THIS week I am launching a new occasional series of columns on the wonderful work being done across Scotland by local heritage and history groups.

There has been a huge upsurge in interest in Scottish history in recent years as this nation prepares to regain its status as a fully independent European country – something it was for nearly 900 years before the parcel of rogues sold our statehood for miserable bribes.

Just knowing the history of the Scottish nation will not in itself be sufficient to regain independence, but I have long been convinced that if people knew more about Scotland’s history then they would understand why the next referendum is not about winning independence. It’s about regaining our true status as a nation and freeing ourselves from what former prime minister Gordon Brown correctly described on The Andrew Marr Show as “a unitary state” – one he wishes to preserve, even though he acknowledged how flawed the state of the United Kingdom really is.

Alongside growth in demand for what you might term Scottish national history, people are doing their bit at local level to delve into the history of their area. In a specific form of heritage examination, many more groups and individuals are researching their genealogy, particularly clan associations, and it’s all those history, heritage and genealogy groups to whom I am reaching out today.

READ MORE: Back in the Day: Surgeons’ Hall riot that changed minds about women doctors

If you are a member of such a group and would like to tell the world, or at least the readership of The National, about significant finds and discoveries that you have made, please drop a line to the email address above and I will try to feature them in future columns.

This development for Back In The Day has been inspired by a couple of recent major discoveries by amateur archaeologists and history researchers.

I will deal at length with one quite extraordinary discovery made by Ancrum and District Heritage Society, but first let me tell you the story of how amateur archaeologists and metal detectorists made a discovery directly linked to the 1745 Jacobite Rising. I am indebted to my friend and colleague Nan Spowart for her help with the remarkable tale of a historical find which confirms that right up until the collapse of the Rising, France’s King Louis XV backed the Jacobites against the Hanoverian King George II with money and military supplies.

It was the amateur group of archaeologists, Conflicts of Interest, who made the discovery of part of a battle hoard intended for Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army.

Coins and gilt buttons along with 215 musket balls were unearthed near a ruined croft house on the shores of the sea loch, Loch nan Uamh.

The dwelling at Sandaig belonged to Charlie’s Gaelic tutor and the hoard was sent to aid the Jacobite rising but arrived too late, landing a fortnight after the prince’s men were defeated at the Battle of Culloden.

We all know what happened at Culloden on April 16, 1746,when between 1500 and 2000 Jacobites fighting to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne were slaughtered by the Duke of Cumberland’s army, a quarter of which was made up of Scottish units.

This discovery truly is a remarkable find and confirms that Louis XV was trying to assist the Jacobites, and no wonder as King George had sent British troops to join the armies against France and her allies in the War of the Austrian Succession.

Interestingly, though he had a brilliant general in Marshal Saxe, Louis XV personally commanded the French forces at the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745. The losing enemy commander of the so-called Pragmatic Army was none other than the Duke of Cumberland, who then came home to lead the British Army against the Jacobites and earned an undying reputation as the Butcher of Culloden.

WE know that France sent large sums of money to the Jacobites, but these were lost as the Royal Navy intercepted French ships. The irony is that the musket balls found in Lochaber were of no use to Bonnie Prince Charlie as he was already on his famous five-month escape trek through the Highlands and islands.

More ships sailed from France to try and recover him, and finally on September 20, 1746, he and his remaining companions sailed away from Scotland on two French ships. He never did return.

The discovery of the musket balls – they were of the exact calibre to fit Jacobite muskets – was made using metal detectors by Conflicts of Interest and has since been reported to Treasure Trove, the organisation tasked with protecting finds of national importance.

What amazes me is the discovery of the hoard was achieved by a tremendous piece of detective work.

“The find was made by joining the dots,” said Paul Macdonald, of Conflicts of Interest, speaking to BBC Naidheachdan. “We knew there were arms landed in the area and it then became a matter of narrowing down where they might be.”

The hoard would have been much bigger as French records of the time spoke of much larger cargoes, but back in 1746, with Butcher Cumberland’s forces searching for the prince as well as murdering Highlanders in cold blood, the likelihood is that the musket balls in particular would have been distributed to Jacobites across the north of Scotland.

READ MORE: Back in the Day: How the sun began to set on Britain’s empire

They were probably of little use as the Hanoverian government army attempted the genocide of Highlanders and islanders, but at least we know that our partners in the Auld Alliance kept faith with the Scots. I hope that the items discovered by Conflicts of Interest will go on display somewhere soon and that they get full credit for their fine work.

