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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter XVII


The Village of Darvel, its appearance and trade--Loudoun Hill and its Historic Associations--Wallace’s Attack on the English Convoy--A Scottish Victory--Drumclog--The Laird of Torfoot’s account of the Battle--His fight with Captain Arrol and his encounter wit Claver-house--The appearance of the field after the engagement--The Covenanters and their achievements.

About two miles east of Newmilns stands Darvel, a small village with 1729 of population. It contains nothing historical or important, and consists of a long street lined with unassuming tenements, which are mostly occupied by muslin weavers, that industry being the staple of the place. The principal building is the Workmen’s Institute, which was erected by Miss Brown of Lanfine as a memorial of her sister. It contains the village library and a hall capable of holding 500 individuals, which is divided by a moveable partition and converted into a recreation and reading room. The whole is open to the villagers at little more than a nominal fee of membership. From the village street there is a striking view of Loudoun Hill, which is only some two and a half miles distant. Its locality possesses many historical associations, and on account deserves something more than a passing notice, for it must for ever constitute an engrossing object of interest not only to the tourist, but to every individual who is interested in the struggles of Wallace and Bruce, and of a bold peasantry who fought for Christ and the covenanted work of reformation. The hill stands some two hundred and fifty feet above the surrounding country.

The side towards Darvel is clothed with wood, and that to the east is composed of bare trap-rock, which is studded there is an excellent view of the surrounding country. Away to the westward is the picturesque valley of the Irvine--a vista little short of twenty miles in length --studded with dense woodlands and luxuriant holms, fertile fields and neat farm-houses; while on both sides the ground rises gracefully and to the southward attains a considerable elevation. In almost every other direction the eye rests on a vast expanse of moorland, which cannot fail to strike the dwellers in large cities as something novel. But there is an interest connected with Loudoun Hill that is far more fascinating than its rugged beauty or the prospect obtainable from its summit. Near to its eastern base a spot is yet pointed out where the hero Wallace with a small party of trustly patriots lay all night in ambush waiting the advance of a troop of English soldiers who were conveying provisions  from Carlisle to the garrison at Ayr. In the grey dawn of the morning the unsuspecting convoy advanced, and when entangled in a narrow pass Wallace and his men rushed upon them like a whirlwind and smote them hip and thigh. The odds were fearful, abut Scottish valour turned the tide in favour of the assailants, and the English fled and left behind them their rich stores. Near the hill also the noble Bruce with six hundred followers met in battle array the Earl of Pembroke and an army of six thousand. The battle, which was fought May, 1307, we may depend, was both fierce and bloody, but the English were defeated, and Pembroke and his overwhelming host fled before the handful of brave men, which shows that "the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle of the strong."

