Already, a considerable area of this ancient wooded hill, visible from almost every road around Stirling, has been lost to quarrying – much more people realise until they actually confront the vast ugly bowl of the quarry, obscured on its Murrayshall side by the narrowness of its entrance.
Last year, more than 40,000 people visited the hill. They were walkers, runners, climbers, bikers, nature-lovers and, of course, historians, for the rising ground above the Borestone (presently being prepared for next year's 700th anniversary of the battle) was where Bruce placed his cooks, grooms, smiths and so on. (The name Gillies Hill comes from the Scots Gaelic ghillie – a servant, or what the poet Barbour called the sma' folk. Part of their legend is that, banging their pots and pans, they descended the hill on to the battlefield at a decisive moment, the English thinking them Scots reinforcements.)
Today, Gillies Hill, Murrayshall Quarry apart, is a beautiful landscape with a network of paths that quarrying will largely turn into a no-go area. Quarrying will also obliterate the natural habitat of roe deer and foxes and badgers. Even more alarmingly, it will destroy the homes of threatened species such as the red squirrels and pine martens which live there, as well as those of the peregrine falcons which inhabit the beautiful, but doomed, cliffs of Touchadam Craig – the site also of an Iron Age hill fort. Old Scots pine, but also the comparatively new Californian redwood sequoia, planted 150 years ago when the Murrays of Polmaise built their castle on the hill, and already towering above the other trees, will be the first to go unless something is done to to stop it.
Permission to expand quarrying at Murrayshall was granted in 1982 – more than 30 years ago and for the next 14 years, a large part of the hill was destroyed. The world has moved on since 1982, and people are, laudably, much more concerned about their environment – and their history. This is especially true in the case of Gillies Hill, for no quarrying has taken place there since 1996 – this despite a statutory error conceded by Stirling Council in a 2002 Review of Old Mineral Permissions by not demanding an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from the landowners, Drygrange Estates. Te many who are trying to preserve the bill believe that such an assessment would guarantee the preservation of Gillies Hill.
Yet nothing statutorily substantive has been done to preserve the hill. No EIA has been conducted, and now, new quarriers have taken up the lease. Blasting could therefore begin tomorrow. Public opinion, almost universally in favour of the hill's preservation, has been so far ignored.
For those who want to demonstrate that public opinion is a powerful tool. the crucial 2013 March of the Gillies, led by Robert the Bruce, his generals and pipers, leaves from Cambusbarron for the Borestone next Sunday – the day before the 699th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
The world will look at Scotland in close-up next year as we celebrate the 700th anniversary of the battle. How stupid are we going to look if the world also sees us destroying part of the battlefield?
Chairman, Cambusbarron Community Council,