Today we have a guest post by travel writer Robin McKelvie, who recently took some young visitors for a trip to the castle. Here's how they got on.
Ask most people to name a Scottish city with a rugged castle sitting spectacularly atop a towering volcano at its heart and the chances are that they will think of Edinburgh. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Edinburgh’s world famous castle, but up the M9 in Stirling another remarkable fortification awaits in one of Scotland’s newest cities, as I found out when I took my young family to Stirling Castle for the first time.
Fun for All the Family
Stirling Castle for me manages to be all things to all people. I swept around learning more about its military history, both medieval and more modern in the form of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who were garrisoned here until 1964. My wife enjoyed learning more about the magnificent Unicorn tapestries as well as watching enthralled as the workers in the Tapestry Studio worked on the next panel.
This was the first time I’d been with kids and it couldn’t have worked better for my two wee girls, as well as the couple of their pals and the brace of cousins we’d brought along to really road test Stirling Castle for families. We spent five hours here, but we discovered you really could easily spend all day.
A Fairytale Castle for Kids to Explore
Stirling Castle is every bit the fairytale castle perched on top of a craggy hill that Disney executives are so fond of. Our little minds spent the day wrapped in dreams of kings, queens and brave knights as they made their way around exploring the nooks and crannies of this massive attraction.
Just after entering their first temptation was the Queen Anne Garden. They raced around the lawn in front of the ramparts as the grown-ups took a little breather and admired the view out to the Trossachs. It feels like every time you peer out over the ramparts at Stirling Castle there seems to be an epic view stretching before you and that’s because there is.
Retreating inside to avoid a wee shower we found ourselves in the Castle Exhibition, which not only told much of the history of the castle and of various periods of Stuart dynasty intrigue, but also harboured an interactive skeleton that had the kids’ minds boggling.
Heading into the Vaults
It was time to head off now to an even more hands-on experience in the Palace Vaults. They are split into five parts - Painter, Carver, Tailor, Musician and Jester - each with its own brand of visual trickery and hands on things for the wee ones to enjoy.
Our group quickly became kings, queens and courtiers enthusiastically throwing on period garb and showing off their new attire in the large mirrors. They giggled with other children, but at the same time learned to appreciate how people once dressed in a way that was far more vivid than any lesson in school.
Lunch with a Unicorn and Stirling Castle’s Great Hall
We popped into the Unicorn Café for lunch and were glad to find a lot more than just excellent sandwiches. The grown ups tucked into pan-fried salmon served with samphire and tomatoes, or breaded Scottish chicken with potato wedges. The kids enjoyed their little lunch boxes before we came together for home baking to finish.
Refreshed, we pushed on to the spectacularly refurbished Great Hall. This for me is the grandest medieval hall left standing in Scotland. Its sheer scale and grandeur speaks volumes for the power and the ambition of the Stuart dynasty. Visitors young and old alike find it hard to resist the temptation to sit at the head table in the thrones and live out their king and queen fantasies. Our circus of children were no exception.
The castle’s palace has been quite beautifully refurbished as part of a £12 million project. This renaissance gem is no more mere museum piece as its hallowed rooms today once again echo with life. On our visit a troop of actors were on hand in each to tell their own stories and add colour to the history. My wee daughters were fascinated by the actors, especially the jester with his ‘funny guitar’.
A Final Family Flourish
We ended our visit with the kids embarking on one of the History Hunters Children’s Tours. Handily these tours, which run every day during the summer holidays and at weekends the rest of the year, are included in the admission price. They last for twenty minutes, which is just about the right time before wee ones have a chance to get bored. Not that being swept around a castle by a character in period costume could ever really be called boring!
Edinburgh Castle may be the mighty fortress most people think of when it comes to castles in the heart of Scottish cities. Stirling Castle, though, has plenty of charms of its own to offer and my troupe of children left with huge smiles on their faces and swirling dreams of ancient kings and queens alive in their keen minds.
Buy your tickets to Stirling Castle online
Read more visitor tips for Historic Scotland sites from Robin McKelvie on The Chain Mail