Today marks the beginning of a new “series” of sorts. While I was in Scotland, I travelled the country extensively and really got to know the essence of the beautiful land that made up my temporary home. I visited many cities, towns, parks, and villages, and did countless hikes. I feel like I have enough knowledge now to talk about the different places I visited, and to give tips for those who may have an interest. So, you are about to witness the birth of what I’m calling “The Scottish Bucket List” (If you can think of a better name for the series, please let me know in the comments below).
The first city on the bucket list is the one I called my home for nearly four months: Stirling. Lying in between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Stirling is the perfect city to visit on a day trip or – if you have more time – over a few days in order to enjoy it more fully. There are countless reasons why I fell in love with this wonderful city. The people are extremely friendly and helpful, it’s big while not feeling overcrowded, and there is tons of stuff to do. The history alone makes it worth visiting; The Battle of Stirling Bridge and The Battle of Bannockburn, what some consider to be the two most important battles in Scottish history, took place in and around what now makes up Stirling city. Mary, Queen of Scots lived in Stirling Castle for a period, and the tomb of King James III and his wife Margaret can be found in the ruins of Cambuskenneth Abbey. The Wallace Monument looms over the city, acting as a beacon at night when it is lit up, and the Dumyat Mountain provides a lovely hike for the outdoorsy type. The things listed below are some of my favourite things available to do in Stirling, but this is not by any means a comprehensive list. Explore, and add some on!
Towering over the city from the top of a hill, Stirling Castle is one of the most obvious landmarks. My flat was about a 15 minute walk from the castle, and my flatmates and I used to walk up there at night sometimes and sit on the castle wall, our feet dangling over the edge. I have a lot of memories there, and would sometimes even walk there alone at night in order to think. It’s definitely the place that I visited the most (aside from the university and the train station), even though I only went inside twice.
Firstly, it has an important role in Scottish history. It was the childhood home of Mary, Queen of Scots, and though its importance was at its highest in the 1500s, there has been a fortification of one sort or another on the cliff since centuries before. There is a wonderful view from the ramparts, one that I never got tired of.
Unlike many castles of its kind, Stirling Castle is accessible to wheelchairs, with a lift allowing visitors in wheelchairs or who have difficulty climbing stairs reach the second level. There is also an amazing section dedicated to kids that allow children to really interact with the site and learn something from their visit. The inside of the castle is really cool. Much of it has been repainted, but the tapestries hanging on the walls are stunning. Harry Potter fans with a keen eye might recognize the tapestry shown below, as it was used in the Room of Requirement scenes in the sixth movie.
Visit the website for Stirling Castle here.
The Wallace Monument
Most people who know the movie Braveheart will recognize the name William Wallace. He is a Scottish hero who had a pivotal role in the Wars of Scottish Independence. He is most well-known for his defeat of an English Army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, but in recent years has been pictured as Mel Gibson in a kilt. His importance to Scottish heritage is much more than that, and it can be seen in the 246-step monument built to commemorate him in 1869. There are three different rooms on the way up that offer a different glimpse into Scottish history. You can see the actual Wallace Sword, which is pretty cool, and learn about other influential Scots who have made an imprint on the world. The view from the top, however, is what it’s all about. You see a 360-degree view of Stirling in all its beauty.
Here is a view of the Wallace Monument on Abbey Craig from below:
You can visit the Wallace Monument website here.
Old Stirling Bridge
A discussion on William Wallace transitions naturally to Old Stirling Bridge. The bridge that remains today is not the same bridge that Wallace would have defended in 1297, but it rests on approximately the same spot. I went there quite a bit, as it was about a five-minute walk from my flat.
