Considered the “gateway to the Highlands,” Stirling, Scotland is home to a great deal of rich history. Here, William Wallace defeated British foes in the Wars of Independence. Here, Mary, Queen of Scots, spent her childhood. Here, Bonnie Prince Charlie camped with his army after suffering defeat in England. And here, I have made my home for the next 11 weeks. As a history major, my priority after landing was obviously to absorb as much local history as I possibly could before classes started. In two days, I covered the top three historical sites in Stirling.
I began with the Battle of Bannockburn, a conflict between Edward II, the king of England, and Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, in June 1314. While there is no “museum,” in the proper sense of the word, the Bannockburn Centre boasts a magnificent 3D program that guides visitors through the battle and even allows them to try their hand at commanding the Scottish and British armies in a simulation game. The battle was a crucial point in the Wars of Independence – Robert the Bruce proved his dedication to making Scotland an independent kingdom by defeating a force much larger than his own and sending Edward II scurrying back to England. An imposing statue of Bruce stands on the battlefield in honor of his success and of the fallen heroes of Bannockburn.
Rewind a few years to September 1297. During this particular autumn, William Wallace and Andrew Moray proved their valor and cunning at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, defeating the English army and preventing them from entering northern Scotland. The National Wallace Monument, which can be seen from every direction on my beautiful campus, was erected in 1869. An austere symbol, the monument houses several Wallace artifacts, including the Wallace Sword. Resting points along the 246-step stairway are cleverly disguised as exhibit rooms, providing the history of the battle and of Wallace himself. The monument itself sits atop Abbey Craig, where Wallace and Moray observed the gathering of Edward’s troops below.
Visitors have the option to either hike to the monument or take a bus. If you aren’t up for a 15-minute hike plus 246 stairs, I recommend the bus.
The most obvious piece of history in the city is Stirling Castle. Built in the 11th century, the castle overlooks the city from its perch on a formidable volcanic rock, suitably called Castle Hill. The castle is accessible via the main route through Old Town Stirling or the Back Walk, which was the path followed by servants and lowly merchants who did regular business at the castle (a taxing climb, but worth the effort). The historical significance of the castle cannot be exaggerated – Scottish kings and queens made Stirling Castle their home for centuries and it was the focal point of many medieval battles. All of its dense history is knowledgeably discussed by friendly tour guides and portrayed through beautiful and informative exhibits.
Stirling is a dream come true for a history nerd like myself, and though I still have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to the area’s rich history, I feel I’ve laid a good foundation with the Bannockburn Experience, the National Wallace Monument, and Stirling Castle.
The world awaits…discover it.