Walking the Marches – Revived

The first written evidence we have of the Walking of the Marches in Stirling is February 1610. Although 404 years ago, we know or are sure that it took place in some form for up to 400 years before that, taking us back to the 12th century. Traditionally the event took place every year but in later stages it evolved to every 7 years, which possibly explains why the tradition went into abeyance.

The last time the marches were walked was in the 1960’s. However, through the efforts of a small band of people led by Archie McCallum, they have walked round the boundary each year for the last 20 years, unofficially keeping the tradition alive.

What are the Marches? They were quite simply a boundary, in this case the Burgh Boundary. In a time when maps were few, the only way to protect these boundaries was to walk round them to make sure no one was pinching land. This duty fell on the Birlaw men whose job it was to act as judge and arbiter of local disputes or complaints.

The Captain of the Birlaw men was in overall charge with 6 officers traditionally made up from 2 men from the Seven Incorporated Trades, 2 from the Guildry and 2 from the Council. The pick and shovels were used to turn over a sod of grass at points on the Burgh boundary and at one time there were march stones which were  a more permanent marker.

The march stones were supplied by those who became burgesses, and in 1723, all of the stones were numbered, so that a count could be kept. These stones started disappearing in the 17th Century and by the 19th century none remained.

On becoming involved in the seven trades and in his position as Deacon of the Incorporation of Hammermen, it became more than obvious that this tradition should be kept alive and protected by the burgesses of Stirling. Deacon Stuart Campbell  put the idea to Provost Mike Robbins , who embraced the idea immediately and with his help and the hard work of his administration steps were put in place to revive the tradition. However, there were no stones left, but fortunately from an early description of these stones there was a fairly accurate representation of what they would look like.

Through the generosity of Historic Scotland, who gifted the stone and through the cooperation of both Iain Walker and Steve Townsend from the Building Crafts Development Team based in Stirling at Forth Valley College Campus, where Historic Scotland’s apprentices are trained, a new stone was cut by them. The lettering being inscribed by one of the apprentices – Jacqueline Perkins.

The new march stone was delivered by Forth Valley College and erected in the grounds of the Smith Art Gallery and Museum on Monday 29th September 2014 .

The first official walking of the Marches of the City and Royal Burgh of Stirling then took place on the 4th October 2014. The inaugral route is shown below.

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Some 60 members of the Seven Trades, Guildry and Stirling Council took part in the walk which set off from the Municipal Buildings in Stirling.

Before marching off to walk the marches, the Birlaw men took the following oath.

“We declare that we will faithfully walk the marches of the City and Royal Burgh of Stirling”

The walk then set off for the Smith Museum.

At the new march stone in the grounds of the Smith Art Gallery and Museum, a toast was made to “The Stirling Marches” by Stuart Campbell Deacon of the Incorporation of Hammermen.

The walk then proceeded along Dumbarton Road, Royal Gardens, up Back Walk, along Academy Road and up to Mar Place at the top of the town.

From here they marched down Broad Street, Baker Street, King Street and through the town along Port Street.

Finally, along Dumbarton Road, up the Back Walk to the Municipal Buildings where the Provost thanked those for coming and looked forward to a continuation of the tradition.

The walk was well received in the City with many bystanders looking on.