Jul 14 2010
I was born within a few minutes’ walk of the Wallace Monument in the village of Elderslie, in Renfrewshire, Scotland, and even as a small child I knew the story of Scotland’s greatest Champion. All Scots kids did, of course, but living as close to the Monument as I did, I always had a special awareness and appreciation of Wallace in my heart. It was as though he was a member of the family, despite the fact that I knew we had no connection to him at all, other than propinquity to his memorial. There was a very special tree there, too, beside the monument itself, and although I remember standing looking at it many times as a boy, and wondering about it and about the things i had heard about it, I never really understood what it meant, or what it signified, until very recently, and last time I went home to Scotland, I visited the place again and spent a long time staring at the same tree. It hasn’t changed a bit since I was a boy, and that’s hardly surprising, since the tree itself is supposedly 700 years old. It is undoubtedly ancient, but the most remarkable thing about it is that it’s a yew tree, and it’s called the Wallace Yew.
Last time I went there, in September of 2008, I called my cousin John Whyte, whom I had not seen in years, and asked him how I could find him when I arrived in Elderslie, since I was going there to visit the Monument, and I knew he lived in the village. “Go to the Monument,” he said, “and take a good look up at the main panel on the front of it, then turn and look at the house right across the street. That’s my house.” And it was, and still is. The picture shows John, the monument itself, and John’s house, at his back. Small world.
While I was there, though, I stared in astonishment at the old yew tree, wondering just how much lore about it, and about Wallace, has been lost over the centuries, for though it has always been called The Wallace Yew, to the best of my knowledge there has never been an explanation of how it got the name, or what its history was in bygone times, or what connection, if any, it was supposed to have had to William Wallace himself. Until very recently, in fact, few people in Scotland ever knew that William Wallace was an archer, or that he used a round yew bow (a Welsh/English weapon) or that his personal crest was a depiction of a drawn bow. Fewer still were ever aware that his ancestors came north to Scotland from Wales and his very name, Wallace, was originally Uall-ash, which is the Scots Gaelic for “Welsh”. There is so much we don’t know about the man that it beggars the small amount of verifiable information we do have about him, but the recent resurgence in academic and historical interest in the man and his times, much of it spurred by the success of “Braveheart” fifteen years ago, is now bringing more information to light and generating new lines of exploration and investigation into who Scotland’s hero truly was, and what the motivations were that galvanized him into doing what he did.