Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes you can’t remember a thought that popped into your head 5 minutes, but you can remember the first time Braveheart came on TV and you actually were allowed to watch (most of) it. I remember thinking how beautiful the scene was where Wallace courts Murron. They ride through a glen and up a mountain and end looking out over a loch. I wanted to go there.
Braveheart was my first introduction to Scotland. I of course learned the proper history behind the Hollywood version and understand that it is terribly inaccurate, but it was where it all began for me. That being said, things related to William Wallace were at the top of my list of things to do in Scotland. If you find yourself of a similar mentality, then Stirling is the place for you!
We made our journey to Stirling after a sunrise view of Dunnotar Castle, nap, breakfast and a walk on the grounds of St. Andrew’s Cathedral. It had already been a full day, but the main items on our itinerary were The Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle.
The National Wallace Monument sits on top of Abbey Craig and is the location William Wallace and Robert de Moray would have stood while planning their attack on the British who had set up camp at Stirling Castle. The visitor’s center doesn’t have nearly enough parking for the popularity of the place, so plan to be patient and make many circles, or plan to walk or take the bus in. We knew we would be exerting ourselves to get to the top, so we opted for patience and circled three times before we were lucky enough to find a spot.
Restorative works were being completed ahead of their 150th anniversary of the completion of the monument while we were there. Because we couldn’t see the ornate carvings on the exterior of the monument and the keepers lodge was closed, our ticket was discounted. Purchase your tickets in the visitors center or at the base of the monument and choose to either walk up the interpretive trail to the top of the craig or wait for their shuttle bus. We walked up the steep paths of “The Wallace Way”, which tell the history of the site in wood carvings. It was worth skipping the line waiting for the bus.
Once you get to the base of the monument, the views are pretty stellar. We caught our breath from our hike, and prepared to climb the 246 steps to the top. The stairs are narrow and spiral up and up and up. We were happy to take a minute every now and then to admire the masonry. There are 5 floors to break up the climb and boy did we need to stop and catch our breath! The three middle floors of the tower house exhibits, including William Wallace’s broadsword. At the top, panoramic views overlook the riverbanks where the famous Stirling Bridge victory took place. Across the way, Stirling Castle gleams in it’s “goldwash”. Feeling accomplished that is where we made our way to next, despite the rain moving in.
Roundabout after roundabout, we made it to Stirling. The rain started and the crowds cleared out, leaving Stirling almost empty for us. We took the walking tour with the castle guide and boy was it worth it! He was very informative and passionate about Stirling.
While Edinburgh castle gets more attention than Stirling, one could argue Stirling had a bigger part to play in history. Stirling at one time was the seat of government in Scotland, due to its more central location. It had been said that whoever held Stirling, held Scotland. Because of this, the castle changed hands many times over the years, including being taken from the English by William Wallace. The coronation of baby Mary Queen of Scots was at Stirling. James IV, who later became James I, was raised here and made it his show castle. It was painted gold, to be seen from miles away and to show off his wealth. Everything was ornate, decorated beautifully and intricately.
We hit all of the highlights of the castle including the Stirling Tapestries also known as The Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries, The Stirling Heads, the Great Hall (the largest of its kind, bigger than even Edinburgh’s) and then wandered the grounds looking for the places where Ben’s dad had taken some pictures when he had been there in the late 80’s early 90’s.
This brought us to seek out the tour guide again, 1 on 1 his passion shown even more. He took us to some places he typically leaves out of the tour, but loves to show off if people ask. Our favorite stop like this was an arrow carved into a wall, but when it was carved and for what purpose no one knows. He also helped us recreate one of the photos Dad took. It was a very personal feeling castle and we left only when they started unlocking the gates to let people out after last entry. Anyone who finds themselves in Scotland should make it a priority to visit Stirling.