IT is one of the enduring mysteries of Scottish history and concerns the warrior king who secured Scotland’s independence with victory at Bannockburn.

Now the chance has arisen for historians and archaeologists to finally solve the mystery of the whereabouts of the lost final home and death place of Robert the Bruce.

We know roughly on the west coast of Scotland where his final mansion was, and there is convincing evidence for its location, but no one has ever been able to say with certainty where the manor house that witnessed the final moments of Robert the Bruce stood.

The king died at his home in the Parish of Cardross in what is now West Dunbartonshire on June 7, 1329, from an illness which some say was leprosy – we will refer to that later.

It seems quite extraordinary that we do not know exactly where Bruce died. We know that his predecessor John Balliol died at the Château de Hélicourt in Picardy, France, on November 25, 1314, and we know his successor King David II died in Edinburgh Castle. We also know that Bruce’s English mortal enemy, King Edward Longshanks, died in the marshes near Burgh by Sands where his body was taken to the local village church. His son King Edward II died in Berkeley Castle, though whether he was murdered by having a hot poker rammed into his vitals is a moot point.

Yet we do not know exactly where Bruce died and nor has there ever been found even a trace of the wood that went into the making of the final home that he chose for himself.

The case for finding Bruce’s west coast mansion is helped by the fact that the king was buried in three different places. Most people with a smattering of Scottish history will know that his embalmed body was buried alongside his queen, Elizabeth de Burgh, in Dunfermline Abbey while his heart was buried at Melrose Abbey after it was returned from the crusade in which his great friend, the Black Douglas, was killed in Spain while attempting to take the heart with him in a small casket to Jerusalem.

Finally, and most tellingly, we know where Bruce’s viscera were buried. In accordance with embalming practice at the time, Bruce’s internal organs were quickly cut from him and embalmed before being buried in St Serf’s Church, the ruins of which can now be seen at Levengrove Park in Dumbarton that is currently undergoing a considerable upgrading project. There is a plaque at the ruined church to record what lies in or around it. It was erected in September 2001, after the local Bruce Committee unearthed the story of St Serf’s with local historian Stuart Smith finding the clinching evidence. The plaque reads:


“This plaque was placed here to commemorate the sepulture here within the ruined bounds of Saint Serf’s Parish Church, Little Kirkton, of the embalmed viscera from the body of King Robert ‘The Bruce’ on or about the third week of June 1329.

“The dying monarch requested that his heart be taken to Jerusalem by a Knight Templar in fulfilment of a sacred vow he had made earlier in his reign to go on a crusade to the Holy Land in Palestine. On the same day and at the hour appointed for the entombment of the King in Dunfermline Abbey, a simultaneous service of sepulture was conducted within the precincts of this venerable edifice.”

It is very important to note that St Serf’s was the parish church of Cardross and not Dumbarton, which then lay wholly to the east of the River Leven. The king resided at the “manerium de Cardross” as the 14th-century records recall, but the Parish of Cardross extended from the present village on the Clyde in a line right over the Carman Hill to roughly where Renton now stands and as far east as the River Leven. Somewhere in the triangle formed by Cardross, Renton in the Vale of Leven and Levengrove was the location of the manor house.

There are many local connections to the king. The Brucehill area and Bruce’s Stables – a much later building simply given the nickname because they were grandly built – as well as Castlehill to the west of Dumbarton are evidence of local tradition that Bruce lived around this part of West Dunbartonshire. Dalreoch railway station is bang in the middle of the triangle, and experts say it was originally “dal” and “righ” meaning field of the king.

Why did he not stay in Edinburgh or Dunfermline or the house he kept at Cullen in Banffshire – where Elizabeth de Burgh died in 1327 – or build himself a new stone castle?

It is known that he loved the lands of the Lennox, as the region which includes much of Loch Lomond was known. The area’s ancient motto Levenax – meaning land of the elms – was used on Dumbarton’s coat of arms for centuries.

Having ensured his rule of Scotland was as total as it could be, Bruce wanted to enjoy his remaining time on Earth which he clearly knew was limited, as the disease which would kill him had been showing its signs for years. So why not stay in an area he loved? He once escaped by boat across Loch Lomond during his years on the run – he later decreed that the area around Luss kirk would be sanctuary land – and often came back to visit the loch and the Vale of Leven, then a beautiful area between the loch and the Clyde where game for hunting was plentiful.

