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Stirling - The Heart of Scotland

by StirlingCastle 15. July 2014 05:34

Once the capital of Scotland, Stirling was the seat of power for some our greatest monarchs and the backdrop to epic battles fought and won by heroes like Wallace and Bruce.   It was strategically and spiritually the heart of Scotland.

Today Stirling is still a great city with so much to see and do, only now the heart comes from the pride and passion that people in the area put in to welcoming visitors from near and far.  If you are planning a visit to the castle this summer why not make a day of it or even plan a break to Scotland’s Heart and experience everything that this historic and vibrant city has to offer.  You won’t be disappointed!

Check out our guide to some of the other attractions and events in the area.

1.  Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre
The brand new Battle of Bannockburn experience puts you in the heart of the action. With cutting edge 3D technology, you can experience medieval combat like never before and learn about this crucial event in Scottish history.

2.  The National Wallace Monument
Recently refurbished, Stirling's renowned landmark, commemorating the life of Sir William Wallace, is a must.  See Wallace’s sword, listen to his trial and climb to the crown where you can enjoy magnificent views. Show your castle ticket for 10% discount on entry.

3. Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park
Spend an exciting day at Scotland's Safari Park. Drive through animal reserves, take a boat trip around Chimp Island or watch amazing sea lion shows and bird of prey displays.  The park also has a pet’s farm, adventure playground and pedal boats.  Fun for all the family guaranteed!

4.  Whisky Galore
Stirling is lucky enough to have two fantastic distilleries.  Deanston Distillery started life as a cotton mill before being transformed into a distillery in 1966 where, to this day, it produces an outstanding Highland single malt whisky using traditional methods. The history of Tullibardine as a location for brewing and distilling is one of the oldest in Scotland. Located in Blackford, the gateway to the Highlands, it was here in 1488 that the young King James 4th of Scotland stopped by on his way to his coronation, to purchase beer from the local brewery. This is recorded as the first public purchase of beer. In 1503 the brewery received the first Royal Charter issued by James IV, in recognition of the fine beer produced at Tullibardine.

5.  Old Town
A quick stroll from the castle, Stirling’s old town boasts the finest concentration of historic buildings in Scotland.  See the remains of Mar’s Wark or visit Scotland’s oldest living Church to have held a coronation (James VI), the Holy Rude. The Tolbooth, now an arts and live music venue has served as a jail, courthouse and even hosted a parliament while Cowane's Hospital, a 17th century almshouse was converted into a guild hall and is currently home to a delightful café. Add some excitement to your visit by joining a Stirling Walking Tour or Ghost Walk.

6. The Macobert Centre
Based at Stirling University, the macrobert is the premier arts centre for Stirling and the Forth Valley and a cultural hub for Scotland. It offers a huge variety of activities with over 400 live performances of drama, comedy, opera, dance, music, musical theatre and art exhibitions. Their cinema – The Norman McLaren filmhouse – screens a year-round programme of blockbusters, arthouse movies, classics, documentaries, world cinema and children’s films.

7.  Highland Fling
Stirling is a magnificent setting for some fantastic events including the ancient pursuit of a Scottish Highland Games.  See how far competitors can toss the caber, enjoy some highland dancing and listen to the stirring sounds of a traditional pipe band.  Also on offer crafts, trade stalls and plenty of fine food and drink.  Bridge of Allan Highland Games takes place on Sunday 3rd August with Stirling Highland Games following a few weeks later on Saturday 16th August.

8. The Smith Art Gallery and Museum
If Stirling is Scotland’s heart, the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum is its soul. All of the special objects and paintings relating to the history and culture of Stirling are gathered here, with the purpose to collect, record, interpret and show the story of Stirling to the world, and the world to Stirling. On permanent display is the burgh seal of Stirling dating back to 1286, the town’s weights and measures and the oldest football in the world found in the rafters of Stirling Castle.

9.  Other Historic Scotland sites
Stirling Castle isn’t the only historic Scotland property in the area.  Doune Castle is just a few miles down the road.  A magnificent monument that has been used as a film setting for Monty Python and the Holy Grail and more recently Outlander.  Meanwhile Castle Campbell is a proper fairytale castle.  Set in the stunning surrounds of the Dollar Glen, it transports you to another time. Consider investing in an Historic Scotland Explorer Pass or Membership if you want to save some money.

10.  Loch Katrine Experience
Loch Katrine, from the gaelic for “highland thief or robber”, is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s special places. Set against the backdrop of the Trossachs, the loch is surrounded by hills, mountains and woodlands. A favourite tourism destination for avid adventurers, international tourists and families throughout the year, many of whom come for a cruise on our famous steamship, Sir Walter Scott.

Destination Stirling has a very good website where you can find out all about Stirling from accommodation to eating out and what’s on. 

