Our next trip from up North around Carlisle was to the Scottish City of Stirling, which is full of ancient history…
Status: Stirling Council Area, City, Scotland
Travel: Virgin Trains (Carlisle – Glasgow Central), Scotrail (Glasgow Queen Street – Stirling)
Eating & Sleeping: Costa Coffee
Attractions: Stirling Castle, Wallace Monument, Stirling Old Jail, Tolbooth, Mercat Cross, Rob Roy Statue, William Wallace Statue, Robert Burns Statue, Athenaeum, Library, Smith Museum & Art Gallery etc
Stirling is an ancient city, and the site of many historical battles with the English. Stirling’s most famous Landmark, Stirling Castle, is sat at the top of a long, steep hill. On the way up there are scores of old stone buildings, museums and buildings of note.
The picture above shows the type of buildings you will encounter as you traverse the hill, and indeed the rest of the city.
The Stirling Old Jail is one of the most interesting finds on the hill, and features the original cells and buildings that were used from the opening of the jail in 1847. The jail museum actually closed the other year but it was reopened as a modern expressionist gallery so the cells are paintings and words relating to various topics. We mainly looked at the building itself, and there are lots of old cells you can go inside. It’s quite eerie looking round them, they are dark and cramped.
Further on up the hill, we found this nice little square. It contains the Mercat Cross (pictured) and meant that Stirling was granted the right to hold a market here, and was considered to be prosperous.
The building behind the cross, with the Clock Tower, is the old Stirling Tolbooth. It dates back to 1705 after the Scottish Government ordered a new one to be built to replace the dilapidated original. Extended in 1785, and the 1800’s, the building was the original prison in the city. Prisoners were kept in the tower and executed outside. This continued until the late 1800’s, and the Council itself continued to use the building until 1875. The Tolbooth prison was condemned as the worst in Scotland for it’s living conditions, hence the reason for it’s closure. It’s a great example of the stone work in the city.
Even further up, and very close to the summit, was the Church of the Holy Rude, a beautiful building from 1414 when the first parts of the building were constructed to replace an earlier church on the site destroyed by fire. In 1567, King James VI (1566 – 1625) was crowned King here, and was the first monarch since the Union of the Crowns between England and Scotland in 1603, meaning that he was both King James I and King James VI during his reign. This gives the church the distinction of being one of only three churches in the UK to survive that has held a coronation, and the only one in Scotland. The other two are Gloucester Cathedral in Gloucester, England, and Westminster Abbey in London, England. Stirling has a rich royal past, and this just adds to it’s importance.
At the top of the hill, is the main attraction in the city. The magnificent Stirling Castle, looking over the surrounding countryside, and standing proud to protect the people of Stirling.
There are various buildings in the complex, with the oldest from the 14th century, and the rest are from the 15th and 16th centuries. Many Scottish King’s and Queen’s of old have had their coronations held here over the years, including Mary Queen of Scots. Originally a royal residence, by the 1700’s the reigning monarchs had moved out and it was used as a military garrison and prison. It is one of the most visited attractions in Scotland, and gives outstanding views of the local area.
The Castle has been under siege a total of 8 times, the last one being in 1746, by Bonnie Prince Charlie. Many battles with the English have taken place here, including the Scottish Wars of Independence, and the English gained control of the castle when they found it abandoned sometime after 1296, after Edward I invaded Scotland, kicking off the wars for the next 60 years.
Find out more about the Castle here.
In the area outside the castle is a memorial to Scottish fighters, and a statue of Robert the Bruce stands watch over the entrance. Directly across from the Castle you get a full view of the other major landmark in the City…
The Wallace Monument is a vast stone tower sat on a hill adjacent to Stirling Castle. It’s my favourite building in the city and I climbed it as a child when I visited with my parents, and still have the certificate to prove it.
It is still open to the public, and when you climb up the 246 steps to the top, a whopping 220 feet high, you get the best view in the whole area, and on a clear day you can actually see all the way over to the Scottish Capital City of Edinburgh.
It was built in 1869, in memory of William Wallace, ancient King of Scots. It was designed by John Thomas Rochead (1814 – 1878, architect from Edinburgh) and opened in 1869. Aside from being a monument, it is also a museum and there is plenty of information and architects from the past to explore as you ascend.
The Wallace Monument is a beautiful construction, and a coal model of it proudly stands on my shelf at home.
After a fantastic morning of sightseeing around the Castle and the other historic locations in Stirling, we moved down into the main city centre, to see what else we could find.
This building is partly Stirling Library and partly council offices, housed in an impressive old stone building. At the East end of the building is a statue of Henry Campbell-Bannermen (1836 – 1908, Former British Prime Minister). He was the first person to actually be called Prime Minister, the title was introduced 5 days after he gained the position, the original title being first Lord of the Treasury.
Across the road from the statue is the Stirling War Memorial, in the form of a tall stone spire. Just down from this is another statue, of Rob Roy MacGregor (1671 – 1734, Scottish folk here and outlaw from the 18th century).
The Library, War Memorial and Statue are up a small incline from this next photograph, which is a statue of Robert Burns (1759 – 1796, famous Scottish Poet, and one of the most famous figures in Scottish History). There are many statues of him around Scotland, including in Dumfries, Kilmarnock, Edinburgh, Dundee etc
We decided it was time for lunch, so we moved into the main shopping streets of Stirling, into the pedestrianised zone. The buildings here are no less impressive, and at the very end of the zone is the building pictured, with the spire.
The building is called the Athenaeum, from 1816, and there is an arch at the front of the building that bears the name Wallace, and a statue of William Wallace stands on top of it. Originally a merchant’s library, the building is now being used as municipal offices. The porch arch was added in 1859, and was actually designed by an architect with the surname Stirling, William Stirling (1772 – 1838).
The rest of the street is mainly shops, and we located a Costa Coffee in the area and had a toastie, cake and cup of tea. There is a large shopping centre called The Thistles Centre in this area, and inside it is a secret door leading to a hidden attraction, but it was closed off when we visited so we are still not quite sure what it was.
That was the end to our day in Stirling, and we returned to Glasgow on the train for a quick exploration of the tube system there, before heading home.
Stirling is a beautiful, historic city, with many old buildings, that go back hundreds and hundreds of years and have seen many battles. There are lots of statues located around the city, so see if you can find any extra ones that we didn’t.
Stirling has direct train connections to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Perth and Aberdeen, and a comprehensive local train network. The River Forth flows through the city, and under Stirling Bridge, a famous bridge that was the site of a major battle, the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. From here the river continues through to Edinburgh, and under the the Forth Bridge’s, then out into the North Sea. The Forth is what made Stirling so significant as at the time it was the lowest crossing over the River.
The M9 Terminates around the city, leading back towards Edinburgh and the M80 for Glasgow. Edinburgh Airport is the nearest Airport, but the two Glasgow Airport’s are also relatively close.
There is plenty to see in Stirling, with the Smith Art Gallery & Museum also being a major attraction, so if your in the general area, Stirling would be a great place to stop off.