The city of Stirling is traditionally considered the heart of Scotland. It was often said in more troubled times that ‘he who holds Stirling holds Scotland’, and many of the most famous battles in Scotland’s history are to be found in the environs of the city. This activity pack is designed to take you on a trip to some of the highlights of the city and to offer some background to the sights, history and culture that is available. You will find stories of battles, murders, grave robbers, heros and betrayals. Stirling more than any other palce in Scotland is at the centre of Scottish history.
Although there is much more to see and visit this pack will focus on the three main sites to visit in Stirling:
Stirling Castle 14 miles 25 minutes
Wallace Monument 14 miles 25 minutes
Battle of Bannockburn 15 miles 25 minutes
This pack contains details on each site to offer some background to allow you to choose which site you want to visit and in which order. More details are available at each to enable you to learn more about their attractions and history. There are also details under each location on other attractions to visit in that area, as well as details of pubs, restaurants and cafes you may wish to try.
At the back of this pack are a series of questions about Stirling. By answering these questions correctly and returning it to reception at the Dalgair you can win a prize! Ask the hotel staff for more details.
Enjoy your visit!!!
From the North-West – 108KB –
There are many who argue that Stirling Castle outdoes all others, including Edinburgh, in terms of location, grandeur and history. Situated high on a volcanic rock, it dominates the carse of Stirling for miles in all directions. Generals and kings throughout Scottish history argued that to hold Stirling Castle was to hold Scotland, such was the significance of its strategic position in the centre of the country. It also overlooks the lowest fordable point of the river Forth, a fact not lost on William Wallace who chose the point to spring his attack on the English forces at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
The first records of a fortification at Stirling is in the early 12th century when Alexander I ordered the dedication of the castle chapel. Alexander died at Stirling castle in 1124. Since that time it has been fought over by Bonnie Prince Charlie, Cromwell, Edward Longshanks, William Wallace and Robert Bruce. It has witnessed births of kings, murders of court favourites, defeats, victories, glory and destruction.
Dark Mists of Time
The Romans past Stirling in the early incursions into Scotland and it is believed that given the position of the castle the site would have been fortified from these times. There are some who argue that the legend of Camelot is based on a castle here during King Arthur’s conquest of parts of Scotland in the 6th Century The legend extends to the Kings Knot, the strangely shaped park below the castle where some claim the raised mound in the centre was originally the base of King Arthur’s round table.
Robert the Bruce – 86KB –
For hundreds of years Stirling Castle was the epicentre of the wars of Independence, the Civil War and the Jacobite Uprisings. As such a strategic point it is perhaps not surprising that Stirling Castle has been attacked or besieged at least 16 times. It is said that on a clear day six major battlefields can be seen from the ramparts of Stirling Castle. From the Wars of Independence there was a major victory for the Scots at Stirling Bridge, just below the Castle. Wallace was defeated by Edward I at the Battle of Falkirk 12 miles to the south of Stirling. At Bannockburn Robert Bruce finally achieved independence for Scotland by smashing the army of Edward II.
At the Battle of Sauchieburn (1488), 7 miles to the east of Stirling, King James III of Scotland was defeated by an army led by his son, the future James IV. Wounded James was led from the battlefield and asked for a priest. On arrival the priest started to hear the King’s confession then produced a dagger and killed him. James IV confessed to his part in his father’s death and is reputed to have worn an iron chain around his waist for the rest of his life, as penance and proof of remorse.
In Jacobite times Stirling was once again at the heart of the struggle for power. In 1715 the armies of the Earl of Mar and the Hanoverian government fought an indecisive battle on the bleak plains of Sherrifmuir just to the north of Stirling. The inconclusive finish to the battle did lead to the end of the uprising to restore James III to the British Crown. Thirty-one years later another doomed attempt to restore the Stewarts to the throne of Britain brought warfare to Stirling Castle. The castle was besieged by Jacobite troops and the marks of their cannons and muskets can be seen still on the walls of the Holy Rood Church beneath the castle in the Old Town. The Jacobite cause enjoyed its last victory at the Battle of Falkirk where the army of the Pretender Charles Stewart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, had a victory over the pursuing government troops., The success was short lived and the Jacobites were crushed at the battle of Culloden.
A number of Scottish Kings and Queens have been baptised, or crowned, or died within or near Stirling Castle. At least one King was murdered nearby: while another committed murder within its walls.
The Great Hall
The castle combines a military fortress with building of exquisite beauty. Much of the credit for the creation of the decorative building lies with James IV. He was to become Scotland’s renaissance king in the style of Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France, and at his court Scottish culture enjoyed a golden age. He was responsible for the construction of palatial royal residences with major work commissioned at Linlithgow, Falkland, Holyrood, Edinburgh, Rothesay, and of course, Stirling. These owe much to the style of the French chateaux of the Loire valley and the architect of the royal palace was also responsible for much of the chateau at Blois in the Loire. He was sent over to Scotland as a wedding present to James V by Francis I. The Great Hall was built by James IV between 1501 and 1504.The palace was commissioned by King James V beginning around 1538 for his queen, Mary of Guise, but it may incorporate parts of an earlier building at basement level. It is a large quadrangular building around a central courtyard known as the Lion’s Den.
