The Re-enactment of Nechtansmere

Folktales are rife with reports of people seeing ghostly figures, particularly in certain areas. Something which is not uncommon is experiencing a ghostly encounter at the site of previous battlefields. There have been

Site of Battle of Nechtansmere. Courtesy of

reports of such incidents occurring across the UK, including at the site of the battle of Edgehill in 1642 in England and the battle of Culloden in Scotland. The story related here recounts the experience of one woman who had a vision of the aftermath of the Battle of Nechtansmere. 

The Battle of Nechtansmere was fought around the 20th May 685AD. There is some discrepancy as to the exact date of fighting but it is generally believed to be around this time. It was fought between the Picts in Scotland and the invading Northumbrians led by King Ecgfrith. The Northumbrians had already gained control of the Lothians and crossed the River Forth near Stirling and made their way to Dunnichen Hill in Strathmore, 14 miles north of Dundee.

The Picts, led by their king Brude Mac Beli defeated the invading army through their clever manoeuvres. Ecgfrith was drawn off his original route by a feigned Pictish retreat. The Northumbrian army burst through the cleft their enemies had gone through only to stumble upon the Picts fortress 300-400 yards to the left of them. Most of the army were slaughtered by the waiting Picts and King Ecgfrith was slain. After the battle, the Picts buried their dead through the following night. They carried on until 2.30am, requiring torches to finish the rest of the work.

Battle of Nechtansmere. Courtesy of

It was this ritual that Miss E.F. Smith witnessed on the 2nd January 1950. She was walking home to the village of Letham in Angus half a mile from the site when she saw moving figures with torches. Miss Smith was returning from a cocktail party in Brechin at about 2am. Her car had skidded into a ditch 2 miles outside the area due to the treacherous road conditions. She still had another 8 miles to go so she continued her journey on foot. She saw the apparition just at the outskirts of Letham village and it continued until she reached the first houses in the area.

Miss Smith saw moving torches to her right a mile away on Dunnichen Hill. She saw more figures 50 yards away in a field to her right. Her dog was with her at the time of the incident and he began to react to the figures and growled at the lights, indicating fear on his part. The woman thought she could make out the forms of Pictish warriors carrying the torches. The men were dressed in tights and roll-necked tunics with a roll at the bottom. The lights she saw gave off a red glow, rather than a yellow or orange one. This was typical of the torches that the Picts would have used. Wood taken from resinous roots of Scots fir trees emitted a red colour when they were lit.

There is some skepticism as to how real Miss Smith’s sighting was. She was travelling very late at night and had already walked for about eight miles, not to mention suffering a trauma from skidding her car into a ditch. The vision could have been brought about as a result of exhaustion and the effects of the cold. However, the fact that it occurred at the exact site of the Battle of Nechtansmere seems to be too much of a coincidence and it is unlikely that the woman’s dog would react to something that occurred only in his owner’s mind. .


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