As I started working on this post I realised I’d overload you with information if I tried to include everything in the one post, so this will be an overview and then I’ll do a separate post for the Royal Palace within the Castle (I have shared some photos but have more 😁)
Stirling is in the Central Belt of Scotland and is at the gateway between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. Additionally, rather than Edinburgh, Stirling and its castle was preferred by the Scottish kings, so has always been considered as the seat of the Scottish Monarchy rather than Edinburgh.
Stirling Castle is built on Castle Rock which was originally formed from lava from a volcano which erupted 350 million years ago. The castle itself was probably built in the 11th Century but it is possible that there was a fort on the site 3,000 years ago – prior to the arrival of the Romans in the UK.
The Wars of Independence
Many people have heard of the film Braveheart and William Wallace. Stirling Castle is at the heart of this story with Wallace fighting the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The bridge can be seen from the castle, as can the Wallace Monument.
As well as William Wallace, Stirling is also famous for King Robert I, or as we call him, Robert the Bruce, who defeated the English at Bannockburn in 1314. There is a statue of Robert the Bruce outside of Stirling Castle, and in another photograph it is possible to see the Wallace Monument and Stirling Bridge.
Myth and Magic
Scotland and Unicorns
We visited the castle on the National Unicorn Day, which was being celebrated at the castle, so it was busy with everyone having fun and we were able to see some little visiting unicorns. As the symbol of Scotland and integrated into the Scottish Royal Standard, there are unicorns to be seen everywhere, even on the roof of the Great Hall.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
An English writer from the 15th Century (William of Worcester) identified Stirling Castle as the home of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. I know its unlikely to be real, but if I can believe in Unicorns and the Loch Ness Monster, I’m taking this legend too.
Robert the Bruce and the spider
When Robert the Bruce was fighting the English, but losing, the story goes that he was inspired after watching a spider spinning a web. I’m sure, like many other Scots, as children we’re told this story of the spider, and the idea of never giving up has stuck with me. Bernard Barton’s poem tells us the story of Bruce and the Spider.
So what about the castle itself I hear you asking – ok, here you go:
The Forework and the Outer Close
The Palace is one of the newer buildings within the Castle, being commissioned by James V, but regrettably he died before his new palace was completed and while most of the apartments are well furnished for visitors to view, his bedroom remains unfurnished to reflect the fact that he never occupied it.
The Stirling Unicorn Tapestries are housed within the Palace along with some other interesting features. The Tapestries can be seen in my Unicorns post shared above.
The Stirling Heads are reproductions; the originals are held at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. There is also an Exhibition in the Palace providing information about the Heads
The Great Kitchens
Historic Scotland invested a lot of time renovating the kitchens and they now have exhibits to demonstrate what it would like working in the medieval kitchens. There is also a short video providing some information about food supply and preparation at the time. You are able to wander through the kitchens looking at the exhibits, but I’d suggest a visit to the Cafe if you’re feeling peckish.
The Great Hall
The food from the Great Kitchen needs to go somewhere. In this case it would be delivered to the Great Hall. The Hall was built by James IV and is the largest ever built in Scotland. It was completed in 1503. Personally I’ve attended Gala Dinners here but on our visit it was more focused on providing gala shows and competitions for the unicorn hunters.
The Chapel Royal
The Chapel was built in 1594 for the baptism of the first son of James VI (of Scotland)
The King’s Old Building
This building dates back to the 15th Century and are the work of James IV. We didn’t get a chance to visit (we ran out of time). This building now houses the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, so another building for a return visit.
Castle Cafe – The Unicorn Cafe
A very nice lunch to be had in the cafe. With my membership of Historic Scotland I also received a discount off our food which was delicious. We opted for their Club Sandwich which came with 2 sides. It kept us going until dinner back in Stirling.
It was lovely to spend the day at Stirling Castle. There is so much to see; but the views from the top of Castle Rock and Stirling Castle are also worth checking out. If you’re visiting, I’d suggest a clear day so you can see in the distance.
Return visit required
As I’ve indicated above, I had a great time, but the day just wasn’t long enough to do everything we wanted without rushing and we were enjoying ourselves too much to do that, so a return visit will be made. I imagine there are many hidden treasures that I can explore when I return.
Information contained in this post is drawn from the Historic Scotland (2018) Official Souvenir Guide for Stirling Castle