Battle of Inverkeithing Viewing Points on the Ferryhills


An extensive series of earthworks have recently come to light on the edge of North Queensferry which throw new light on a great battle there which, arguably, speeded the end of the “English” Civil War in 1651.

The Trust’s plan is to research details of the battle site and construct suitable viewing points to explain to visitors the whole concept as seen from the bridgehead / defence fortification wall constructed by the Cromwellian troops. Since 1651 much alteration to the contours of the battle site has taken place but the key places are still visible. From the top of the Ferryhills the visitor has an excellent view of the Forth estuary that shows the direction of naval and troop movements crossing the Forth prior to battle.

The defence fortifications were marked on the first official OS map dated 1856 and are located on the north sloping side of the Ferryhills, looking towards Pitreavie and Castland Hill with Dunfermline beyond and Inverkeithing on the right.

Access to the proposed viewing sites from Ferryhills Road is easy by way of an existing footpath. The land itself, majority owned by Tarmac Ltd with the remainder owned by Broomhall Estates, is part of the Ferryhills SSSI, designated because of its calcareous and neutral grassland. Part of the grassland, in recent years, has become overgrown with gorse but with agreement between the landowners and Scottish Natural Heritage this is scheduled to be cutback later this year. It has also been agreed that the requirements of the viewing points will be taken into account when the extent of the cutback is determined.
In order to reach its objective the Trust is entering into discussion with landowners and SNH to further develop the project. Fife Council Archaeological services have already looked over the site and advised on the desirability of a survey and ‘trial dig’ to uncover part of the defence wall. It is envisaged later this year that a ‘flying flock of sheep’ will be brought to the site to control the unmanaged grass.

In view of the importance of the grasslands the Trust envisages access to the site would be by a clearly defined path leading to suitably designed information boards on the history and context of the battle. These would ideally be displayed on a stone, ‘lectern style’ plinths.

Suitable car parking may have to be considered for the future but when required will be discussed with Fife Council.

The Trust is at an early stage of planning this project but with goodwill and foresight from all parties there is an opportunity to put in place a valuable and informative resource for visitors and the local community and ensure the preservation of an important piece of Scotland’s history.

    The Battle of Inverkeithing

On the night of Wednesday 16/17 July, English ships bombarded the North Queensferry defences and an assault force under the command of Col Overton crossed the Forth from Leith and occupied the whole peninsula. A defensive wall was dug across the Ferryhills and the forces were increased on the Friday and Saturday by new troops from Leith. Major General John Lambert, who had been instrumental in the victory at Dunbar, now took command.

The Scots in response sent a mismatched division of their forces under Lieutenant General Holburn, including battle - hardened Covenanters, raw recruits and Highlanders. They were joined by local militia from Dunfermline who had arrived at Inverkeithing on Sunday 20th July with the intention of holding back the English army at their bridgehead on the Ferryhills. The Scottish defensive position was on the opposite high ground at Muckle Hill, where troops could keep an eye on the English and also defend the road to Inverkeithing and the direct route to Dunfermline. With nearly 4000 troops it was a strong position.

Lambert, with 4500 troops, had similar orders to defend the bridgehead on the Ferryhills. After one and a half hours of inaction, he received news that a major force of Scots reinforcements was on its way and Lambert decided to attack, even though it would be uphill.

To begin with, everything went well for the Scots. On the west side, in a steep pass at Castlelandhill, the Scots cavalry successfully disrupted the English left, but in regrouping on lower ground, ready to attack the side of the main English force, they were surprised by a reserve hidden in Welldean. The cavalry on the Scots left was apparently also successful in its charge, but being raw troops did not regroup, and Holburn precipitately led them and others off the battlefield.

Under Sir John Brown, the remaining Scottish infantry and cavalry were too few to repulse the English, who pushed them north into the valley towards Pitreavie and Mastertown, where, with the Highlanders, they were slaughtered or taken prisoner. According to traditional accounts,Highlanders fought to the last man, and the legend of the Clan Maclean reports that they lost 95% of their 800 men.

    The aftermath of the battle and its wider historical context

The Battle of Inverkeithing, on 20th July 1651, is viewed as a decisive turning point in the whole of Cromwell’s Scottish campaign and the eventual outcome of civil wars which engulfed the three kingdome of England, Ireland and Scotland in the 1640’s and beyond.. This battle virtually ended the resistance of the Scots against the Cromwellian army.
The English forces, now heavily reinforced, continued through Fife, capturing the
valueable port of valuable port of Burntisland on 29th July and Perth on the 2nd August. The Scots at Stirling were now outflanked and cut off from reinforcements from the north, provisions and possible escape routes.

The story continues when Charles and what remained of his army decide to invade England in the expectation of joining up with English Royalists intent on restoring Charles to the English throne. The Scots forces commanded by Sir David Leslie marched south about the 30th July taking the western roads through Scotland and England. Their movements had been anticipated by Cromwell and the 16,000 strong Royalist force engaged with the 28,000 English force at the battle at Worcester on the 3rd of September1651 which effectively ended the English Civil War.

The defeated Scots lost 3000 slain and three times that number captured. Some 8000 Scottish prisoners were deported to New England, Bermuda and the West Indies to work as indentured labourers for landowners.  The King made good his escape and after many adventures escaped to France. For nine years Charles was in exile while Scotland was united with England in an enforced union. After Cromwell’s death in 1658 Charles was invited back in 1660 to be crowned King of England, Ireland and Scotland.