Bannockburn Visitor Centre Ready for Battle

A 3D Robert the Bruce visits his troops at the new Bannockburn Visitor Centre

A 3D Robert the Bruce visits his troops at the new Bannockburn Visitor Centre

We’re just back from a quick trip up the road to just outside Stirling to check out the new Bannockburn Visitor Centre, set to open to the public next weekend. Coming in (on time, and on budget) with a price tag of £9.1 million, the centre uses state-of-the-art motion capture techniques and fight choreography to immerse visitors in a realistic and historically accurate 3D Battle of Bannockburn. (View a gallery from our visit here.)

A thoroughly impressive experience, the visitors centre is the first tourist attraction in the world to use this kind of technology, providing a very 21st century view of the battle in this the year of its 700th anniversary. You’ll find no objects in glass boxes here  – there are no surviving artefacts from the battle anyway. The centre appeals to the ‘modernologist’, moving away from passive ‘museum’ viewing, and instead offering visitors the chance to interact with history.

Interpretation designers Bright White Ltd worked with an Academic Advisory Panel of some of the UK’s top historians and leading 3D modellers at the Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation (a partnership between the Digital Design Studio of the Glasgow School of Art and Historic Scotland) to bring the battle to life for 21st century audiences.

Revered as the most famous Scots victory – the Battle of Bannockburn marked a pivotal moment in Scotland’s history, paving the way for the signing of the momentous Declaration of Arbroath.  Our tour began with a 3D puppet-show prologue by two of the battle’s well-known figures – Sir James Douglas representing the Scots, and Isabella of France, wife of Edward II of England.

We then moved through to the next room to ‘Prepare for Battle’. Robert the Bruce and King Edward II feature as life-size 3D projections, witnessing the two sides preparing for battle. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be a fly on the wall in the Scots or English camp the night before Bannockburn, this is about as close as you’re going to get. Eerily lifelike (and lifesize) Scots soldiers were practicing hand-to-hand combat metres from where I stood, while English soldiers fired arrows at targets on the other side of the room.

Iconic moments from the battle also dramatically play out, including when Bruce encounters Sir Henry De Bohun with his axe on the first day of the battle. I also had a very interesting briefing from Sir James Douglas in the digital character section, who presented me with his reasons for supporting the Bruce.

Let the battle begin!

Let the battle begin!

From there we moved through to the jewel in the centre’s crown, the battle simulation room. Upon entry you are given a number from a battlemaster which determines where abouts around the interactive battle map you stand, and more importantly, which side you’re on. I was placed on the English side, and given control of a division of longbows and heavy infantry.

During the first day of battle my divisions moved about near the rear of the action, warily trying to get into a good strategic position. But once I sent forward my first longbow attack, I’m rather ashamed to admit I had the taste for it, and went on a little bit of a rampage, sending cavalry and longbows hurtling after Robert the Bruce (who was cowering somewhere behind Stirling Castle). By the end of the second day it looked as though we were going to take the castle, but just at the last minute we were foiled by traps set by the Scots.

Tense times! The final moments of the battle

Tense times! The final moments of the battle

Our battlemaster David Weinczok, 24 from Nova Scotia, controlled the game and was on hand to flesh out historical details, and throw in tips and advice before declaring the successful side, summarising the results of the action with an overview of how the battle played out in 1314, and revealing the 21st-century version of the landscape and locations of conflict. The only thing I’m a bit confused by was his costume – looking more like a sci-fi knight sent from the future than a 14th century soldier.

Battlemaster David Weinczok provides an overview of the real 1314 battle.

Battlemaster David Weinczok provides an overview of the real 1314 battle.

After the battle we entered the epilogue room, where another 3D puppetry styled video was shown in which Sir James presented the aftermath and consequences from the battle, most importantly Scotland’s assertion as an independent kingdom. Topical stuff, in this the year of the referendum. We finished our visit outside the centre at the recently restored Bruce monument and flagpole. After being immersed in so much state of the art technology, we finished our day by walking twenty metres through a field to stand in the place where these events of Bannockburn exactly 700 years ago.

View our gallery from this mornings event here! The centre is open from 1/3/2014.


About Nadine Lee

Originally from New Zealand, Nadine is a documentary researcher now based in the north east of Scotland.

View all posts by Nadine Lee →

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