A delayed Part 2 post of our Stirling holiday, which was months ago. Part 1 summarises the historic importance of the city, whilst Part 2 focuses on some touristy places with some amazing views.
The main event: as mentioned in Part 1, a tour guide in Skye last year raved about Stirling and said Stirling Castle was his favourite Scottish castle. So of course we had to visit.
Not too far from the city centre, we made the trek up to the castle, passing some lovely gardens along the way. We had a guided tour and were informed this castle had two main purposes: military and royal residence.
Stirling Castle always held a strategic position: to the east you can see River Forth, which splits the country.
Back then the River Forth was wider and had rougher terrain with marshland, so one of the only places to cross River Forth was Stirling Bridge so if you held Stirling Castle then you held Stirling Bridge.
A lot of battles were fought around here, such as the War of Independence against Edward I and II and the Jacobite uprisings.
War of Independence
There were two main Edward battles: one being the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace and Andrew de Moray fought against King Edward I’s army.
The Scottish let the English army cross the bridge, and then attacked before they could get entirely across. The Scottish were outnumbered and outgunned, but the attack was like an ambush. Moray died at the battle so Wallace took the glory.
The other battle was the Battle of Bannockburn where Robert the Bruce fought against King Edward II. The English had a hold on Scotland, and there was an agreement between the person who held Stirling Castle for the English and Robert the Bruce that he would surrender the castle if King Edward II didn’t send an army to defend it, so this forced Edward II’s hand.
We were informed it was unusual for Robert the Bruce as he often went for guerrilla warfare, and for that reason Robert the Bruce tore down Stirling Castle. Bruce liked open spaces and to be mobile and didn’t want to actively defend the castle so decided to destroy it instead.
So the earliest part of the castle currently standing dates back to after Robert the Bruce. Ironically, even though he tore down most of the castle, there is a statue of Robert the Bruce outside the outer keep.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, the grandson of King James VII tried to take Stirling Castle, he managed to capture the town but not the castle. The Duke of Cumberland was moving north with the English army, and moved up to Inverness for the fateful Battle of Culloden.
We learnt more about this battle when we visited Inverness previously.
Old King’s House
This building held the military museum and might have been built by King James IV. There was also a serene little garden behind here where there were lots of friendly birds around.
Built by King James V, Mary Queen of Scots’ father. He went to France and liked the architecture so brought back French architects to help build it in the style of European Renaissance, complete with statues of Roman Greco gods – and added himself at the end.
In this building was the Stirling Heads Exhibition, explaining the heads on the ceiling of the King’s apartments. You can also view the king and queen apartments, where actors dressed in medieval clothes can answer your questions in character.
There is a mirror in one room allowing you to view the heads on the ceiling, which reminded me of the Banqueting Hall in London.
Mary Queen of Scots held a 3 day and 3 night celebration here for the baptism of her son, King James VI. Nobility from Scotland, England, and France came to celebrate the baptism and this was the first recording of fireworks here.
The Great Hall was later refashioned into barracks with multiple floors, then restored to being a hall and open for the public. The roof was restored in medieval fashion with medieval techniques: pins in wood without a nail in sight – pretty impressive.
20 years ago the outside was restored, including lime wash giving it a salmon golden colour, which was what the whole castle would have originally looked like. It was called “King’s gold” to show a monarch’s wealth. But local residents dislike the salmon colour, saying it stands out too much – which is very true indeed.
King James IV married Margaret Tudor (King Henry VIII’s older sister), and their son King James V married Mary of Guise.
King James V was coronated in this chapel as a child, his daughter Mary Queen of Scots was also coronated here aged 9 months, and lived in the palace as a child before marrying.
Her son, King James VI, tore down the chapel and replaced it with a larger and grander chapel that still stands and his son Prince Henry was baptised there.
James VI became King of England, succeeding Elizabeth I and didn’t really return to Scotland and neither did his son Charles I, so Stirling Castle ceased to be a royal residence.
Interestingly, the old chapel was catholic, whilst the new chapel (still standing) was protestant. And what you see now around Stirling Castle was built at different times by the Stuart dynasty.
Queen Anne Gardens
Right near the entrance to the castle is the Queen Anne Gardens. When we visited the grass was a lush green and the flowers were blooming.
You can see the King’s Palace and the forecourt built by James IV. You can also view the outline of the old Kings and Queens Knot Gardens and even the Battle of Bannockburn in the distance. Along one side of these gardens is an exhibition charting a brief history of the Scottish kings and a brief history of the castle itself.
Church of the Holy Rude
Nearby Stirling Castle stands the Church of the Holy Rude. Mary Queen of Scots worshipped here, John Knox preached here, and King James VI was coronated here.
You can stand where King James VI was coronated: there is a floor inscription commemorating the coronation. This church and Westminster Abbey in London are the only churches in Britain that are regularly used for worship where a coronation took place too.
Interestingly, in 1656 following a quarrel between two ministers, a partition was put in to split the church forming the East Church and the West Church, each with their own minister. It was only in 1935 where the two congregations were finally under one minister again – no pressure.
There were lots of colourful stained glass windows. And like the Great Hall in Stirling Castle, the roof is held with oak pegs without a single nail. And the organ here is one of the largest romantic organs in the country.
Old Town Jail
Right by the Church of the Holy Rude is the Old Town Jail. Built in 1847 when the old Tolbooth Jail, also very nearby, became too overcrowded and was rated as the worst prison in Britain.
Later used as a detention barracks, the prison was then abandoned. The Old Town Jail was restored in the 1990s, with a panoramic viewing platform and exhibitions.
The tour was split into two parts: a live performance tour followed by exhibition rooms where you walk around at your own pace. The live performance tour was really interesting, one actor dressed and played out different characters such as a prison inspector, prison guard, and prisoner. There were a couple of technical issues with the speakers but still an enjoyable tour.
We learnt about the separate system, whereby it was thought inmates would negatively influence each other so weren’t allowed to communicate and had separate cells.
The prison was also designed so prisoners could be constantly observed. Illiterate men were taught to read, men who had no trade were taught one, and were paid for their labour.
Women on the other hand, though only attended to by matrons and females to prevent abuse by male guards, were not allowed to be educated and did not get paid for their labour – even though women did all the cooking and cleaning in the prison.
Only 40 years after opening, the prison became a detention barracks for soldiers who stole from offices or were absent without official leave.
We went up to the exercise yard which had some very pretty views and was tiny – back in the day inmates would exercise here one at a time.
The best part of the tour was the top where there were 360 degrees views of Stirling – breath-taking. The inmates wouldn’t have had access to these lovely views back in the day.
It took us just over an hour to visit and the best parts would be the interactive tour and the 360 degrees views of Stirling – definitely worth a visit just for the breath-taking views I think.
A lovely holiday, filled with lots of spectacular views. These main tourist attractions were very conveniently located near each other. If you start your day early, I imagine you could visit all three in one day, whilst we split our visits on different days.