Stirling is a historic city of approximately 40,000 residents that is considered to be the ‘Gateway to the Highlands’ as it lies close to the Highland Boundary Fault, in the Central Region of Scotland. The current city is clustered around the medieval town which is dominated by Stirling Castle. The castle, which is one of the largest and most important in Scotland, stands on a sheer 80 metre volcanic crag guarding the critical routes across the Forth Valley which link Lowland Scotland with the Highlands. Historically, Stirling was once a principal Royal stronghold of the Kingdom of Scotland, due primarily to its commanding position which brought great protection, wealth and strategic influence to its rulers. Guarding the lowest crossing point of the River Forth, the castle is ideally positioned to control access to central Scotland!! This led to much of Scotland’s turbulent history being focused here with battles, murder and mayhem being commonplace. Two important battles fought locally are the Battle of Stirling Bridge of 1297 and the Battle of Bannockburn of 1314, which was a decisive battle in the First War of Scottish Independence.
There have been castles here since before 1124, but the castle you see today was started in the 15th century and dates from the time when Scottish kings lived here. The castle’s impressive Parliament Hall was built for James III and the gatehouse for his son, James IV. Most of the sumptuous Royal Palace was built in the 16th century for James V, and James VI, who later became King James I of England in 1603. The Royal Chapel has always been part of the castle and is famous for the crowning of the infant, Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. However the Royal Chapel you see today was re-built by James VI for the christening of his son Henry in 1594. Within the castle walls is housed the Regimental Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The Church of Holy Rude (Holy Cross) lies near the gates of the castle and is where James VI was crowned in 1567 following the forced abdication of his mother Mary Queen of Scots. The church, which is one of the finest in Scotland, was restored in the 1930’s.
A few other places in town worth a look include the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Albert Place, fondly known as the ‘Smith’. It was built by the bequest of artist Thomas Stuart Smith in the 19th century, and currently holds a collection of contemporary paintings left by Mr. Smith, and is the town’s main art, museum and cultural centre. It is here that the historical artefacts of Stirlingshire area can be seen, and the story of the town can be explored. The ‘King’s Knot’ is a geometrical garden created in the fashion of the 1620’s and can clearly be seen from the castle above. Many of the old houses in Broad Street have been restored by the town council, including the Tolbooth which was built in 1704 to act as the town hall and town gaol. The Mercat Cross nearby is a replacement set up in 1891 but is still crowned by its original stone unicorn.
Other sites, in the city, worthy of mention –
Argyll Lodging, an impressive town mansion built in 1630 for the 1st Earl of Stirling. It is now the Stirling Youth Hostel.
Mar’s Wark, a Renaissance style palace built in the 16th century for the Earl of Mar, Regent of Scotland during the minority of James VI. Only the frontage remains and the palace was probably never completed.
The Guildhall dates from 1639 but was rebuilt in 1852. It contains many Guild relics. Nearby is a bowling green opened in 1712 and still in use. It is guarded by two cannons from the Russians at Sebastopol.
Other places of interest within 30 kilometres –
Cambuskenneth Abbey, just outside the town, an Augustinian Abby founded in 1147. It was the scene of Robert the Bruce’s Parliament in 1326.
Memorial to William Wallace, to the north-east of the town, built in 1870 to commemorate the Battle of Stirling in 1297, when the English were defeated by the Scots.
Duone Motor Museum, 15 kilometres north-west of Stirling, a collection of vintage and post-vintage cars owned by the Earl of Moray. Duone Castle is nearby - a splendid ruin and one of the best preserved in the country.
Bridge of Allan, 5 kilometres north-east, a holiday resort of Allan Water, and spa during the 19th century. Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have drunk the waters here.
Did you know that – the North Sea once lapped the foot of the hill on which Stirling Castle Stands? In Roman times the land to the west of the city was mostly trackless and it was knowledge of the terrain that enabled Robert the Bruce to defeat the English at Bannockburn in 1314.