Of all the pitched battles fought between the English and the Scots (eg Bannockburn 1314, Wembley 1977), the largest and bloodiest skirmish took place nearly 500 years ago on Flodden Field. King James IV of Scotland thought it would be a good idea to declare war on England while King Henry VIII was away fighting in Italy. And so, on a damp September afternoon in 1513, a huge Scottish army assembled high above the Tweed Valley on the eastern edge of the Cheviot Hills. Their defensive position was strong, but a cavalier advance down from the hilltop proved a costly mistake. Within just three hours the advancing English army had slaughtered ten thousand men, and one of those was the King himself.
They grow barley in Flodden Field today, beneath a tall stone cross which commemorates the dead from both sides . Standing atop the ridge you can look out across the battlefield, now verdant farmland, towards the slopes down which so many Scottish pikemen made their final charge. A narrow boggy gully divides the enemy positions, once running with blood, where skylarks now play. Recently a mile-long walking trail has been established around the heart of the battlefield, with a series of excellent information boards relating different chapters in this sorry tale of mass inter-national carnage. A couple of miles to the north the Scottish border weaves invisibly across a silent valley. The site has an eerie silence, and an inappropriate beauty.