The Scottish first fought for independence from the English in the 13th century, and they're still rearing to battle. This time in a ballot box instead of with axes and longbows when the Scottish vote in the independence referendum in September. The 1314 Battle of Bannockburn victory for the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence, led by Robert the Bruce, inspired the Scots to believe they could triumph even if they were outnumbered and outarmored by the English.
So it's no surprise that this is the year that the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor's Centre has gotten a major, modernized refurbishment just in time for the vote. Touted as the "first tourist attraction in the world to use fight choreography and state-of-the-art motion capture techniques," the center aims to make you feel like you deeply immersed in a medieval battle video game, almost like you're in a Game of Thrones episode. In fact, Scottish actor James Cosmo who played the Crow commander in Game of Thrones, voices Robert the Bruce, acting a touch of Hollywood glamour.
The revamped visitor's experience is unforgettable, more like an interactive challenge in which you're a soldier in battle. Sometimes a little confusing as you're trying to get your bearings but it's a big improvement from the tired posterboard displays typical of many National Trust sites where the most interactive feature is trying out a few gnatty, gross medieval chainmail. (Do they ever get cleaned, I wonder. They don't smell like they ever do.)
We peruse through a character gallery that makes you feel like you're walking through the hallowed passageways of Hogwarts Castle where the portraits speak to you. You wave your hand about, as you do in Wii, to hear numerous historical tidbits from the character. It features medieval soldiers, an English page boy, and a Scottish peasant woman who tells you in thick brogue about how she stood on a hillside holding a pitchfork to trick the English into believing there were more to the Scottish army than the 10,000 they actually had. There were more than double the English forces, who eventually got their butt kicked.
Next, visitors use their 3D glasses to step into a theater with three large screens where suddenly you're caught in the crosshairs of shooting archers and charging cavalry. The arrows feel like they could very well be piercing through your body and you breathe a sigh of relief when you see digital characters on the screen on other side of the room, fall down writhing in pain and in the throes of death.
Finally, the real battle begins when we step into a 3D game led by a Highlander-attired Battlemaster, complete with mullet and a commanding voice. We are divided into the Scottish and English side, surrounding a large circular 3D with trees and Stirling Castle. Each person gets to make strategic moves like a game of Risk.
You come out of the 30-minute game like you have been entrenched in a tense 48-hour battle. Afterward, the leisurely walk to the enormous statue of Robert the Bruce overlooking the field is a welcome respite, even if you're not actually looking at the battleground. Historians believe the actual fighting might have taken place nearby.
According to legend, Robert the Bruce was hiding out in a cave off the Irish coast, watching a spider climb up a web, get knocked down and start all over again, illustrating the saying "If first you don't succeed, try, try again."
The victory of the Scottish underdog and the resilience of Robert the Bruce are meant as an inspiration for the Scottish independence movement, still trying, 700 years later.