Day 10: Stirling
Today I left the beautiful cottage at Arniston Estate and set onward to my next home in Stirling.
My first stop is at Stirling Castle. It sits on top of a hill overlooking the town of Stirling with views of the National Wallace Monument across the valley. I was impressed with yet another perfect day of weather. The castle was fought over between the English and the Scots for many years. Even within a 50 year period during the Wars of Independence, the castle changed hands 8 times. It was built starting with a chapel in 1110. The castle is most famously identified with King Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, as well as Mary Queen of Scots.
In comparison to the other castles I have visited on my trip, this one does cater more towards a 'touristy' attraction - with living history actors dressed in costumes, higher ticket price, elaborate sets in place of authentic/original artifacts, etc. After speaking with a docent, I found out that the reason why everything has been recreated in the fashion that it is now is due to that fact that there was nothing left - the castle was in ruins, artifacts stolen, destroyed or moved - interiors demolished through wartime conflicts or were exposed to harsh weather and decayed over time. However, when it comes to architecture and location this castle is a winner. What a magnificent and important castle to Scottish history. Once I could overlook the 'Disney' like sets and just focus on the architecture and historical importance, I really enjoyed my time here at Stirling.
I stopped for a bite to eat at the Unicorn Cafe here on the castle grounds. I had the Sicilian chicken sandwich - chicken in a sun-dried tomato/mayo sauce with pesto and spinach - along with a side of pesto pasta. It tasted great and was a nice flavor change up.
Just down the cobbled hill is the Argyll's Lodging estate. It was home to the founder of Nova Scotia Canada. It is a well intact 17th century home with original features throughout. It is outfitted with period accurate furniture pieces however they are reproductions and not originals. It is a beautiful estate that has seen many different uses over time. The original foundation was built in the mid-1500s which was eventually turned into a grand estate in the 17th century. In 1800 the army purchased the home as additional space for a hospital since they were running out of room at the castle up the road. It remained as a military hospital until 1964 when it was turned into a youth hostel. Historic Scotland purchased the property in the late 1990s and renovated it back to the original 17th century home it once was.
After seeing the National Wallace Monument in the distance, I knew that I wanted to experience it especially on a beautiful day as this. So, I drove across town and up into the hills above Abbey Craig (old volcanic rocky hill top). It required a steep and long hike to the top of the hillside to get to the tower so I opted to take the shuttle in order to save my energy for climbing up the tower.
246 steps from the bottom to the top! Luckily, museum exhibits are featured at 3 different landings on the way up to the crown. On the first landing is the Hall of Arms featuring the story of William Wallace and the facts about the war. It also featured replicas of common military armor during this time. On the second landing a Hall of Heroes is featured - several marble busts of famous Scottish poets, politicians, historical figures, engineers, and of course royalty (King Robert the Bruce). On the third landing is an open space for kids to play tower games along with some additional reading for the adults.
The next trip up got me to the crown (top of the tower) which gives a 360 degree view of the valley. Beautiful rolling mountains in the background, Abbey Craig ahead of me, Stirling Castle on top of the hill across town and Stirling Bridge is down in the valley.
The location of Stirling was chosen for the monument because of Wallace's successful win against the English at the battle of Stirling Bridge. Unfortunately it was a brief victory for Wallace as only a year later the Scots were crushed by the English at the battle of Falkirk. Wallace went into hiding for a few years before being captured, executed, drawn & quartered then dispersed at the four corners of the country as a warning to other Scots not to cross the English reign. This monument was built in the 1860s and features a very victorian appearance in the design.
It was a lot of work getting to the top, but every step was worth it tenfold to get the view of the region from the top.
After climbing the tower, I decided that I wanted to go on a hike down the hillside. My legs felt like jello but I did it anyway. It was a steep decline down the hillside but it was a great way to end the wonderful visit to the tower.
I needed to kill some time before heading out to my next cottage, so I settled into the Legends Coffee Shop for a bit of tea and cake - heck, I deserved it after that hike!
Next, I drove about 4 miles out of the city center on the edge of Stirling just in the countryside to my next cottage apartment. It is tucked on the upper floor of the owner's home - almost B&B style without the breakfast. It is a self-catering apartment off of the main entrance to her home. It features a kitchen, full bathroom, and a large bedroom with a sitting area for watching TV, as well as a desk and plenty of storage. It has a studio feel but a little larger since it has a separate room for the kitchen and the bathroom is separate also. It is great for 1 person, but could also take a couple easily for a long weekend getaway. I was warmly welcomed by the owner, Fiona, for the keys and instructions of the property along with a nice chat about my trip thus far. She had tea and biscuits sitting out for me (the shortbread cookies are to die for - crispy but melts in your mouth).