The Golden Age of Scotland came to a disastrous end when James IV died, aged 40, at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 along with many of Scotland’s nobles. Twelve days later his 17 month old son was crowned King James V in Stirling Castle’s Chapel.
The Later Years
After the rennaisance the castle was still in the maelstrom of civil wars. It was attacked by General Monk on the orders of Cromwell during the Civil War. It was attacked by the Jacobites during the 1745 uprising but did not fall. After this the Castle became a barracks, most notably the headquarters of the famous Argyll & Southern Highlanders whose military museum is still located in the castle today. In its time of peace figures such as Chopin and Queen Victoria have visited the castle and been struck by its romance and its splendour.
The view from the esplanade – you’ll be there for hours!
Queen Anne’s Garden – in the summer it is a perfect place to watch the world go by.
The Great Hall
The Royal Palace
The kitchens – restored as working kitchens from the 15th century
Things to See Around Stirling Castle
If you are intrigued by Stirling Castle and are still looking for more to do then the Old town of Stirling is full of sites of historical interest. Take a walk from the Castle down through the Top of the Town and you will see a range of great places to visit all within a few yards of each other:
The Argyll Lodgings: a chateau built only a few hundred yards form the Castle. This house was bought and extended by the Earl of Stirling in about 1632. Before this he had travelled widely with the Earl of Argyll and had been made Governor of Nova Scotia where he encouraged settlement. His commitment to Canada is indicated on the carved stone panel over the main entrance. Here the Earl of Stirling’s coat of arms is combined with the badge of Nova Scotia, and a Red Indian can be seen supporting the shield. It is one of the most important 17th Century town houses to survive in Scotland today.
The Mar’s Wark: Like Argyll’s Lodging, this building was started in the 1570’s. The Earl of Mar was one of the richest and most powerful men in Scotland. He was elected Guardian of the infant King James VI of Scotland, Regent of Scotland and Governor of Stirling Castle.
Church of the Holy Rood: Mary, Queen of Scots, worshipped in the Holy Rude and John Knox preached there, and James VI was crowned there. There are many interesting features to discover in the building and indicating its chequered history. In 1656, following a dispute, the congregation divided the church into two, each with its own minister. The dividing wall was only removed in 1936
Cowane’s Hospital: John Cowane was a very wealthy Stirling merchant and Dean of the Merchant Guild who left funds for this alms house and the maintenance of 13 elderly Guild members. Originally known as Cowane’s Hospital, it was built beside the church between 1637 and 1649. Cowane’s coloured statue can be seen above the door of the hospital and local legend says that he comes down to dance at midnight on Hogmanay.
The Old Town Jail: restored in the 1990s and now a living museum, actors take visitors through the horrors and humour of life in prison over the centuries. A great visit for adults and kids.
Places to Eat & Drink
As befits a city Stirling has a wide choice of restaurants and bars within a 5 minute of the castle. Beneath the Castle esplanade there is The Portcullis that serves good food in front of a roaring fire. A short walk down the hill there is the Hog’s Head pub and just across the street the Drouthy Neebors pub. For a more formal lunch the Stirling Highland Hotel is 2-3 minutes walk from the Castle and serves excellent food in a wonderful old building that was originally the High School of Stirling. There are enough pubs and restaurants in Stirling to meet all tastes and budgets.
Stirling is also renowned in central Scotland for the quality of its shopping. The Thistle Centre shopping Centre in the middle of the town, and its extension The Marches, contains all the major high street retailers plus a wide variety of smaller shops.
Wallace Monument imageFive minutes by car or 30 minutes by foot from the castle is the Wallace Monument. Stirling is the centre of Braveheart country. The Wallace Monument is a landmark that can be seen for miles across the carse and is of great emotional significance to all Scots. The statue of Wallace at the top looks out over the site of his most famous victory at Stirling Bridge, just underneath the castle. The monument is 220 feet (67m) high and was opened in 1869 to commemorate Sir William Wallace (1267-1305), the country’s most celebrated warrior. Wallace served as a role model for freedom fighters across the globe and when funds were being raised to build the tower donators to the building included the Italian patriot Garabaldi. The story of Wallace and his struggle is now known across the world due to the film Braveheart
In 1296, Edward I of England invaded Scotland and the Scottish Wars of Independence began. William Wallace began a guerrilla campaign against the English. On 11th September, 1297, the Scots defeated the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Wallace’s successful campaign against the English army led him acrtoss the border and the sacking of York. Falling back to Scotland Wallace was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. Shortly after he was betrayed and captured to the north of Glasgow. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in London in 1305, and his body distributed across Scotland as a warning against further rebellion.
