28, Feb 2024

Stirling is a city in central Scotland, 26 miles northeast of Glasgow and 37 miles north-west of Edinburgh. The market town, surrounded by rich farmland, grew up connecting the royal citadel, the medieval old town with its merchants and tradesmen, the Old Bridge and the port. Located on the River Forth, Stirling is the administrative centre for the Stirling council area, and is traditionally the county town of Stirlingshire. Proverbially it is the strategically important “Gateway to the Highlands”. It has been said that “Stirling, like a huge brooch clasps Highlands and Lowlands together”. It’s key position as the lowest bridging point of the River Forth before it broadens towards the Firth of Forth made it a focal point for travel north or south with the castle commanding an impregnable position atop a mighty wooded crag. Giving substance to the maxim of ‘hold Stirling and you hold Scotland’. which has ensured that a fortress of some kind has existed here since prehistoric times.  One cannot help drawing parallels with Edinburgh Castle but many find Stirling’s fortress more atmospheric – the location, architecture, historical significance and commanding views combine to make it a grand and memorable sight. The current castle dates from the late 14th to the 16th century, when it was a residence of the Stuart monarchs.


The undisputed highlight of a visit is the fabulous Royal Palace, which underwent a major restoration in 2011. The idea was that it should look brand new, just as when it was constructed by French masons under the orders of James V in the mid-16th century with the aim of impressing his new (also French) bride and other crowned heads of Europe. The suite of six rooms – three for the king, three for the queen – is a sumptuous riot of color. Particularly notable are the Stirling Heads – reproductions of painted oak roundels in the ceiling of the king’s audience chamber (originals are in the Stirling Heads Gallery). The Stirling tap­estries are modern reproductions, painstakingly woven by expert hands over many years, and based on 16th-century originals in New York’s Metropolitan Museum. They depict the hunting of a unicorn – an event ripe with Christian metaphor – and are breathtakingly beautiful. An exhibition at the far end of the Nether Bailey (at the castle’s northern end) describes their creation, often with a weaver on hand to demonstrate the techniques used.


The Stirling Heads Gallery, above the royal chambers, displays some of the original carved oak roundels that decorated the king’s audience chamber – a real rogue’s gallery of royals, courtiers, and biblical and classical figures. In the vaults beneath the palace is a child-friendly exhibition on various aspects of castle life. The other buildings surrounding the main castle courtyard are the vast Great Hall, built by James IV; the Royal Chapel, remodelled in the early 17th century by James VI and with the colourful original mural painting intact; and the King’s Old Building. The latter is now home to the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum. Other displays include the Great Kitchens, bringing to life the bustle and scale of the enterprise of cooking for the king, and, near the entrance, the Castle Exhibition, which gives good background information on the Stuart kings and updates on current archaeological investigations. There are magnificent vistas from the ramparts towards the Highlands and the Ochil Hills.


Stirling’s beautifully preserved Old Town is a treasure trove of historic buildings and cobbled streets winding up to the ramparts of its impressive castle, which offer views for miles around. Clearly visible is the brooding Wallace Monument, a strange Victorian Gothic creation honouring the legendary freedom fighter of Braveheart fame. Nearby is Bannockburn, scene of Robert the Bruce’s pivotal triumph over the English in 1314.


When Stirling was temporarily under Anglo-Saxon sway, according to a 9th-century legend, it was attacked by Danish invaders. The sound of a wolf roused a sentry, however, who alerted his garrison, which forced a Viking retreat. This led to the wolf being adopted as a symbol of the town as is shown on the 1511 Stirling Jug. The area is today known as Wolfcraig. Even today the wolf appears with a goshawk on the council’s coat of arms along with the recently chosen motto: “Steadfast as the Rock”.


Modern Stirling is a centre for local government, higher education, tourism, retail, and industry.

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