Scotland’s People

by StirlingCastle 9. July 2014 10:03

Ancestry is something very close to the heart of a lot of our visitors and a major reason that many people visit Scotland.  This is why it is one of the five pillars of Homecoming 2014.

To prepare Historic Scotland staff for an influx of enquiries, Iain Ferguson from Scotland’s People has been delivering a series of seminars so that our teams can advise visitors on how to research their Scottish Ancestry and maybe even start compiling their own family tree.

Scotland’s People has all the key Scottish records from birth, marriage and death records, to wills, census records, Coats of Arms and valuation rolls. The main National Records Building  in Edinburgh Princes Street is a great place to start. A full or part day at the centre costs just £15 and gives a great introduction to the process as well as access to researchers that can help with  individual enquiries. There are additional family centres located at Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Hawick and Inverness.  

For those that can’t make it along to one of the above centres, you can also do your research online.  Registration is free and you can search the indexes for the Coats of Arms and wills and testament records for no charge. To view the other records you need to purchase credits but these are very reasonably priced.

So if you are interested in finding out more about your Scottish roots now’s the time to start.

For more information about ScotlandsPeople and how to book a search place at the Centre in Edinburgh visit

Historic Scotland has also produced a brochure that features some of the major Scottish Clans and properties in our portfolio relating to them.  You can view or download our Family Footsteps brochure from our website.

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Bannockburn 700

by StirlingCastle 24. June 2014 05:37

Stirling Castle has changed beyond recognition since it formed the backdrop to one of the most famous battles in British history. Nothing now remains above ground of its buildings as they were in 1314. But even today, a simple look from the castle ramparts brings home just how crucial the place was for control of the country. Guarding an important crossing on a major river, Stirling was one of the most strategically important sites in medieval Scotland.

Robert I, better known as Robert the Bruce, had been fighting to rid his kingdom of enemies, foreign and domestic, since seizing the throne in 1306. By the time of Bannockburn, he had managed to bring most of the kingdom under his control. Bruce surely hoped to retake Stirling without a major confrontation. But with the English king, Edward II, marching his army north, it seemed almost inevitable that the two forces would meet in pitched battle. This was something Bruce had been careful to avoid.

We don’t know the exact size of the opposing armies who met on 23 and 24 June 1314. The best estimates suggest that Bruce’s forces were made up of around 6,000 infantry and spears, with only a few heavy horse. The English army, by contrast, had nearly 3,000 cavalry, around 14,000 infantry and 2,000 archers. The day was not going to be won for the Scots by weight of numbers.

Nor can we pinpoint the precise location of the battle. Archaeological evidence is limited and we have to rely on written accounts, which are often unreliable at best. The main Scottish source is The Bruce, an epic poem by John Barbour, which wasn’t written until 60 years after the battle.

Sources do seem to agree that the landscape played a key part in Bruce’s victory. The terrain was not suited to the cavalry charge usually deployed by the English. The cavalry’s manoeuvres were limited, so the English infantry could not get through to engage the Scots forces.

Bruce’s tactics also reduced the effectiveness of the English cavalry. The Scottish king organised his forces into schiltrons. These were hedgehog-like formations of spearmen, designed to resist cavalry charges. William Wallace had used similar formations at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298.

Unlike Wallace, Bruce kept his schiltrons mobile, allowing them to respond to attacks more effectively. Significantly, Bruce was also popular with his troops. By contrast, Edward II was only just recovering from a period of strong opposition from his lords. He had also appointed an experienced military commander, the 8th Earl of Gloucester, to lead some of his forces.  But rather than follow the earl’s advice, Edward accused him of cowardice, and insisted on a cavalry charge before the English archers could unleash their full power on the Scots.

We have no definite statistics regarding casualties, and no skeleton of a Bannockburn victim has ever been positively identified. The closest we have to a Bannockburn soldier is the male skeleton recovered during excavations at Stirling Castle. Radiocarbon dating places him in the 1200s or 1300s.  There is no evidence to place him at the battle, but he had certainly sustained wounds in his lifetime of a kind suffered by those on the field.

Everyone knows that the Scots emerged victorious from Bannockburn, so they probably suffered fewer casualties than the English. But while Bruce won the day, he hadn’t yet won the war. It may have been a different story if he’d been able to capture Edward II before he fled to England: the English king would have been a valuable hostage.

As it was, it would be another 14 years before the English acknowledged Bruce as king of Scots. And the peace agreed in 1328 was short-lived. Bruce died in in 1329, and in 1332, war broke out again, with Edward III supporting a rival claimant to the Scottish throne. The Wars of Independence would continue for a further 25 gruelling years.

Dr Nicki Scott
Cultural Resources Advisor

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