LAST Sunday, I was on the hunt for some graffiti – not the contemporary spray-painted type but the faint remains of an image etched on the walls of St Mary’s Parish Church in Haddington.

The graffiti was identified by members of the Peter Potter Monument Programme and highlighted by the Siege of Haddington Research Group, which has co-ordinated some fascinating investigations into the history of the Siege of Haddington, which took place for 18 long and bloody months in 1548-1549.

We now know this time as the Rough Wooing, a term created later to describe the brutal English campaign to persuade the Scots to agree to the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to Edward VI of England.

Due to the geography of our county, being close to the English Border, with the great route from the south within it, our towns and villages, as well as castles and churches, suffered terribly in this war, which could justly be described as a form of medieval state terrorism. The people suffered the most, of course.

The English used Haddington as a base from which they could foray out to attack and terrorise the surrounding countryside and villages. To this end, they built a powerful trace-italienne fort. This was a new style of fortification for the time, with deep ditches and turf walls which could absorb cannon balls rather than crumble as a stone wall would.

But a key part of the design was the positioning of bastions, which jutted out at the junctures of the walls, ensuring that every inch of the walls was within the killing zone commanded by the defenders. To get an idea of how this design may have looked, Fort George near Inverness is an impressive later 18th-century example of the same idea.

I suspect the fort at Haddington would have been impressive as well but you’d never know it, as there seems little trace of it now. That is what the folks involved in the Siege of Haddington Research Group (SHRG for short) hope to change. In collaboration with other interested people, and experts in the field, they aim to find the archaeological evidence for the fort, as well as lost historical accounts of the siege.

They are trying to get a sense of what the siege was like, not just the fighting but the deteriorating living conditions, the complexities of loyalties, and the fact it wasn’t just Scots versus English but involved other nationalities, including the French, Spanish, Germans and Italians. And they want to find the locations of the once-impressive fort.

By all accounts, the siege seems to have been a bloody affair, yet the numerous shot holes that pepper the walls of St Mary’s are about the only obvious visible testament to the siege and its ferocity.

As I wandered around the kirk in that quiet and sunny afternoon, the only sound I heard was birdsong. It was an eerie thought that I was in the same place that such ferocious battles had once taken place. There are parts of the southern-facing wall where the number of shot holes suggest an intense fight took place here. I also noticed that a narrow window in the tower had shot holes all around it and wondered who had been at the window to attract the fire, and if he survived.

St Mary’s was actually outside the walls of the fort but it seems to have been occupied by both sides at different times and so was subjected to attack. Each bullet hole in its walls was a shot aimed by one living person at another.

I wondered about the bullets that didn’t hit the wall but instead hit their intended target. The shot holes for me seemed to be evidence that the stupidity of war is one of humanity’s longest-lasting traditions. Religion, dynastic ambitions and imperial political power play were at the heart of it: a bigger power using its might to subjugate a smaller one that it felt entitled to rule.

But, as in all such conflicts, it’s not the grand narratives which are the most revealing but the human stories. And that was why I was searching for the graffiti.

And, eventually, I found it. It is said to be a representation of a horse and its rider. I could see that, just. The fact the bullet hole overlays it suggests it was done before the shot was fired, but very possibly during the time of the fighting.

Who was this rider and who made the image; was it one and the same person? Was he an Italian, as has been suggested because of his riding position? Why did he etch this image in the stone wall of St Mary’s, what horrors did he witness, did he survive them?

I stood by his image, in the very spot where he would have stood all those years ago, by the wall which is literally spattered with shot holes, history breathing down my neck, the mystery intriguing me.

Then the calls of my children brought me back. So I took my photos and went to rejoin my family. I thought to myself how lucky I am that I have never personally experienced the insanity and cruelty of war.

My children were happily playing and making TikToks under the old Nungate Bridge. Their laughter seemed to echo under the arches.

The bridge also has bullet holes. But the laughter and joy of my children under the bridge will leave no marks on the stonework, just in my memory.