The monument is on the Abbey Craig, a rocky crag from which Wallace watched the English army gather on the South side of Stirling Bridge. There are 246 steps to the top of the tower with three chambers where you can stop and rest to admire the views from the slit windows, visit the chambers or simply catch your breath. In one chamber you will see Wallace’s famous double-handed broadsword and learn of his struggle to free Scotland from English rule. In the Scottish Hall of Heroes there is an exhibition of other great Scots who have made their mark on the world The great Scots include James Watt. Robert the Bruce, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and David Livingstone. On the final floor of the monument there is a 360° diorama where you can study the surrounding landscape and learn more about the location of Stirling. From the top of the monument the view is one of the finest in the country. On a good day you can admire the Trossachs to the north; the Castle to the south; the Forth estuary with the Kincardine bridge to the east; and the Touch and Lomond hills to the West.
The monument to Scotland’s best known warrior can be reached either by a two-minute bus ride or on foot (10-15 minutes) up the steep craig to the monument. The views are spectacular as are the exhibitions inside. Don’t miss it.
Things to See Around Stirling Castle
If you enjoy the Wallace Monument and are still looking for more to do in the vicinity then there are a number of places to see very close by.
Cambuskenneth Abbey: less than 5 minutes from the monument beside the river lies Cambuskenneth Abbey. The Abbey was an Augustinian settlement founded by King David I in 1147. The abbey was very wealthy and prominent in Scottish life: Robert Bruce’s parliament met at the Abbey in 1326. King James III and his queen, Margaret of Denmark. are buried in the grounds of the abbey. James was assassinated after the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488 whilst fighting a rebel army led by his son and heir James IV. The Abbey was closed in 1559 and much of the stone was taken for other building works in the city.
Bridge of Allan: 5 minutes north by car from the monument lies the spa town of Bridge of Allan. A charming town it still has the affluent air of its days when it was a Victorian holiday resort. There are a number of good quality shops with furniture, craft, country wear and fashion outlets. Robert Louis Stevenson was a regular taker of the waters here when he was writing Treasure Island. There area number of pleasant walks to be had in the area behind the town.
University of Stirling: as the road head along the hill foots back into Stirling Stirling University nestles underneath the Wallace Monument. Set in beautiful parkland the University offers a range of excellent walks and the lochs in the centre are wildlife sanctuaries. On campus there is Airthrey castle, a baronial castle of the 19th century. There is a 9-hole golf course open to visitors in the summer and a challenging putting green. The Gannochy sport centre boasts an Olympic sized pool as well as all other sports facilities. Within the university is the excellent MacRobert theatre which has two cinemas and a theatre and there is a range of events available every night of the week. There are bars and cafes around the theatre for visitors and students.
Places to Eat & Drink
About 5 minutes walk down the hill from the Wallace Monument is Corrieri’s café renowned for its café style Italian food and excellent fish and chips. It is usually very busy but it is a great places for a relaxing meal, especially if you have kids.
Just beside the Wallace Monument is the Sword hotel with good food and drinks.
Bridge of Allan boasts the famous Allan Water café reputed to serve some of the best fish and chips in Scotland. The Clive Ramsay deli in Bridge of Allan also attracts visitors who prefer a more continental feel to their meals. Bridge of Allan also has a range of Italian, Thai and Indian restaurants.
Bannockburn Visitors Centre
About 10 minutes by car from the castle lies the site of the famous Battle of Bannockburn, where in June 1314 Robert Bruce led the Scottish army to a decisive defeat over the army of Edward II. Although the Scottish army was heavily outnumbered by the English army, reputed to be the finest in Europe, the English suffered a major defeat. It is estimated that the battle involved over 30,000 men. Bruce’s victory was clinched when a group of camp followers (ghillies) rushed down from a nearby hill to join the battle, armed with a variety of tools and kitchen implements. The English thought it was a second Scottish army and they would be trapped, and so fell into disarray. The battle lasted two days, and ended with an unceremonious retreat by Edward and his court.
The vistory led to a declartion of Scottish indepence that was accepted by England and the courts of Europe and established Scotland as a sovereign state. Outside the visitor centre is the Borestone site which is said to have been Bruce’s command post before the battle. In the centre of the monument is the definitive statue of Bruce on his Scottish charger. Inside the Centre there is a detailed exhibition on the battle, and an audio-visual presentation.
The visitor’s centre offers a detailed insight into not only the battle but the wards of independence that were fought across and around the carse of Stirling.
Places to Eat & Drink
There are a range of pubs and hotels around the Bannockburn area. About 300 yards down from the centre on the way into Stirling is the Hollybank hotel that offers good food and is family friendly. Visitors looking for a good pint could try the 1314 pub next door to the centre that offers excellent beer and pub grub at very reasonable prices.