Building the Auldearn Scenario: The Ground

The header picture is a detail from the Roy Military Survey of Scotland, 1747 – 1755 (reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland – under a non-commercial Creative Commons license). The image shows one of the first reasonably accurate maps of the area between Nairn and Auldearn about one hundred years after the battle.

Upper Management has decided that the garage sorting out (mentioned in previous posts) is now extended to the entire house. I am building a couple dozen shelving units which will be used to organize the contents of both the house and garage. It is amazing the amount of totally useless junk we have squirreled away (although I suspect it would be valuable to any small village in the third world – such is our disconnect from reality) – d_guy

Auldearn (9 May, 1645) is generally considered the centerpiece of Monrose’s 1644/45 campaign. Montrose had been pursuing Hurry’s Covenanter army toward Inverness and was in turn being pursued by Baillie’s Army coming north from Dundee. Hurry, after being reinforced by the Inverness garrison and local militia, reversed course and made a night march to attack Montrose at Auldearn. For the first time Montrose was to face a substantial body of well-seasoned regular Covenanter regiments. It was to be a near run thing.

Putting together an accurate picture of the Battle of Auldearn is difficult since the primary accounts vary a good deal and near four hundred years of historical analysis offers a multiple choice test in how to interpret those accounts. My approach has been to read both the primaries and the analysis in parallel and then try to synthesize a scenario that allows for a number of possibilities and is, above all, playable.

I have spent the better part of three years experimenting with various ways to portray the battles of this period; how to organize the armies, what rules to commit to, and what terrain system to employ. With the adoption of the For King and Parliament rules (and exercising them in as many ways as I could think) I believe I’m ready to finally begin the task of producing playable scenarios for the Celtic Fringe (and, yes, I will go back and redo the ones I’ve already done).

Regardless of the rules used, compromises will almost always have to be made to represent the terrain of an historic battle on the table top. For battles in Britain I use Ordnance Survey maps to establish scale and contours:

Auldearn 1-100m terrain grid

The contours of the area around Auldearn are set to a 100m horizontal scale and traced. These are then superimposed on a 9 x 12 grid (each box also scaled to 100mm = 100m). The cross in box C9 is the location of the Auldearn Church (Kirk). The numbers in some of the squares give the vertical scale (in meters) of the associated contour.

Now the fun begins. Many 17th century battles were staged on fairly level and open ground (Tippermuir and Inverlochy are examples) to best accommodate the tactical systems then in use. Auldearn is not one of these.

The first task (see the diagram below) is to translate the contour levels into elevation blocks. This means that the contour, already an average, gets averaged a good deal more. I did decided to flatten the surface by combining the 20 and 25 meter contours then adjusting the 30 (light green) and 35 (dark green) meter levels to get the most reasonable fit on the grid.

The small stream (Auldearn Burn) is represented in FK&P as linear rough terrain and as such must follow the edges of each square. This means doing some adjustments to the actual course of the stream but the result is still a pretty fair representation of the actual water course.

All other features are added based on contemporary descriptions and maps, site archeology, tradition and folklore, and specialist analysis. I generally use Stuart Reid’s work as the starting point and modify it if I find another source more convincing.

The village of Auldearn is represented by the church on the higher ground to the north and then a row of houses moving in a straight line through the three boxes to the south. These four squares are “rough/building” in the FK&P rules. Kinnude, a small farm hamlet on the western board edge, is a single “rough/building” square.

Hurry approached Auldearn from the west but his actual route from Inverness is unknown. The location of roads in 1645 is also problematic. The header picture has the Roy Map showing the road approaching from Nairn to the northwest but this was drawn more than one hundred years later. I have gone with a road running north-south through Auldearn (which many think is the original path of the Inverness-Auldearn road) to allow an uninhibited passage through the woods placed on the flanks of Auldearn.

Which ever road Hurry used, it is generally accepted that he moved off-road to place his army in battle array around Kinnudie in order to make a direct assault on the Royalist positions in Auldearn.

Auldearn Terrain Setup

It had rained most of the night prior to the battle making the bottom land along the burn in the north and between Garlic Hill and Auldearn a rough mire. These areas are shown with light purple squares each with a marsh symbol). A wood is mentioned just north of Auldearn in the present area of Boath House and this has been added to accommodate one of the possible Royalist deployments. Dead Wood has been extended somewhat further north and now appears on the map. Both woods are passable per the FK&P rules. The western slope of Auldearn has numerous enclosures and these are indicated by the yellow-gold box edges.

The enclosures are variously described as earthen dikes or stone walls but may also have been woven thicket or hedge. Likely they are some combination of these and served various purposes. Because of at least one mention that Garlic Hill ofered some cover for MacColla’s men,  I have place a linear obsticle on its eastern slope.

In the above diagram column 12 is shown as low-lying to represent what is now called “Montrose’s Hollow”, which for game purposes is the backline and staging area for the Royalist player. As it can not be seen even from the top of Garlic Hill it would allow for the possibility of hidden movement.

The simple terrain building process I now use is to first lay down a gridded battle mat then build up the elevations with 100mm x 100mm x 12.5mm blocks. The blocks are covered with cloth or gripper mesh and then a gridded fleece is carefully overlaid to cover the entire board. All linear rough terrain is then put in place along the appropriate box edges followed by filling in the surface area terrain (buildings, woods, etc).  The road(s) are then added. At this point it can be further dressed up to taste with individual trees, scattered vegetation, and so forth.


The completed Auldearn battlefield viewed from the west at Kinnudie looking east toward Auldearn. Castlehill is the site of an early hill fort or moat and bailey castle which at the time of the battle had no structures present. I used hedges for all the enclosures simply because I like the look. FK&P happily makes no distinction between “hard” an “soft” linear obstacles.

Auld_Setup_West Front

A detailed view showing the area between Auldearn and Garlic Hill where a good portion of the historic battle was fought. Three sides of Castlehill are shown as steep hill (the “rough” markers) as well as the slope approaching the enclosure of the house closest the church. The reverse slope behind Auldearn is not considered steep. In the center of the picture, marsh  markers are placed in the low-lying boxes on either side of Castlehill.


A view of the very open area around Kinnudie which contains the Covenanter deployment area(s) and their backline.


A view from above the Dead Wood looking north up though Auldearn to Boath Wood. This is the Royalist deployment area with their backline at the bottom of the reverse slope.

The next step is to get the Orders of Battle organized.