This was one of the most glorious victories that ever graced the laurels of Scotland, but in later times, and nearer our own day, the persecuted supporters of the Covenant--in the cause of God and their country-defeated Claverhouse on the field of Drumclog, which lies about a mile eastward of the eminence. The most graphic account of the fray, and the most interesting picture of the eventful scenes of that ever memorable Sabbath morning, is narrated by the Laird of Torfoot in an article which he penned when he returned from exile and from it I condense. "It was," says the Laird, "a fair Sabbath morning, 1st June. A.D. 1679, that an assembly of Covenanters sat down on the healthy mountains of Drumclog. We had assembled not to fight but to worship the God of our fathers. We were far from the tumult of cities--the long dark heath waved around us, and we disturbed no living creature save the peesweep and the heather cock. As usual, we had come armed--it was for self-defence, for desperate and furious bands made bloody raids through the country, and pretending to put down treason they raged war against religion and morals. They spread ruin and havoc over the face of bleeding Scotland, The clergyman had commenced the service, and was waxing eloquent on the wrongs of Scotland and the Church when the watchman posted on Loudoun Hill fired his carabine and ran towards the congregation. This announced the approach of the enemy, and the minister hastily concluded his discourse and said:--’I have don. You have got the theory--now for the practice. You know your duty. Self-defence is always lawful. But the enemy approaches.’" The officers now collected their men, and placed themselves each at the head of those of his own district. Sir Robert Hamilton placed the foot in the centre. A company of horse, well armed and mounted, was placed along with another small squadron on the left. All being in readiness, the women and children, and the old men, with their bonnets in their hands, and their long grey locks streaming in the wind, retired to a convenient distance, fervently singing a psalm to the tune of "The Martyrs." The Covenanters were all in good spirits, and gave a hearty cheer as Hamilton hastened from rank to rank inspiring courage into the undisciplined peasants. Gradually Claverhouse and his troops advanced amid a sound of trumpets and drums. Halting, he viewed the position of the Covenanters, and after a consultation with his officers sent a flag of truce with the message that they were to lay down their arms and deliver up their ringleaders. The request was contemptuously refused by the little army. They were full of religious zeal and true to each other, and while waiting the result of the flag of truce they engaged in the singing of a psalm. When Claverhouse heard that they scouted his request he passionately cried, "Their blood be upon their heads; be no quarter the order of the day." This announcement was received with yells from his troop, who at the word of command advanced. The Covenanter’s party were not slow to meet them, but when Claverhouse’s party stopped to fire the Covenanters dropped to the earth and allowed the volley to pass over. Quickly springing to their feet they returned fire and made every bullet tell. The fire now became incessant, and for some time resembled one blazing sheet of flame along the lines of the Covenanaters. A moss hang dividing the belligerents, Claverhouse tried to cross it with the intention of breaking the centre of the small army. Observing this, Hamilton cried, "Spearmen to the front! kneel to receive the enemy’s cavalry. God and our country is the word." The spearmen knelt, and those on foot poured volley after volley into the ranks of Claverhouse. After several unsuccessful attempts to cross the moss, Claverhouse was about to flee, when the Covenanters rushed forward, and dreadful hand-to-hand conflict ensued. At this juncture the Laird says "My gallant men fired with great steadiness. We could see many tumble from their saddles. Not content with repelling the foemen, we found our opportunity to cross and attack them sword in hand. The captain, whose name I afterwards ascertained to be Arrol, threw himself in my path. In the first shock I discharged my pistols. His sudden start in his saddle told me that one of them had taken effect. With one of the tremendous oaths of Charles II. he closed with me. He fired his steel pistol I was in front of him; my sword glanced on the weapon, and gave a direction to the bullet which saved my life. By this time my men had driven the enemy before them, and had left the ground clear for the single combat. As he made a lunge at my breast I turned his sword aside by one of the those sweeping blows which are rather the dictate of a kind of instinct of self-defence than a movement of art. As our strokes redoubled my antagonist’s dark features put on a look of deep and settled ferocity. No man who has not encountered the steel of his enemy in the field of battle can conceive the looks and manner of the warrior in the moments of his intense feelings. My I never witness them again!

