Monday, 24 January 2011

Stirling in Winter

This is Staneybreeks. He stands proud on the belltower of George Cowane's 17th century hospital. When he hears the bells of Hogmanay - so parents tell their credulous children - he dances a wee jig. Any child who stays up late enough on Hogmanay is liable to disprove this story. On confronting their parents, they are told, with devastating adult logic, the obvious truth: auld Staneybreeks has stood under the bells for so long he has gone deaf.

Eastern approach to Stirling:

We are in Stirling's Old Town. Like Edinburgh, old Stirling consists of a castle on a rock with a medieval town straggling down the slope behind. In many ways Stirling's old town is more historic than Edinburgh's - here is the Earl of Mar's Wark, here is Argyll's lodging, the medieval Kirk of the Holy Rude and Stirling Brig, the strategic river crossing which split Scotland in two. However Edinburgh's Old Town is larger, better preserved and more bustling than Stirling's, which has some jarring modern obtrusions in the streetscape.

Old Town streetscape:

Yet somehow you are closer to authentic history at Stirling, which retains a small-town and resolutely uncosmopolitan feel. It is dominated by its castle, beseiged innumerable times from pre-history to 1746. During the Wars of Independence it was the last Scottish castle to fall to Edward I (in 1304), and was the last to return to the Scottish liberators, in 1314 - thanks to the battle of Bannockburn. Alexander I and William I died here in the 12th and 13th centuries, and most of the Stuart kings had an intimate relationship with Stirling Castle, the Scottish Windsor.

Castle from Holy Rude graveyard:

James I made Stirling his base on return from captivity in England in 1424 - he'd been captured at sea - and exacted his revenge on his uncle, the Duke of Albany, who had ruled in his name and made no attempt to have him ransomed or released. James II also contributed to the dramatic history of the castle by his 1452 stabbing to death, in a fit of rage, his over-mighty subject the 8th Earl of Douglas at Stirling.

The walls of Stirling are not especially stout: the nature of the rock on which it stands provided much of the defensive requirement, and the buildings inside include a renaissance palace.

On the ramparts:

View from the ramparts:

On our visit it was freezing, the cold slowly accumulating from our toes and fingertips to our core and making itself at home there. We got out of the cold for a while to visit the regimental museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who fought across the globe for the British Empire, then went back out into the cold and into the great hall. The great hall was unheated but, as part of a programme of events, actors playing Victoria and Albert and their entourage were touring the castle in a recreation of Victoria's first visit to Scotland in the 1840s. A band sat in the corner of the hall and played a couple of tunes. A major domo requested that the gathered crowd join in a dance with 'Victoria and Albert', and, with the other tourists, we warmed ourselves up with a waltz and a country dance, cheeks glowing with exercise and delight!

Part of the renaissance block:

The main attraction in the castle, the renaissance palace block, is closed for refurbishment: once it opens this summer the castle will be a must-visit for any Scotophile. It will also be a bit warmer than in winter!


blueskyscotland said...

I Have always prefered Stirling Castle over Edinburgh castle.Its half the price and feels more genuine somehow.Nice pics.The one from the railway line is a belter

Robert Craig said...

>>I Have always prefered Stirling Castle over Edinburgh castle.Its half the price

Spoken like a true Scot!

Robert Craig said...

Stirling castle also seems more like it was in the old days. When you approach Stirling across the Carse of Forth, from Gargunnock, the castle on the rock rises up above the plain, uninterrupted. There's no suburbs to negotiate first like you get with Edinburgh castle.