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The Battle of Rullion Green

If the hills could talk, they would have some incredible stories to tell. The Pentland Hills have seen a lot of action, and this month I went looking for the site of the battle which is commemorated by the large obelisk outside Dreghorn Barracks in Colinton – the Battle of Rullion Green.

The Battle took place in the Pentlands in 1666 and was the culmination of decades of a specific religious struggle in Scotland. Scotland had broadly always viewed monarchs as the first among equals when it came to religious matters. But James VI strongly believed in and pushed the concept of the divine right of kings, i.e. that the monarch is not accountable to his people or parliament, but has authority direct from God alone and is therefore only accountable to God. In terms of the Kirk, this implied that the king was spiritual head of the church. James’ successors pushed this too. And that was the sticking point.

It was a struggle for religious freedom

Thousands of Scots signed a pledge in 1638 called the National Covenant, resisting the changes imposed on the Kirk. It was a struggle for religious freedom. Those involved in the resistance movement were known as the Convenanters. It caused decades of struggle, suffering and torture, especially during the reigns of King Charles I and II. Failure to swear an oath declaring loyalty to the King and, crucially, his position as head of the church, led to torture and execution of many Covenanters.

The battle here in South West Edinburgh in 1666 was a final showdown for the Convenanters. It was sparked when an elderly man in Kirkcudbrightshire was beaten by soldiers for being unable to pay a fine for failing to attend Government-approved church. It was one of many such cruelties, but this time the event sparked an organised rising.

A troop of around 3000 Convenanters - a mixture of professional soldiers and ordinary citizens under the experienced leadership of a Colonel James Wallace - assembled from Dumfries and Galloway, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire and headed to Edinburgh with the aim of petitioning the Government again. They also hoped to get more support and volunteers for their cause. They took an arduous route in terrible weather via Bathgate, with a good number getting disheartened and deserting on the way. They got as far as Colinton on 27th November 1666, when they heard that the gates of Edinburgh were armed with canons against them, and there was no support forthcoming. Many more deserted and left. Wallace reluctantly turned the remains of his army back, planning to retreat back to the safety of the west.

The gates of Edinburgh were armed with canons against them

The way west, however, was blocked by a Government army which had been sent to pursue them. It was led by General Tom Dalziel of House of the Binns. So the Convenanters headed east and then south instead, towards Biggar (roughly along the current A702) using line of the Pentland Hills as cover. They halted at Rullion Green, just south west of Flotterstone, to rest, regroup and wait for stragglers. They had dwindled to around 900 men.

A vanguard of Dalziel’s army was in Currie at the time and, learning of the route the Convenantors had taken, decided to cut straight through the hills and intercept them.

They clashed around Glencorse and Turnhouse Hill. The Covenantors had the advantage of high ground and held off the vanguard, but when the rest of the government force arrived, there were around 3000 armed men. The Convenantors put up a stiff fight but were vastly outnumbered. Fifty died on the slopes of Rullion Green, and the rest fled over Turnhouse Hill and into the bleak winter’s night in the hills. Some were shot as they fled.

Fifty died on the slopes of Rullion Green, and the rest fled over Turnhouse Hill and into the bleak winter’s night in the hills. Some were shot as they fled.

Residents in the surrounding areas tended to wounded survivors. Women came out from Edinburgh the next day to wrap the dead and prepare them for burial. Some died from their wounds whilst trying to get home. Many were buried in the graveyards in Penicuik and Glencorse. Others were taken prisoner and hanged at Mercat Cross in Edinburgh. Over the course of the next couple of months, Covenantors all over Scotland were hanged or transported to slavery in the West Indies and American colonies. It was the end of the uprising and a period of violent repression against the Covenanters ensued.

The actions of Tam Dalziel after the Pentland Rising earned him the sobriquet “Bluidy Tam”.

Rullion Green in the Pentlands
Rullion Green in the Pentlands, site of the battle

Women came out from Edinburgh the next day to wrap the dead and prepare them for burial.

You can walk through to Glencorse from this side of the Pentlands, which is exactly what Dalziel and the government forces did that day.

Clear waymarked routes from Harlaw in Balerno or Bonaly lead to Glencorse, and from there you can keep walking to Turnhouse Hill. (There are signs to Scald Law, and Turnhouse is on the way). Or you can walk from Threipmuir via Loganlea. It’s a little trickier to get to Rullion Green itself; I don’t believe there is a waymarked path from Glencorse – if there is I couldn’t find it. The photo in this article was taken from the gate at Rullion Green Farm (private property).


Published in Konect August 2021

Author: Helen-Jane Gisbourne


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