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4 am Riggonhead Walk has an Enduring Purpose

Why 4 am and Why this particular Walk?

Students of military tactics know that the element of surprise in battle is worth a great many fighting men. And Lord George Murray and The Prince sought to use this approach both at Prestonpans and at Culloden - the latter occasion with disastrous results.

But at Prestonpans it was a major reason for the swift outcome. The marshland know as The Meadows [whence today's Meadowmill] was impassable and the Prince recognised this as he viewed the redcoat army encamped at Prestonpans from Carberry Hill and Birsley Brae in the afternoon of September 20th. Clearly he had to either attack from Musselburgh in the west or make his way east around the marshlands and attack that way. Fortunately a local farmer's son, Robert Anderson, was with the Jacobites and as a local knew there was a narrow defile through the marshlands close by Riggonhead Farm.

Taking that narrow defile, just three abreast, was a high risk strategy because if caught in transit the Highlanders would be easy targets. So the Prince resolved to move in the dead of night in complete silence without any horses so that by dawn his army was much closer to the redcoats supporting the Hanoverian King George II than Cope could ever have expected. Redcoat pickets did hear them eventually around 6 am and raised the alarm at which point Cope turned his troops to face them looking east. But the Highland charge which followed from close quarters meant the Hanoverian lines were swiftly overrun without any chance to reload canons or muskets.

Riggonhead Farm and Defile

Riggonhead Farm has been lost to history. It was the site of comprehensive open cast mining. And as recently as late 2006 the then East Lothian Council announced that the surrounding area known as Blindwells [across which the new A1 also runs] was to become an ecofriendly housing development.

However, research by Arts Festival and walking expert Andrew Ralton has identified from old maps almost precisely where the Highlanders walked silently three abreast in the middle of the night 262 years ago. With his guidance the re-enactment in 2007 will walk that former defile at the same time of night i.e. 4am - 6.15 am. Andrew's best estimate of the route taken is shown as the blue line running east from Tranent to Seton Collegiate.

click on map to enlarge

Volunteers participating, who are asked to assemble at 4 am at Tranent Church/ Doocot, will be sustained through the wee hours with Scotch eggs and warm drinks courtesy of The Prestoungrange Gothenburg. And after they have encountered the redcoats picket at 6.15 am all will be invited for a Hanoverian/ Scottish breakfast at the Gothenburg.

Don't lets defile the Defile

The Battle Trust has no wish to object to the proposed developments at Blindwells provided it can be certain that when plans are finalised the night march three abreast of the Highlanders en route to their stunning victory is properly reflected in situ. The Trust expects to see names Robert Anderson, Riggonhead Farm and Defile preserved for posterity with suitable interpretation boards and statuary to commemorate the decisive element of surprise which Anderson's guidance enabled the Prince to achieve. Current expectations are for statuary of Highlanders three abreast with Anderson showing the way; and espying them through the early morning mist, redcoat pickets.

Trustees of the Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Heritage Trust

Published Date: September 14th 2007

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