Birthplace of Saltire in a flap over fallen flag

Local Krystyna Campbell at the memorial, where the Saltire was ripped from the flagpole damaged by the gales
Local Krystyna Campbell at the memorial, where the Saltire was ripped from the flagpole damaged by the gales
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ALEX Salmond will be hoping it is not a sign that his support is flagging.

As Scotland prepares for the relentless build-up to our most important decision in 300 years, it seems Mother Nature has scored the first victory.

The Saltire which has proudly flown in the birthplace of the Scottish flag for decades has been ripped down by the gales which battered the country last month. And putting it up again seems about as easy as agreeing a referendum question.

The cross of St Andrew has now been notable by its absence for almost a month in the East Lothian village of Athelstaneford.

The Scottish Flag Trust said the flagpole, which is attached to the Saltire Memorial in the grounds of Athelstaneford Kirk, presents several challenges, and it is not simply a case of hoisting the flag back up to its 30-metre summit.

Trust convener Dave Williamson said: “The flag has been flying constantly since it was erected in 1965, so the priority is to get this back up as soon as possible.

“It’s not one you can lower, we would have to get scaffolding up round the memorial. It’s getting up there that’s the difficulty.

“Because it’s in the church grounds in a graveyard you can’t get any vehicles in there, so that would rule out a cherry picker, and you can’t just balance a ladder against it.

“We’re in the process of getting a few quotes for the work. The money will come from the reserves, which will hit them a bit, but not leave us penniless or anything like that.

“The decision’s been made that we have to do it, and that’s all there is to it.”

The organisation had not expected the flagpole would suffer during the gales that hit the country in December, given it had stood undisturbed for almost five decades.

But when they arrived they found the flag and the attached rope lying on the ground, with the pole itself still standing.

“The pulley at the top of the pole has become dislodged and the rope holding the flag frayed,” Mr Williamson said.

“A small repair job could end up costing a fortune unless we can find a clever way of doing it. Even at night, we’ve got it floodlit but all that is illuminated is the pole with no flag waving from it.”

They are desperate to make sure the flag is back in place before April, when the tourist season begins and the nearby heritage centre at the rear of the kirk opens to the public.

Mr Williamson added: “That is vitally important because we get around 5000 visitors a year.

“Once it is back up we may have to look at fundraising to get a more sturdy pole which you can lower the flag on.”

When two tribes crossed

ATHELSTANEFORD, a small village outside Haddington, bills itself as “the birthplace of Scotland’s flag”.

That accolade came after the Battle of Athelstaneford took place in the year AD832, when a vision of a St Andrew’s cross in the sky is said to have given motivation to the Picts who were fighting the onrushing and invading Angles.

The pattern emerged after King Angus, High King of Alba, led prayers for deliverance. He had vowed to make martyr Andrew a patron saint if they won.

A centre at the village kirk is open in the summer to cater for around 5000 visitors attracted to the village every year by the tale.