So in the 1320s he began to accumulate land in the Lennox, whose 2nd Earl, Maol Choluim or Malcolm, was a strong supporter of Bruce who had signed the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. Bruce exchanged lands he held near Montrose in modern-day Angus for lands held by the Graham family around the Leven and for two islands in Loch Lomond, Inchfad and Inchcailloch.

Bruce specifically wanted lands known in those days as Succoth on the west side of the River Leven – we know that because records show he had a jetty built to accommodate his fishing vessel and the mediaeval equivalent of a Royal yacht which he used on the Leven.

He also built a home with a grand hall, queen’s quarters, a chapel, an aviary and a “King’s Park” for hunting, but it was the nearness of the Leven and its exit to the Clyde and the ocean beyond which clinched the selection of the area for the house Bruce built.

That naval arrangement effectively rules out the village of Cardross and Brucehill and Castlehill in the Cunninghame Graham Memorial Park – actually named after Cardross Castle which may have stood there for many decades – and means that we can look at three possible locations for the house which Bruce occupied from 1326 onwards.

WHAT are now Dalmoak and Mains of Cardross Farms and the ancient area in what is now Renton known as Pillanflatt or Pailleanflath – it means tent of the great hero – have all been indicated as the location and eight years ago, Stuart Smith and the members or the local Bruce heritage society the Strathleven Artizans found stone and mediaeval objects at the latter site – the best hint yet that somebody important lived there.

The case for Pillanflatt – called Pillonflett on a 17th-century map of the area – is strong. In the 14th century it would have been next to the Leven which has shifted its course over centuries, and it would have been surrounded by woods and very little farmland.

Mains of Cardross also has its supporters yet the evidence for either is not wholly conclusive and while Pillanflatt remains the best option, until the actual site is located there must be a doubt about where Bruce’s home stood.

Which is where Dumbarton Football Club comes in.

The opportunity to find Bruce’s last home has come about through unexpected means. For very soon a planning application will come before West Dunbartonshire Council from Dumbarton FC seeking to develop a new 4,000-seater stadium with a community sports hub and other buildings on land at Dalmoak Farm, which is now known locally as Young’s Farm.

The application has lots of support and only a few objections and would enable the club to sell its current stadium in the shadow of Dumbarton Castle with the eventual aim of becoming a full-time club – the Sons are one of only two part-time clubs in the Scottish Championship.

If they are to be allowed to proceed at Young’s Farm, there will surely need to be an archaeological dig to prove or disprove any link to the Bruce mansion. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service have said that evidence suggesting a mediaeval manor house at Young’s Farm will be found there is “fairly convincing”.

Six months ago Paul Robins, senior archaeologist at the service, said: “The discovery of remains of the house on the site would be considered a finding of national importance and therefore it is government policy on such findings to keep remains in situ and we have the opportunity to advise the council to refuse the application.”

I personally am not convinced at all that Young’s Farm is the site of the Bruce house, but the archaeologists must be given the chance to make explorations of the site. Then if nothing is found, the Mains of Cardross location should also be examined and if nothing is found there then Pillanflatt would be the best site by a process of elimination if nothing else.

But why was Bruce’s home not preserved by his grateful people? There is a simple explanation which can’t be proved but seems plausible. Modern forensic tests are not conclusive and have shown that Bruce may or may not have died of leprosy. Certainly the contemporary reports show that he moved among the people and was not treated as “unclean”, and the likelihood was that he died of another illness altogether. Yet such was the fear of leprosy and any illness that even remotely resembled it that it was common practice right up until the 16th century that when lepers died their homes and possessions were burned to prevent the disease spreading. Bruce would have known this, and he also knew he was ill, hence why he did not waste time building himself a home made of stone.

No matter where it is located, it is surely time that the remains of Bruce’s last home should be found. And what a boost it would be for Renton and the Vale of Leven if the site could be established once and for all and a tourist centre created to celebrate the area’s links with our great warrior king.