In the first of our guides about great Scottish castles we visit perhaps the grandest of them all: Stirling Castle.
Equidistant between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Stirling Castle stands very tall and boasts one of the best vantage points in Britain. It also offers a unique insight into life at the Royal Scottish Court in the sixteenth century as well as the chance to feast your eyes on stunning architecture, art works and views.
Read on to discover all you need to know about one of the must-see castles in Scotland.
A bit of history
As you make your own grand entrance to Stirling Castle, you’ll see immediately why it sits on this spot. The rocky outcrop, with a height of 76 metres on top of an extinct volcano, dominates the horizon. Its position is also strategic since it lies between the Highlands and Lowlands at the lowest crossing point of the River Forth.
Little wonder that Stirling Castle is known as the “brooch” fastening Scotland together. Or that according to history, whoever held this castle “owned the key to Scotland”.
Local inhabitants have made the most of the natural vantage point since ancient times, but Stirling Castle began its heyday in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The Scots and English fought bitterly over it and, as was the practice at the time, Robert the Bruce had it destroyed so that the English couldn’t reclaim it.
Once Scottish fortresses moved from defence to status symbols, Stirling Castle became one of the monarchs’ favourite castles to stay in Scotland. A succession of three James (IV, V and VI) built the sumptuous palatial buildings, restored to their full former glory today. James IV added the first regal touches with the King’s Old Building in 1496 and James VI completed the final addition almost a century later with the Chapel Royal.
Stirling Castle has always held huge significance for Scottish monarchs. Before the unification of the English and Scottish crowns, all the kings and queens in Scotland either lived in the Castle, were crowned or died there. One of the most famous examples is Mary Queen of Scots who spent her childhood at Stirling and celebrated her coronation there.
During the Wars of Independence, between 1296 and 1356, Stirling Castle changed hands no less than eight times.
Highlights at the castle
Not for nothing is Stirling Castle one of the most visited tourist attractions in Scotland. The list of must-sees within the walls runs long and includes:
- The Great Hall – the largest banqueting hall in Scotland and a lavish feast of gold, and stained glass complete with minstrels’ gallery, more than fit for a king and queen.
- The Royal Palace and Chapel Royal – another delight of sumptuous furnishings and fittings.
- Queen Anne’s Gardens – something of an oasis of peace and quiet with a 200-year-old beech tree.
- The Stirling Tapestries – a £2-million re-creation of tapestries depicting life at Scottish courts. They took 13 years to weave and are based on the Hunt the Unicorn series designed in the Low Countries in the early 16th century and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
- The Stirling Heads Galleries – the medallion heads carved in oak in the 16th century rank among Scotland’s finest art treasures. Measuring a metre across, they depict monarchs and biblical and mythological figures.
The walkways around the Outer Defences of Stirling Castle offer some of the finest viewpoints anywhere in Scotland. Take in the Trossachs in all their Highland beauty to the north and the iconic Forth Bridges to the east in Edinburgh. Down below you lie the remains of the King’s Knot, a formal garden dating back to the 12th century.
Why visit Stirling Castle
This impressive building offers a unique insight into royal castles in Scotland. Exquisite restoration and re-creation of the interiors show the regal residences just as they would have been at the height of James V’s power. Costumed actors mingle with visitors to add to the real feel and an exhibition fully documents the history.
Visit this castle in Scotland and you also get an idea of the importance of castles in the country’s history and heritage. Seeing the imposing building perched on the almost impenetrable volcanic rock showcases the importance of location for castles in Scotland. You get the best idea of Stirling Castle’s exceptional vantage point when you view it from the west.
What is thought to be the world’s oldest football was found behind panelling at Stirling Castle. The ball dates back to 1540 proving that the game goes back centuries. Documents also show that James IV paid two shillings for a bag of ‘fut ballis’ in 1497.
Stirling Castle opens daily all year round between 9.30am and 5pm (6pm from April 1st to September 30th). Tickets cost from £15 (online discounts available). More information can be found here.
The banquet served in the Great Hall for Prince Henry, the son of James VI, has gone down in history as one of the finest ever. The fish course arrived on a model of a ship with masts over 12 metres high and with real canons.
Staying in a castle near Stirling
If you’re planning to visit Stirling, where better to stay than in your very own castle?
This Baronial-style residence comes complete with several striking turrets and sits in 12 acres of private grounds. But the regal treatment really begins once you step inside. A 33-metre drawing room, games room, state-of-the-arts kitchen (including private chef), cinema room, four-poster beds, wine cooler… await all 24 of you alongside some seriously clever Pop Art décor and colour. Take a look for yourself and then book your right royal stay!
Looking for more inspiration for castles to stay in Scotland? Take a look around our website, packed with residences fit for any king and queen.
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