The Northern Raids.

The victory at Bannockburn did not bring peace between the two countries despite repeated envoys from Scotland. The sticking point lay with Edward, who although agreeable to an armistice, consistently refused to recognize Bruce's Kingship or the independence of Scotland. This refusal left the Scots with the only action available to them, military raids into England. These raids were undertaken to destroy English morale and increase the pressure on Edward to submit to a peace-treaty. A secondary but vitally important side to the raids, for Scotland, was the capture of cattle ,goods and grain along with tributes, basically payment for not destroying a town.

The undoubted master of these lightning fast raids was James Douglas. His skill at appearing unnoticed deep into enemy territory was legendary. He developed the art of traveling light to a high degree, unlike the English who would travel with huge baggage trains, Douglas and his men would carry what was necessary on their horse. Each man would under his saddle carry an iron plate to cook oat cakes of an evening, to be eaten with beef steaks from plundered cattle. Douglas also placed great store on good intelligence, using scouts to keep him well informed of enemy movements and did not risk his men's lives unnecessarily.

One raid stands out as an example. In 1328 during the reign of Edward III peace talks had once again foundered and both sides were assembling armies close to the border. In mid July in an attempt to divert the threatened invasion of Scotland Douglas and Randolph crossed into England through the Kielder gap. The bulk of the English army was at Durham and the Earl of Lancaster at Newcastle. The Scots moving quietly slipped past Newcastle unnoticed. The army at Durham became aware of their presence by the sight of columns of smoke, from burning villages. The English set out in pursuit with three infantry divisions supported by cavalry including John of Hainault with his 700 mercenary men at arms. For the first few days they passed through areas already devastated by the Scots. By 17th July the English had reached Tudhoe, south of Durham, The Scots were 16 miles ahead at Barnard Castle. Two days later the English host reached Bishop Auckland and forward scouts informed them that the Scots were breaking camp, possibly in preparation for a return north. A decision was taken to give up the chase and instead try to head the raiders off on their return route to Scotland.

The baggage train and the infantry were abandoned as being too slow, then at midnight the remainder set off on a forced march to block the fords between Corbridge and the South Tyne. They marched all night and through the following day arriving exhausted, after nightfall, at Haydon Bridge. The force only had what they could carry to eat, bread which had been tainted by horse sweat, due to carrying it on the saddle. Some had wine to drink but most were forced to drink river water. To make things worse it then started to rain solid for four days, the rivers ran high and the host found themselves trapped behind their own trap. Without the baggage train there was no shelter, the knights slept on the ground, their armour rusting, the leather trappings rotting and no sign of the Scots.

Edward offered a reward of a knighthood and estates to the value of 100 a year to any esquire that could find the Scots. This was claimed by one, a Thomas Rokeby who went to where the Scots had last been seen, the valley of the River Gaunless. Douglas's force had lain here for ten days overrunning the countryside for supplies. Rokeby unfortunately for him literally ran into the Scots and was captured. On informing Douglas of his mission he was released to claim his reward and to bring on the English.

Douglas moved into Weardale and took up a defensive position on the south bank of the Wear, on an outcrop set back from the river and well out of bowshot. On the 30th July the English arrived, the cavalry dismounted and formed three divisions. They marched slowly forward in order to bring on a Scottish attack, the Scots did not move. Eventually the English had to halt at the banks of the swollen river, the Scots still did not move.

Archers with men at arms to support them were sent across the river in an attempt to drive the Scots out from their strong position. Douglas feigned a retreat in an attempt to draw the archers into an ambush but an English squire recognising Douglas withdrew the archers before Douglas could spring his ambush. After the failure of the archers, heralds were sent to invite Douglas to come away from his defensive position and give battle on even terms on level ground. Heavily outnumbered Douglas of course declined with the words "the king and his council could see that they were in his kingdom and had burned and ravaged it; if he dislikes that let him come and amend it, for they would stay there as long as it pleased them."

Days passed and still the Scots stayed put. At night time they made such a noise with horns and cries that Jean le Bel, one of the mercenaries who kept a journal, wrote " like the biggest devils in hell were there to destroy us".

After about four days the English awoke to discover the Scots gone. Under the cover of darkness Douglas had moved his force a few miles upstream to a better position within the Bishop of Durham's hunting park on the north bank of the Wear. The English followed. On the first night at the new site Douglas led an attack into the English camp, crossing the Wear upstream and descending on the English rear, reaching deep enough that at one point he was close enough to the kings tent to slash the guy ropes before being beaten back by a hasty defense. Later, waiting on the edge of the English camp ensuring all his troops were safely out, he was attacked out of the darkness by a English soldier who inflicted a blow to Douglas's head before being despatched.

The English still felt confident, they had Douglas's force held at the front and flanks, to Douglas's rear was an impassable bog, he was trapped. All the English had to do was wait. Which they did until the 6th August when a young Scottish knight was taken captive. He told his captors that every man had been told, that in the morning they were to be armed and ready to follow Douglas's banner. In the belief that the Scots may attack during the night the English split into three divisions, each one guarding one side of the camp. The fires were built up so the English could see each other but no attack came. In the morning two Scottish trumpeters were brought into the camp, they were the only Scots in Weardale. Douglas had used the time to have his men make hurdles to lay across the bog to the rear. During the night, using these hurdles, then lifting them behind them the Scots had passed over the bog and away into the night. The trumpeters had stayed behind to tend the fires and make a noise as though all the men were still in the camp.

Jean le Bel and some colleagues crossed the river to inspect the Scottish camp. He wrote ' we found more than 500 good, fat beasts, already dead, which the Scots had killed because they could not take them with them, and did not want to leave them alive for the English. We found more than 400 un-dressed leather pots, hanging over the fires and full of meat to be roasted'. On being told , Edward burst into tears of frustration. Douglas had shown that the Scots could do as they pleased in the north of England, regardless of the presence of an English army more than twice the size.