Signage, Stirling by Matthew Wilkinson

An ancient monument, a huge visitor’s attraction, a gorgeous collection of grand halls as well as shadowy nooks and crannies, Stirling Castle is a castle-and-a-half for the Scotophile. Let’s take a peek inside and get a feel for the history and mystery of the place!

An adult ticket is a steep ¬£13.00 (free for Historic Scotland Members), but it’s surely worthwhile to visit one of Scotland’s most popular castles and a place where history “comes alive” (check out their fabulous website)! As it is perched high on a volcanic outcrop, the first thing you might notice is that Stirling Castle has spectacular views, similar to Edinburgh’s great castle, but Stirling has been described as more “atmospheric” than the former.

Goodby to Stirling Castle by walla2chick
Goodby to Stirling Castle, a photo by walla2chick on Flickr.

That atmosphere surrounds a melodramatic saga of blood and destiny. If “He who holds Stirling holds Scotland” was true, then it was certainly vital to possess the castle of Stirling; it has been besieged so often that these battles have their own Wikipedia page. This is where James II murdered the Earl of Douglas, it was the childhood home of the legendary Mary Queen of Scots and was also the site of her coronation. From the Stuart’s royal residence to a military fortress, this is where you can hear the echoes of voices you first heard in your high school history textbook–from King David I to Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Stirling Castle’s Great Hall, a photo by Jani Helle on Flickr.
As near as I can tell from the maps, we’ll begin our tour at the casemates–heavy, vaulted chambers–which once housed troops and now contain an introduction to the castle. From here we’ll travel through the forework gatehouse and into the outer close where we are surrounded by monstrous thick walls, long impenetrable to invaders. Directly before us is the massive limewashed Great Hall standing out from the rest of the gray stonework; it’s the largest great hall in Scotland and looks almost exactly as it did in 1504.

The Royal Palace right beside the Hall was originally built after James V’s marriage to the daughter of the King of France, but was probably not finished until after his death by his widowed second wife. The King and Queen each had just three rooms here, but they were beautiful and elaborate, one ceiling featuring the famous Stirling HeadsPainstakingly recreated in the style of the 1540s, the Palace is a sight to behold. 

Stirling Castle by itmpa
Stirling Castle, a photo by itmpa on Flickr.

Moving on to the King’s Old Building, perched like an ancient sentinel atop its sheer rock wall, we find that it is the oldest part of the inner close and now houses the Regimental Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, an infantry battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Rebuilt after a serious fire in the 19th century, it has not been restored to its original design like the Palace or Great Hall.

Stirling Castle kitchen, a photo by davidmunro on Flickr.
We’ll now proceed to the kitchens, a place bustling with Stuart-era mannequins. The kitchens were actually filled in at one time to make room for gun emplacements when the threat of Jacobite attack trumped the demands of the stomach! 
The Palace Vaults, which may once have been dim, mysterious places used primarily for storage, now afford fun and games for little tykes who come to visit the castle. Here we can learn about 16th century musical instruments, paintwork, carving, jesters and much more, assisted by state of the art learning technologies.

Stirling Castle, Scotland - 13 by

Outside once more we stroll along the Wall-Walk, running our fingers over the cool mossy stones and admiring the vast scenery, trying to imagine the soldiers who once walked in our footsteps, ready to fire their weapons down upon an invading horde.

Cannons at Stirling Castle, a photo by sparklingbizzy on Flickr.

At another point along the crenelated wall one can see the Wallace Monument in all its imposing stolidity, a striking reminder of Scotland’s great hero (Have you ever watched the movie Braveheart and questioned its historical accuracy? Check out my blog post on the topic.).

Stirling - Stirling Castle Panorama by pariscub

A stop by a few other highlights–the Tapestry Studio, The Queen Anne Garden, The Chapel Royal–a bite of haggis at the Unicorn Cafe, and we’re ready to take a cab back to our hotel.

It’s been a thrilling afternoon of history, old tales, and ancient elegance. We might just have to come back tonight to see the castle splendidly illuminated!

Stirling Castle by Barrie Caveman

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Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

This article has 4 comments

  1. J_on_tour@jayzspaze Reply

    I remember the first time I visited Stirling Castle. I was taken there when i was seven years old by my Scottish relatives, it was a magical experience. It’s a little different now with visitor centres etc but fascinating nonetheless for visitors with the extra information. At the time my family bought a 25p guide book … a bit boring to a 7 year old as it had no pictures. As you always get asked on visiting such sites if you would like a guide book I decided to dig it out when I returned to see my relatives in Adult years. On presenting it at admission, the sales assistant smiled and commented that it might have been a relic from the castle !!

  2. Abby Rogers Reply

    That’s great, J! Why not bring your old guidebook, after all, I doubt the history of the castle’s changed much since you were a kid!

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