Helen Rose’s Outdoor Diary: Stirling
Six Mile Walk with Glasgow Ramblers, June 2022
It has been said that ‘Stirling, like a huge brooch clasps Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland together. And he who holds Stirling holds Scotland.’ It is in central Scotland and the lowest bridging point on the River Forth. It is full of ancient royal history and interesting architecture. Architects and craftsmen constructed Stirling over many centuries. Although it is not known who designed or constructed early buildings, from the later 19th century, the architectural profession expanded and became very influential in the styles adopted. The distinctive buildings of the Victorian and Edwardian eras were designed by several notable architects. There is so much to see in Stirling, I will just give a flavour of it. We travelled by train from Glasgow for a six mile walk organised by Glasgow Ramblers.
Old High School
After leaving Stirling station we headed up towards the Old High School. The building is now Stirling Highland Hotel. It has the signs of the Zodiac carved in the stone around the front archway. In 1889 Sir Henry Campbell Bannermann (who later went on to become prime minister in 1905) gifted the school as an observatory. To this day the observatory is still in great working condition on the hotel rooftop and is often toured by hotel guests as well as local guides, scouts and cubs. The hotel works closely with the Astronomical Society who is able to use the 130-year old telescope and offer tours on a voluntary basis. Unfortunately, we did not have time for the tour but it is a good reason to come back.
Church of the Holy Rude
Standing near Stirling Castle, the Church of the Holy Rude is one of the town’s most historically important buildings. Founded in 1129, it is the second oldest building in the city after the castle. It was rebuilt in the 15th century after Stirling suffered a catastrophic fire in 1405. It is reputed to be the only surviving church in the United Kingdom to have held a coronation, apart from Westminster Abbey. We did not tour the castle due to lack of time.
Old Town Jail
Stirling Old Town Jail was built in 1847 when the old Tolbooth Jail became too overcrowded and was rated as the worst prison in Britain. Each prisoner was fed, a rare luxury for those incarcerated in the Tolbooth. Each convict was assigned their own cell, according to William Brebner’s ‘Separate System’, to encourage reflection and repentance and every effort was made to reform and rehabilitate Stirling’s rogues. It was a palace compared to the Tolbooth but conditions were grim by our modern standard. There was a strict regime of solitude, labour, coarse food and discomfort. Stirling’s prison until 1888, it served as Scotland’s only Military Detention Barracks until 1935. There are tours available.
The walk continued behind the castle to other interesting sights.
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 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 and the wolf appears with a goshawk on the Council’s coat of arms along with the recently chosen motto: ‘Steadfast as the Rock’.
We came across teasel bushes at the path behind the castle . The teasel is a tall plant, often reaching the height of a person. They have thorns all the way up their stems and a cone-like flower head that gives the plant the impression of an oversized cotton bud. The cloth industry used teasels to raise the nap after the cloth had been washed.
Robert the Bruce
Robert I, known as Robert the Bruce, was the king of the Scots who secured Scotland’s independence from England. Robert was born in 1274 into an aristocratic Scottish family. Through his father he was distantly related to the Scottish royal family. His mother had Gaelic antecedents. Bruce’s grandfather was one of the claimants to the Scottish throne during a succession dispute in 1290 – 1292. The English king, Edward I was asked to arbitrate and chose John Balliol to be king. Both Bruce and his father refused to back Balliol and supported Edward I’s invasion of Scotland in 1296 to force Balliol to abdicate. Edward then ruled Scotland as a province of England. Bruce then supported William Wallace’s uprising against the English. After Wallace was defeated, Bruce’s lands were not confiscated and in 1298, Bruce became a guardian of Scotland.
Kings Knot Garden
The Kings Knot Garden is the Royal Pleasure Gardens. The King’s Park is first mentioned in 1190. The ‘Aulde’ park was enlarged by a ‘Neu’ park in 1264, from which point the park was enclosed and managed for deer and fox hunting. The park had a major period of development between 1490 and 1508, with the creation of ditches, fish-pools, a vegetable garden and orchards. More than 1,000 trees were planted in 1497. But when the court moved south in 1603, the gardens became neglected and overgrown. The earthworks known as the King’s Knot were laid out in the King’s Park in anticipation of the ‘hamecoming’ of Charles I. William Watts was sent from London to be the ‘Maister Gairdiner to his Majestie at the Castell of Stirling’, where he was ‘platting and contriving his Majesties new orchard and gardein’. The works took place in 1627–9; Charles I eventually received his Scottish coronation in 1633.
It was then a walk up Mote Hill for lunch and good views on the top. The Beheading Stone sits atop the hill. The origins of the stone are unknown but according to local legend, the stone was used for beheadings in the 15th century. An ancient Pictish Fort once stood on top of the hill. This area became the place where King James 1 enemies were dispatched.
We crossed Stirling Bridge over the River Forth where the Battle of Stirling Bridge was fought as the First War of Scottish Independence. In September 1297, the forces of Andrew Moray and William Wallace defeated the combined English forces of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, and Hugh de Cressingham.
We walked out to Cambuskenneth Abbey which was founded in about 1140 by King David I to serve Stirling Castle which stands a short distance to the west. It was the scene of Robert the Bruce’s parliaments in 1314 and 1326, and the burial place of James III and Margaret of Denmark in the 1480s. The abbey’s chief delight is the bell tower and there are no parallels for this structure in Scotland. It’s an excellent example of 1200s architecture, with good lancet windows and ornamental arcades.
Phone Box and Bridge
On the way back to the station we passed an iconic Red Phone Box used as an honesty library. They started as a way to save these iconic red telephone boxes from being removed and destroyed but they have turned into something very special to their local communities. The red telephone box, as a public telephone was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and is a familiar sight on the streets of the United Kingdom, Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar.
Approaching the station we crossed a bridge called the Forthside Bridge but nicknamed the Spiky Bridge. It reminded me of the Queensferry Crossing over the River Forth near Edinburgh.
This was a great trip to Stirling with so much to see and thanks to Catherine for organising it.
Coming attraction. English Lakes, Coniston.
This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary, Pat's Home Page Blog, Walks
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