state.
“The building’s only really being held up by the ivy these days. The problem is that old buildings use lime mortar, but once water starts to get in and wash that out, it all starts to crumble,” Mr Elliot explained.
Mr Elliot was among those present when the plaque to Wallace was unveiled by Scottish nationalist firebrand, Wendy Wood, in 1970.