Straddling the River Forth a few miles upstream from the estuary at Kincardine, STIRLING appears, at first glance, like a smaller version of Edinburgh. With its crag-top castle, steep, cobbled streets and mixed community of locals, students and tourists, it’s an appealing place.
Stirling was the scene of some of the most significant developments in the evolution of the Scottish nation. It was here that the Scots under William Wallace defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, only to fight – and win again – under Robert the Bruce just a couple of miles away at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The town enjoyed its golden age in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, most notably when its castle was the favoured residence of the Stuart monarchy and the setting for the coronation in 1543 of the young Mary, future Queen of Scots. By the early eighteenth century the town was again besieged, its location being of strategic importance during the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. Today Stirling is known for its castle and the lofty Wallace Monument, a mammoth Victorian monolith high on Abbey Craig to the northeast.
To the north and west of town, the historic element of the region is reflected in the cathedral at Dunblane and the imposing castle at Doune.Read More
Stirling CastleStirling Castle must have presented would-be invaders with a formidable challenge. Its impregnability is most daunting when you approach the town from the west, from where the sheer 250ft drop down the side of the crag is most obvious. The rock was first fortified during the Iron Age, though what you see now dates largely from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Built on many levels, the main buildings are interspersed with delightful gardens and patches of lawn, while endless battlements, cannon ports, hidden staircases and other nooks and crannies make it thoroughly explorable and absorbing. Free guided tours begin by the well in the Lower Square.
Central to the castle is the magnificently restored Great Hall, which dates from 1501–03 and was used as a barracks by the British army until 1964. The building stands out across Stirling for its controversially bright, creamy yellow cladding, added after the discovery during renovations of a stretch of the original sixteenth-century limewash. Inside, the hall has been restored to its original state as the finest medieval secular building in Scotland, complete with five gaping fireplaces and an impressive hammerbeam ceiling of rough-hewn wood. A major restoration of the Palace, with specially commissioned tapestries and furniture, has returned the rooms to their appearance in the mid sixteenth century.
On the sloping upper courtyard of the castle, the Chapel Royal was built in 1594 by James VI for the baptism of his son, to replace an earlier chapel that was deemed insufficiently impressive. The interior is charming, with a seventeenth-century fresco of elaborate scrolls and patterns. Go through a narrow passageway beyond the Chapel Royal to get to the Douglas Gardens, reputedly the place where the eighth Earl of Douglas, suspected of treachery, was thrown to his death by James II in 1452. It’s a lovely, quiet corner of the castle, with mature trees and battlements over which there are splendid views of the rising Highlands beyond, as well as a bird’s-eye view down to the King’s Knot, a series of grassed octagonal mounds which, in the seventeenth century, were planted with box trees and ornamental hedges.
The Falkirk Wheel
The Falkirk WheelThe town of FALKIRK has a good deal of visible history, going right back to the remains of the Roman Antonine Wall. A massive transformation came in the eighteenth century with the construction of canals connecting Glasgow and Edinburgh; within a few years, however, the trains arrived, and the canals gradually fell into disuse. While Falkirk’s canals were a very visible sign of the area’s industrial heritage, it was only recently that their leisure potential was realized, thanks to British Waterway’s £84.5 million Millennium Link project to restore them and re-establish a navigable link between east and west coasts.
The icon of this project is the remarkable Falkirk Wheel. The giant grey wheel, the world’s first rotating boat-lift, scoops boats in two giant buckets, or caissons, and moves them the 79ft between the levels of the Forth & Clyde and Union canals linked to Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively. Beneath the wheel, the visitor centre sells tickets for a one hour boat trip from the lower basin into the wheel, along the Union Canal, and back again. If you want to simply see the wheel in action, walk around the basin and adjoining towpaths.