Sunday 5 May 2019

Stirling in Spring

Cherry blossoms, Stirling riverside:

Cherry blossom season - one of my favourite times of year. And on the BBC website they had a cherry blossom special. I love the long avenues of it in Helensburgh, the colourful drifts of pink confetti in Edinburgh's The Meadows, the trees lining the Dollar Burn in Dollar, the stately trees at Scone Palace. The first picture in the article linked above was from the River Forth in Stirling. "Shall we go for a walk along the Forth and see if we can find the cherry blossom?" I asked on a beautful spring day, and so we went for an explore.

Cherry blossoms from the Cambuskenneth side of the Forth:

I had no idea whereabouts on the Forth we'd find the cherry blossom, so we parked in an industrial estate to the east of the town and went for an explore. The woodland flowers were out, celandines and wood sorrel and bluebells, a delight to see on the path that hugs the winds of the Forth, its exposed banks of esturine mud glistening in the sun. At Riverside we had to move inland away from the riverbank, but came back to it through new housing and arrived at a footbridge over the Forth. The blossom was just beyond! But - where did the footbridge lead? To Cambuskenneth, a quiet place vibrating with history but where I'd never visited. We took the short detour to the abbey ruins.

Cambuskenneth street:

Here, Bruce held a Parliament after Bannockburn. Here, James III and his queen Margaret were buried. But most vitally, in sight of Edward I's siege of Stirling Castle, the last stronghold of the Scottish patriots in 1304, Bruce and Bishop Lamberton made a secret pact to make Bruce king on Edward's death, effectively deposing the descendants of King John - who Edward had banished to the Tower of London and then to his ancestral estates in France - from ever ruling Scotland again.

But on this fine spring day the abbey ruins provided a nice spot for a picnic lunch, a couple of groups of young people with the same idea.

Cambuskenneth Abbey bell tower:

We walked along the river bank enjoying the cherry blossom, the Wallace Monument in the distance, until we came to Old Stirling Bridge. I had driven past here hundreds of times as a child visiting family, but never once stopped!

Stirling Bridge:

It has a similar construction to the Brig o'Don in Aberdeen, and here there were more sunbathers and picnicers, the spot busier though thanks to the main road nearby. A heron quartered the banks and people strolled over the bridge, basking in the fine April weather.

We could have walked directly back, but there was something else I wanted to see - the cannons on Gowan Hill - another spot we'd always driven past as a child but never stopped to see. On the way up we met a local who quizzed us about our origins and intentions, before bemoaning the lack of real ale pubs in Stirling. We moved on.

From Gowan Hill:

I had no idea there was a walk underneath the cliffs of Stirling Castle, and this quiet spot was full of birdsong and budding greenery, giant boulders boiling up from the ground to hold the rocks of the castle. A notice asks passers-by not to pick up items they might find, as the inhabitants of the castle in days of old were not as environmentally conscious as we are today. The things we might pick up and take home - buckles, musket balls, smoking pipes - could be debris from the renaissance!

Rock in St John's Kirkyard:

But the day held one more delight, all the better for being unexpected. As the path came out at the cemetery of St John's Kirk, it started to gently run downhill, old walls above us and the wooded escarpment below. The walls were ancient and I realised with a jolt that Stirling had intact medieval town walls. Why had I never known this?

Town walls:

In holes in the wall pigeons have taken roost. A spring walk of exploration and meandering and discovery - my favourite kind!

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