We fought in silence. My stroke fell on his left shoulder, it cut the belt of his carabine, which fell to the ground. His blow cut me to the rib, glancing along the bone, and rid me also of the weight of my carabine. He had now advanced too near me to be struck with the sword. I grasped him by the collar, pushed him backward, and with an entangled blow of my Ferrara I struck him across the throat. It cut only the strap of his head-piece, and it fell off. With a sudden spring he seized me by the sword-belt. Our horses reared, and we both came to the ground. We rolled on the heath in deadly conflict. It was in this situation of matters that my brave fellows had returned from the route of the flanking party to look after their commander. One of them was actually rushing on my antagonist when I called to him to retire. We started to our feet; each grasped his sword; we closed in conflict again. After parrying strokes of mine enemy, which indicated a hellish ferocity, I told him my object was to take him prisoner; that sooner than kill him I should order my men to seize him. "Sooner let my soul be branded on my ribs in hell," said he, "than be captured by a Whigamore. No quarter is the word of my colonel and my sword. Have at thee, whig--I dare say the whole of you to the combat.’--’Leave the madman to me, leave the field instantly,’ said I to my party, whom I could hardly restrain. My sword fell on his right shoulder. His sword dropped from his hand. I lowered my sword and offered him his life. ‘No quarter,’ aid he, with a shriek of despair. He snatched his sword, which I held in my hand, and made a lunge at my breast. I parried his blows until he was nearly exhausted, but fathering up his huge limbs he put forth all his energies in a thrust at my throat. My Andrea Ferrara received it, so as to weaken its deadly force, but it made a deep cut. Though I was faint with loss of blood, I left him no time for another blow. My sword glanced on his left shoulder, cut through his buff coat, and flesh, swept through his jaw, and laid open his throat from ear to ear. The fire of ferociousness was quenched in a moment. He reeled, and falling with a terrible crashed poured out his soul in a torrent of blood on the heath. I sunk down insensible for a moment. My faithful men, who had never lost sight of me, raise me up. In the fierce combat the soldier suffers most from thirst. I stooped down to fill my helmet with water which oozed through the morass. It was deeply tinged with human blood, which flowed in the conflict above me. I started back with horror, and Gawn Witherspoon bringing up my stead, we set forward in the tumult of the battle." While the hand-to-hand fight in which the Laird was engaged was going on, the battle raged fiercely on each side of him, and ultimately Claverhouse and his men were driven into the moss. The firing had by this time ceased, and the fighting was hand to hand and man to man, any of the Covenanters who were on horseback dismounted to engage in the fray, for they well knew that their steeds would sink in the bog if they attempted to follow the enemy. Coming in close proximity wit Claverhouse, the Laird describes his appearance in anything but flattering terms. "Three times," he says, "Claverhouse rolled headlong on the heath as he hastened from rank to rank, and as often he remounted. In one of his rapid courses past us my sword could only shear off his white plume and a fragment of his buff coat. But in a moment he was at the other side of his square. Our officers eagerly sought a meeting with him. ‘He has the proof of lead,’ cried some of our men; ‘take the cold steel or a piece of silver.’--’No,’ cried Burley, ‘it is his rapid movement on that fine charger that bids defiance to anything like an aim in the tumult of the bloody fray. In could sooner shoot ten heather-cocks on the wing than one flying Clavers.’ At that moment Burley, whose eye watched his antagonist, pushed into the hollow square. But Burley was too impatient. His blow was levelled at him before he came within its reach. His heavy sword descended on the head of Claver’s horse, and felled it to the ground. Burley’s men rushed pell-mell on the fallen Clavers, but his faithful dragoons threw themselves upon them, and by their overpowering force drove Burley back. Clavers was in an instant on a fresh steed. His bugleman recalled the party who were driving back the flanking party of Burley. He collected his whole troops to make his last and desperate attack." Under the charge of which followed the Covenanters were giving way, but Hamilton placed himself in the front of the battle with the white flag of the Covenant in his hand and cheered them on. Here the Laird crossed swords with Claverhouse. He relates the incident as follows:--"He struck a desperate blow at me as he raised himself in the saddle with all his force. My steel cap resisted it. The second stroke I received on my Ferrara, and his steel was shivered to pieces. He rushed headlong on each other. His pistol missed fire; it had been soaked in blood. Mine took effect, but the wound was not deadly. Our horses reared. We rolled on the ground. In vain we sought to grasp each other. In the melee men and horse tumbled on us. We were for a few moments buried under our men, whose eagerness to save their respective officers brought them in multitudes down upon us. By the aid of my faithful man, Gawn, I had extricated myself from my fallen horse, and we were rushing on the blood Clavers, when we were again literally buried under a mass of men, for Hamilton had by this time brought up his whole line, and had planted his standard where I and Clavers were rolling on the heath. Here I was borne along with the moving mass of men and almost suffocated, being faint with the loss of blood. I knew nothing more till I opened my eyes on my faithful attendant. He had dragged me from the very grasp of the enemy and borne me into the rear, and was bathing my temples with water." At this juncture of the battle the Royal troops got into confusion, and being hard pressed by the Covenanters were driven back; but every inch of ground was sternly disputed, and nought was heard save the clashing of weapons, the neighing of horses, the shrieks of the wounded, and the groans of the dying. But allow the Laird to describe the closing scene of the battle:--"At this instant his (Claverhouse’s) trumpet sounded the loud notes of retreat, and we saw on a knoll Clavers borne away by his men. He threw himself on a horse, and without sword, without helmet, fled in the first ranks of now retreating host. His troops galloped up the hill in the utmost confusion. My little line closed with that of Burley, and took a number of prisoners. Our main body pursued the enemy two miles, and strewed the ground with men and horses. I could see the bare-headed Clavers in front of his men kicking and struggling up the steep sides of Calder Hill. He halted only a moment on the top to look behind him, then plunged his rowels into his horse and darted forward; nor did he recover from this panic till he arrived in the city of Glasgow…..

I visited the field of battle next day, but I shall never forget the sight. Men and horses lay in their gory beds. I turned away from the horrible sight. I passed by the spot where God saved my life in single combat, and where the unhappy Arrol fell. I observed that in the subsequent fray the body had been trampled on by a horse, and his bowels were poured out."

I need not relate how the Covenanters after this successful engagement were flushed with victory, or how they marched to Bothwell, and sustained a disastrous defeat. Suffice it to say that they played a noble part on the stage of Scottish history. They did much to burst the bands of tyrannic oppression, and set a groaning nation at liberty. They may have been somewhat fanatical, but they did good service, and we are now reaping the rich harvest of political and religious liberty that they in the past sowed.

"Praise to the good, the pure, the great,
Who made us what we are--
Who lit the flame that yet shall glow
With radiance brighter far.

"Glory to them in coming time,
And through eternity;
They burst the captive’s falling chain,

________

"Yes! though the skeptic’s tongue deride
Those martyrs who for conscience died;
Through modish history blight their fame,
And sneering courtiers hoot the name
Of men who dared alone be free
Amidst a nation’s slavery;
Yet long for them the poet’s lyre
Shall wake its notes of heavenly fire:
Their names shall nerve the patriot’s hand,
Upraised to save a sinking land,
And piety shall learn to burn
With holier transports o’er their urn."


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