THE site of one of Scotland’s most famous battles - whose location was always a mystery - has been located in Tweeddale.

The battle was that of Degsastan in 603, when invaders from the Argyll region were massacred by a Northumbrian army under King Aethelfrith, a ferocious and ruthless warlord.

The Highlanders were led by King Aedan son of Gabran, who had assembled a huge army to wipe out the English colony around Bamburgh.

Instead, it was the Scots who were massacred, though with heavy losses amongst the Northumbrians as well.

The conflict was crucial for Scotland’s history. The Venerable Bede states in his Ecclesiastical History that the Celtic forces were ‘cut to pieces’, and that since then ‘no Irish king in Britain has dared to make war on the English’.

But the site of the battle has been a mystery, until now. In a lecture at the Golden Lion Hotel in Stirling last Saturday, Dr Andrew Breeze told the Scottish Place-Name Society that it can be placed north of Drumelzier in Peebleshire.

He said: “The name of Degsastan has been taken in error as that of Dawston Rigg in Liddesdale. But this breaks the rules of linguistic science.” He claimed that the name is instead represented by that of Dawyck ‘David’s settlement’ downstream from Drumelzier, and that ‘Degsastan’ is a part-Celtic form meaning ‘Dewi’s stone’ or David’s stone.

He told his audience that anyone invading Northumbria from Argyll had to come via Lothian or via Clydesdale, the pass at Biggar, and Tweeddale.

King Aedan chose the latter, but Aethelfrith’s men knew of his coming and lay in wait for him.

A site near Drumelzier thus made strategic sense as well as linguistic sense.

Dr Breeze clinched his point with a picture of a monolith that stands to this day in a meadow by the Tweed. The stone, five foot high, was a landmark for travellers and will be the David’s stone or ‘Degsastan’.

The sixty members of the Scottish Place-Name Society asked questions on Degsastan and on the Battle of Brunanburh, which the speaker also discussed as a place near Durham where a Scottish army was attacked by Saxons in 937.

Although a location of Degsastan in Peeblesshire has never been proposed before, there was a feeling that this controversial new view will soon gain acceptance.

Dr Breeze told the Peeblesshire News: “Scotland has a new historic battlefield.

“Visitors to Drumelzier will now be able to see the stone and think that by it, in the summer of 603, an immense army of Gaels coming over the pass from the west met their doom.

“They meant to destroy the petty English kingdom by the North Sea, but were themselves massacred, despite inflicting many casualties on their enemy. It was a dogged, hard-fought battle for national survival.” Dr Breeze feels confident that this discovery will change all the textbooks on Scottish and Anglo-Saxon history.

He is also certain that it will interest archaeologists as well as visitors to the area.

He added: “Battlefield archaeology is a new and growing subject and it would be surprising if investigation did not now turn up traces buried in the soil of that fatal day in Scotland’s history.”