It is a beautiful piece of human craftsmanship, and has a gorgeous view over the River Forth, which runs through much of Stirlingshire in Scotland’s Central Belt. Today it is used as a footbridge, as it is neither wide enough nor strong enough (probably) to support the weight of dozens of cars. The first time I went to see it was on my third or fourth day in Scotland. It was evening, and there was a beautiful sunset. The aura was really dreamy. As we were leaving to go back to our flat, we heard the clip-clop of horseshoes against cobble stones. Turning back, we saw two police officers riding horses across the bridge! As a horse-back rider, this was really cool to see and made it an experience that I will probably never forget. Out-of-the-blue things seemed to happen all the time when I was in Scotland, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Cambuskenneth Abbey lies in the village of the same name, which is a borough of Stirling. It’s a bit underrated, and not normally included in “to-do” lists in Stirling because it is a bit off the beaten path. Sometimes, though, such things are hidden gems – and this statement is definitely true for Cambuskenneth Abbey. All that remains today are the ruins of what was once a grand church, as well as a single tower. There is something about visiting ruins that sends a tingle down my spine. To think that people were married there, worshipped there, and were buried there – and that all remains is a single tower and foundations – is odd to think about. You can really see the effect of time at this site.
The site of the abbey has been beautifully preserved, and is much larger than one could expect. Following all of the paths will lead you past a maintenance building where you get a pretty view of the River Forth through the field shown below:
When I visited a few days into my exchange, we saw a tomb towards the back of the property. Wondering who it belonged to, we made our way over and, to our surprise, saw that it was the tomb of James III of Scotland and his wife, Margaret of Denmark. It was a really random and yet cool discovery to make – you’re walking along, exploring, and suddenly you come across the tomb of a king long gone.
Here is some more information about Cambuskenneth Abbey.
University of Stirling
It might seem random for me to suggest visiting a university campus. If it were Oxford or Cambridge or St. Andrews, it would make sense. But the University of Stirling is only 50 years old, so why should you bother going? Simply put, the campus is freaking gorgeous. There’s a loch called Airthrey that runs through the centre, and walking trails all around it that provide a wonderful place for a walk.
While you’re walking around Airthrey Loch, you might come across Airthrey Castle (pictured below). Yes, the university that I attended while in Scotland has a freaking castle on campus. It’s now used for class, but the building remains gorgeous and is next to the uni golf course if you fancy a put!
When you buy a ticket to Stirling Castle, the entrance fee also includes a visit to Argyll’s Lodging, which is a short walk from the castle. If you are walking to the castle from the city centre, you will pass the Lodging on your way up Castle Wynd. It’s official website calls it “Scotland’s most splendid and complete example of a 17th century townhouse.” That’s all a matter of opinion, but the building is gorgeous. The colour is beautiful – it’s almost pink, in a way, but has this rustic feel that is hard to explain. The turrets make it look like a palace from a fairy tale, even though its much smaller. It doesn’t take long to visit, so why not stop in? Learn more here.
Church of the Holy Rude and Old Town Stirling
When you’re visiting Stirling Castle and Argyll’s lodging, it is worth taking some time to explore old town Stirling. Why not take a break and have a coffee in the house of Lord Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots?
You could also visit Church of the Holy Rude, and admire a view of Stirling Castle from its eerie graveyard. It’s an amazing place to go at night, and if you visit around Halloween there are ghost tours you can partake in. Fun even for a local!
Right next to Holy Rude you’ll find Mars Wark, a sixteenth century building of which there only remains the outer wall and a few prison cells. I don’t have any decent pictures, sadly.
One thing I love about Scottish cities is that there is normally some sort of hiking opportunity. I grew to love hiking in Scotland, and one of the first hikes I wanted to do (and didn’t end up doing until about two and a half months in) was Dumyat Mountain just outside of Stirling. It’s not super difficult, but the view from the top is worth it. I did it around sunset on a clear day with puffy clouds, and the result was worth it:
Getting to the start of the trail can be tricky, so here are some directions. Take the bus to the first stop at the University, and then go back to the main road and follow it until you get to Sheerifmuir Road. Follow it and you will eventually find yourself at the base of the trail. When we hiked it, there were a bunch of cars parked around so it was not difficult to know where to start. It was a lot of uphill work, so I thought that I was going to end up turning around – but I’m glad I didn’t. The view took my breath away.
Here is Dumyat from below:
I hope that this post makes you want to visit Stirling and admire the city that I called home for four months. I wouldn’t have wanted to live in any other city and, while I will probably never live there again, I will definitely be back in the future.
Happy travels, and see you at the next place on the bucket list!