The Battle of Glen Trool was a minor engagement in the Scottish Wars of Independence, fought in April 1307. Glen Trool is a narrow glen in the Southern Uplands of Galloway, Scotland. Loch Trool is aligned on an East-West axis and is flanked on both sides by steep rising hills, making it ideal for an ambush. The battlefield is currently under research to be inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Scottish Historical Environment Policy of 2009.
Robert Bruce had been involved in the murder of John "the Red" Comyn, a leading rival, and one of the most powerful men in Scotland, the previous year 1306. This led to a bitter civil war between the Bruce's faction and the Comyns and their allies, notably Edward I.
After his defeat at the Battle of Methven and subsequently at the Battle of Dalry in the summer of 1306 the recently crowned King Robert was little better than a fugitive, disappearing altogether from the historical record for a number of months. It wasn't until the spring of 1307 that he made a reappearance, landing in the south-west of Scotland with soldiers recruited, for the most part, from the Western Isles. It was an understandable move; for he came ashore in his own earldom of Carrick, where he could expect to command a large degree of local support. Perhaps even more important the countryside itself was well known to Bruce, and there were plenty of remote and difficult areas to allow cover and protection for his band of guerillas.
But it was also a move bold to the point of foolhardiness. The English border was not far distant; many of the local castles were strongly held by Edward's forces; and, perhaps most important of all, the Lordship of Galloway, the old Balliol patrimony, was adjacent to Carrick, and many of the local families were hostile to Bruce and his cause. When his brothers Thomas and Alexander attempted a landing on the shores of Loch Ryan, they met with disaster at the hands of Dungal MacDougall, the leading Balliol supporter in the area.
Bruce managed to establish a firm base in the area; but it was vital that he made progress against the enemy if his cause was to attract the additional support that was so clearly needed. An early success came with a raid on an English camp on the eastern shores of the Clatteringshaws Loch. It also alerted the enemy to his presence. Aymer de Valence, Bruce's old opponent at Methven, received intelligence that his enemy was encamped at the head of Glen Trool.
This was a difficult position to approach, for the Loch takes up much of the glen, with only a narrow track bordered by a steep slope. At about the middle, the hill pushes forward in a precipitous abutment. Valence sent a small raiding party ahead, perhaps hoping to catch the enemy offguard, in much the same fashion as Methven. This time, however, Bruce made effective use of the terrain. During the night Bruce sent some of his men up the slope with orders to loosen with levers and crow-bars as many of the detached blocks of granite as they could.
As the English approached up the defile, called by the locals, the "Steps of Trool", they were forced to proceed single file. Bruce observed their progress from across the loch, and at a given signal, pushed the wall of boulders down the slope. This was followed by arrows and hand-to-hand combat, as Bruce's men charged down the slope. The narrowness of the path prevented support from either the front or the rear. Without room to maneuver, many of the English below were killed, and the rest withdrew. Bruce not only survived but went on the following month to win his first important engagement at the Battle of Loudon Hill.
The English soldiers killed in the skirmish were buried at flat ground at the head of the loch, known as Soldier's Holm.
Much of the information we have about the Battle of Glen Trool comes from the rhyming account of John Barbour. Barbour is an important source; but it should also be remembered that The Bruce allows propaganda to walk hand-in-hand with history, hardly surprising for the time. Glen Trool is in many ways best seen as the first wave of the Bruce flag, subject to considerable later amplification and exaggeration. It only receives a passing mention in the English records of the time in reference to some horses lost "in the pursuit of Robert de Brus between Glentruyl and Glenheur, on the army's last day in Galloway."
It was more a skirmish than a battle, but a great boost to morale. The rebel king was chased just as closely as before. It did, nevertheless, prove that Bruce had acquired an ability to change and adapt to circumstances, using ambushes and surprise attacks, and advancing and retreating as the occasion demanded.
Bruce's Stone is a large granite boulder commemorating Bruce’s victory in 1307. It is at the top of the hill on the north side of Loch Trool. In 1929 on the 600th anniversary of Bruce's death, it was placed high above the northern shore of Loch Trool from where legend has it that he had commanded the ambush which took place on the Steps of Trool on the other side of the loch. It also serves as a starting spot for the challenging walk up Merrick (2764 feet), the highest mountain in southern Scotland.