FolkestoneJack's Tracks


Posted in Scotland, Stirling by folkestonejack on June 10, 2013

In the castle stakes we moved up a few notches today, visiting Stirling Castle – an easy day trip from Edinburgh (just fifty minutes by train). It is a fascinating site to explore – you have all the incredible artristry that you might expect to find in a Royal residence but you also have the parallel story of a castle that was besieged and fought over throughout history. Quite a combination.

The Great Hall in Stirling Castle

The Great Hall in Stirling Castle

The castle is quite simply stunning – the Great Hall, Royal Chapel and Royal Lodgings are incredible spaces to explore – but the highlights for me were the Stirling Heads and the Unicorn Tapestries (depicting the hunt of the unicorn) that have been replicated as part of the recreated Royal lodgings of James V and Mary of Guise.

The Stirling Heads were a series of 16th century carved heads that decorated the ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall until it collapsed. The ceiling was dismantled around 1777 and the heads dispersed – some were later destroyed and others are missing. Thankfully, the wife of one of the deputy governors had the foresight to seek out and create a record of all the heads whilst they were still in existence.

Today, you can visit a fascinating gallery displaying some of the surviving heads along with an explanation of their history and significance. A re-creation of the ceiling in the King’s Inner Hall leaves you in no doubt that this must have been an awe-inspiring sight for any visitor and how lowly most would have been made to feel in the company of the great figures depicted (which included Hercules, Roman Emperors, Scottish Kings, Charles V, Mary of Guise and Henry VIII).

It was pretty clear that we underestimated how long you need in Stirling to do the place any justice. Our visit to the castle lasted a good three and a half hours, although that allowed for only a quick whizz around the Regimental Museum of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and we would really have liked a longer visit to appreciate the artefacts on display there. Nevertheless, we packed alot into our limited time – joining one of the tours of Argyll Lodging House and taking a good look around the nearby Old Town Cemetery.

The Old Town Cemetery was one of the unexpected highlights of our trip. The cemetery sits in the shadow of the castle and is home to some distinctive monuments, such as the Star Pyramid (also known as the Covenanters Memorial) and the Martyrs Monument.

Martyrs Monument

The Martyrs Monument

This striking memorial is impossible to miss when you enter the cemetery. It commemorates the martyrdom of the 18 year old covenanter Margaret Wilson who died for her religious beliefs on 11th May 1685 – horrifically tied to a stake on the Solway Firth and left to drown on the incoming tide. In the monument Margaret Wilson can be seen reading the Bible to her younger sister Agnes, whilst her guardian angel shows her despair.

Stirling is a fantastic place to visit, but probably needs at least two days to cover properly. There are plenty of sights that we didn’t even attempt to see, such as the National Wallace Monument and the Church of the Holy Rude. It would also have been great to get down to the formal gardens below the castle and get a better sense of how it dominates the landscape (something that you don’t really see when you approach from the town centre). I think we will have to go back someday…


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