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Battle of Mortlach being marked 1000 years on

18 June 2010

By Joe Millican

A THOUSAND years ago, brave troops led by King Malcolm II of Scotland put their lives on the line as they fought successfully to defeat an invading Danish army at the Battle of Mortlach.

And a millennium later, the historic event is being marked by a series of events in and around Dufftown to recognise the anniversary of the bloody clash.

The Battle of Mortlach will be the focus of a weekend of celebrations on July 3 and 4 as part of the first Dufftown Heritage Festival.

Organised by the Dufftown 2000 group, which is behind community events such as whisky festivals and ceilidhs, the weekend kicks off at noon on July 3 with a heritage parade through Dufftown.

The parade will finish at the school field on Hill Street. It is here that the public will be able to explore a mock Viking village and watch battle re-enactments, to give them a taste of what life was like 1000 years ago. They will also be able to have their faces painted or visit a variety of stalls.

The following day will see a guided walk around sites of historic significance in Dufftown. Also on offer during the weekend will be tours of Mortlach Distillery and free entry to Balvenie Castle, courtesy of Historic Scotland.

Pupils at Mortlach Primary School, meanwhile, have been making their own preparations for the Dufftown Heritage Festival. In addition to their usual class work, they have been designing and casting their own Viking jewellery in a project organised by the school’s parent council.

A grant from Moray Arts Council allowed Eden Jolly, from the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, to visit the school. Using cuttlefish shells as moulds, the pupils were helped to cast their designs in metal.

Mary Bourne, of the Mortlach parent council, said that all of the casts were successful and will now be displayed at the heritage festival.

Taking place somewhere between Mortlach Church and what is now Mortlach Distillery, the Battle of Mortlach in 1010 initially saw the Danes achieve the upper hand. The Scottish troops were forced to retreat and many were slain.

They regrouped at a nearby monastery, where Malcolm prayed for divine intervention and promised to enlarge the church by three spear-lengths if they were victorious.

The king’s men, inspired by his show of devotion and his rousing speech, renewed the attack. Now assisted by the monks of St Moluag, fearsome warriors in their own right and further inspired by the prospect of enlarging their church, the Scots succeeded in their quest.

The leader of the Norse army was himself pulled from his horse by Malcolm and killed. The Danes subsequently fled, attempting one final unsuccessful rally near the old castle of Balvenie.

The Battle of Mortlach had major historical significance, as it was the first in a series of decisive victories for Malcolm II. The last of these was in 1014 when the Danes finally signed a peace treaty with Scotland, agreeing to cease their invasions. It ended a century of warfare and secured Scotland as an independent country.

A full programme of events for the Dufftown Heritage Festival is available at www.dufftown.co.uk

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