It was a similar piece of detective work which resulted in Ancrum and District Heritage Society (ADHS) finding the remains of the long lost original Ancrum Bridge in the River Teviot.

We told the story of the discovery in The National three weeks ago, and it intrigued me so much I decided to find out much more about what happened, not least because this truly is remarkable find – as Historic Environment Scotland stated: “Using radiocarbon dating of the bridge timbers, experts confirmed a date of the mid-1300s, making this the oldest scientifically dated remains of a bridge ever found in its original position across one of Scotland’s rivers.”

Kevin Grant, archaeology manager at HES which funded most of the work, said it was “one of the most exciting and significant archaeological discoveries in Scotland in recent years,” and I cannot disagree with that verdict.

We explained how the bridge, built during the reign of David II of Scotland, is of historic and strategic national importance. The bridge crossed the River Teviot, carrying the “Via Regia” (The Kings Way) on its way from Edinburgh to Jedburgh and the Border. If it was built before 1331, then it was almost certainly used by the army of Edward III of England and his puppet Edward Balliol as the latter marched into Scotland to usurp the throne.

JAMES V would have crossed there in 1526, as would Mary, Queen of Scots returning from her tour of the Borders in 1566, and the Marquis of Montrose on his way to battle at Philiphaugh in 1645.

I can reveal that the project to find the original Ancrum Bridge started when ADHS member Judith Coulson found a minute of a meeting of Jedburgh Royal Burgh’s council dating from June 17, 1674. That minute described a bridge that was far older than the two bridges which currently span the River Teviot by Ancrum, namely the 1784 Toll Bridge and the 1939 trunk road bridge.

A map of 1654 confirmed there had been such a bridge, but what happened next stunned the society. Using a drone piloted by Richard Strathie, ADHS surveyed the river and found the remains of Old Ancrum Bridge almost underneath the 1784 bridge.

ADHS knew they were on to something and began researching old documents and archives from places such as The Heritage Hub in Hawick, the Library of the Society of Antiquaries in Newcastle, the Library of the Berwick Naturalists Society and the Central Library in Edinburgh.

Initial archive research by ADHS led to the discovery of cutwater platforms and oak timbers that once supported the piers of a multi-arched bridge. These are the last remaining, but crucially also the first-built, parts of the bridge. They found minutes of meetings and actions from 1638 to 1704 recording that many attempts were made to find the funds to repair the bridge.

The Royal Burgh appealed to the Scottish Parliament, The Convention of the Royal Burghs and The Church of Scotland for help – the Kirk went so far as to organise a church door collection across Scotland, showing how important this bridge was to the nation. The bridge suffered flood damage and deteriorated, and it took until 1784 for a new bridge to be built, while the original Ancrum Bridge progressively became lost under the Teviot.

Now having found original stonework and, most excitingly, original bridge timbers, ADHS called in the professionals, having first won funding from HES and permission from landowners Lothian Estates, with Scottish Borders Council also backing them.

Dendrochronicle’s Coralie Mills and Wessex Archaeology surveyed the ruins, with radiocarbon dating by the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre at Glasgow University confirming their extreme age, but it was ADHS’s own member Eoin Cox, the noted furniture maker of the Buy Design craft workshop, who identified the toolmarks on the timber – auger, adze, saw and chisel.

READ MORE: Hugh MacDonald: How a famous football victory can shape a nation

He told me: “I used to be an archaeologist myself and I have always been interested in local history but steered clear of “hysterical societies” as I called them. Then I found ADHS who are just a brilliant group of really nice people, very down to earth and keen to celebrate local history.

“The only way to fund proper community archaeology these days is to submit a proposal to HES and then its down to tendering from the various archaeology companies that are out there now.

“Local history is seen as a niche thing, but when you make a find that has huge popular appeal like the bridge, it does tend to help with the fundraising.”

The project is far from over, as Geoff Parkhouse of ADHS explained: “We are working with our partners in this project to digest all the information we have acquired before pursuing our next steps. This will include further archive research as well as the possibilities of gleaning more data from the remains in the river and the surrounding hinterland.” Long-term preservation of the original Ancrum Bridge is the aim, and I wish them all well in this fascinating project.

Kevin Grant has thankfully provided me with the basis for the theme that I will explore in future columns: “This project shows that discoveries of immense importance remain to be found by local heritage groups – and what can be achieved by bringing archaeological science and expertise together with local knowledge which has helped to unlock a centuries-held secret that will add to the fabric of Scotland’s story.”

So get in touch and I’ll look into your stories – and that’s a National promise.