Monday, July 23, 2012

Top 5 Things to See & Do in Stirling, Scotland


Stirling was an unscheduled stop in our Scotland trip. We were planning on driving through it on the way home from Loch Ness, but ended up staying overnight and most of the day in Stirling while driving to Loch Ness. No matter the agenda, we were glad we made some time for this historical and beautiful town. It is literally dripping with Scottish heritage, so much that you really could spend a few days there rather than just a morning. We packed in as much as possible before having to drive through Caingorn National Park up to our BandB in Loch Ness. Here are some of our Stirling highlights!

Sitting on the royal throne - where I always knew I belonged!


1. Stirling Castle

This is one of the few castles in Scotland that is not falling into disrepair, and is a major tourist attraction. It isn’t cheap to visit, with a cost of £13.00, but once again (and I cannot stress how great this thing was) we had our Explorer Pass and so got to waltz right in. Stirling Castle is huge, and contains replica rooms of the royal lodgings, the Great Hall, and the chapel.

Entering Stirling Castle's grounds

The impressive and large chapel (not the same one where Mary was baptized)

There is also a military museum that, until a few years ago, was still used by the military as offices and such. Stirling Castle is also the site where Mary, Queen of Scots was given her baptism (although the actual chapel where that occurred no longer stands), and where she and many other royals attended school in their early years.

The royal lodgings with the royal school house located in the tower

A ceiling detail from one of the royal bedrooms

The castle survived, in most part, Cromwell’s heavy siege in the mid-1600s, losing two of its four front towers and sustaining some damage to the outer facade and gargoyles.  The remaining towers were blasted down considerably, and although they are still standing, they are much shorter than they used to be.  Good job, Cromwell, wrecking all of Scotland's nice castles! Boo to you!

Two much-shorter towers where once four large towers stood, pre-Cromwell.

The Great Hall stands out, with its golden plaster color, but we were informed the entire Stirling Castle complex was at one time slathered with the golden hue. I preferred the grey stone look myself; something about the gold facade just looks too 'fake'.

The Great Hall with its golden facade


2. The King’s Knot

These maze-like gardens were constructed specially in the year 1630 for a royal visit. (When my family visits, I just dust and vacuum...) The Knot is clearly visible from the balcony called the Ladies’ Lookout, which provides an awesome view of everything, not just the Knot.

The view from the Ladies' Lookout at Stirling Castle

Some people have noted that the inner section of the King’s Knot looks like a Round Table, giving rise to legends that King Arthur may have resided around Stirling.

The King's Knot garden to the left, with the "Round Table" in the furthest left garden


3. Church of Holy Rood and Old Town Cemetery

Part of our package with the Explorer Pass to Stirling Castle was a free tour around Argyll’s Lodgings (usually about £2.00 for adults, but you have to also buy a ticket for Stirling Castle). On the way down to see Argyll’s Lodgings, our tour guide took us past the Church of Holy Rood, which was surrounded by the peaceful Old Town Cemetery.

Peaceful and beautiful Old Town Cemetery

Apparently, this cemetery was a favorite of William Wordsworth, who noted it was the most peaceful graveyard he’d ever seen (although, to be fair, Wordsworth could find something fluffy to say about anything...) There were some interesting monuments in the cemetery, like the tomb for the drowned virgins, which looked like a mini-Roman temple. We did not have the chance to go inside the Church of Holy Rood, unfortunately.


4. Argyll’s Lodgings

The lodgings are a detailed and accurate reconstruction of what a home may have looked like during the time when Stirling Castle was occupied. The closer a house was to the castle, the more favor the owner had with the King. This house is THE closest, so that tells you how powerful and influential the Argyll family was.

Heading into Argyll's Lodging, built with French and Italian influences

We learned so much history during the tour, I can’t even begin to tell it all to you here, and I doubt you want to read an essay on the Duke of Argyll. Just take my word that the house was very interesting, and that if you find yourself in Stirling, pay the measly £2.00 and go! You can’t go on your own, however - guided tours only.

One of the dining / party rooms in Argyll's Lodging, Stirling, Scotland


5. The Wallace Monument

By this time in the day, Joey and I were getting tired and hungry. We had to get some gas for our journey up to Loch Ness, and so we grabbed some snacky items at the gas station to take to the Wallace Monument with us. We’d been warned that it was quite a hike just to get up to the monument, which is situated on top of a big hill called Abbey Craig, so we thought we’d picnic once we hit the top.

The impressive Wallace Monument tower in Stirling

After a bit of a climb, we made it to the monument. The wind was whipping, and a storm was a-brewin’, so we quickly ate our food before it got wet with rain. Happily, we wandered around the base of the monument, and checked out the gift shop inside. After a brief debate about the admission price and intimidating amount of stairs, we opted not to hike to the top, to save time, money, and energy. It was only after, when I learned that Wallace’s actual sword is encased atop the monument, did I regret not going up. At the time, my legs and wallet thanked me.

With all of this, Joey and I only skimmed the surface of what Stirling has to offer. More things to see and do in Stirling include the Bannockburn Heritage Center, the Old Stirling Bridge, and Cambuskenneth Abbey, just to name a few.  If you have had the pleasure of seeing any of these places, share your experience in the comments section - we'd love to hear about it!

2 comments:

  1. I would love to visit Scotland some day! It seems like such an impressive country. Thanks for sharing this article with us.

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    1. If you have the chance, you really should go, especially if you love history. We knew everything there was to know about Mary Queen of Scots, James I, Cromwell, etc. Plus, it helps that the country is amazingly beautiful!

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