Andrew and I recently purchased the Historic Scotland Membership so we can visit Scotland’s beautiful castles, palaces, abbeys, towers, and tombs. The pass itself costs us £6.84/month for the both of us, but it allows us unlimited access to many historical attractions that would normally have their own entrance fees. Now, we can visit the Edinburgh Castle (something that we still haven’t done yet) for “free.” We also got the Two Together Railcard that gives us both 30% off rail fares for only £30 for the year as long as we travel together.
As a result, we decided to take a little day trip out to Stirling. Stirling is only about a 50-minute train ride away from Edinburgh, making it a very reachable and easy day trip. There are trains every thirty minutes from Edinburgh Waverley Station and ScotRail has Day Return tickets so you can catch any train that day. It couldn’t be easier.
Stirling is sometimes considered the “Heart of Scotland” with its strategically central location as the “Gateway to the Highlands” at a crossing point of the River Forth and its historical location as a battleground for Scottish Independence and as an ancient capital of Scotland. Also, there’s a castle and I like castles.
Stirling is also famous for William Wallace’s victory at Stirling Bridge. I am lame and only know this name from Braveheart. Don’t judge me. I love historical inaccuracies. Here’s a short clip so you’re as knowledgeable and lame as I am.
Normally, I map out and plan each location and attraction to visit, but we went to Stirling without a plan and a map so we ended up just wandering around the city. We went on a Monday in the winter so the city was pretty dead, but it was a cute medieval town with lots of cobblestone streets.
Our first exploration stop was at the Church of the Holy Rude, where John Knox had preached. The church was founded in the 12th century and is the second oldest building in Stirling after the Castle. It’s right next to the Castle and is the only church in the United Kingdom besides Westminster Abbey to hold a coronation and still be a living church today. John Knox was the one that performed the coronation ceremony here where James VI was crowned King of Scotland (James VI is the King James that authorized the translation of the Bible to English (King James Version)). Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually go in since they’re only open in the weekdays during the summer so we explored its graveyard instead. There are nice views of Stirling Castle from the graveyard as well.
Then, we walked up the hill to Stirling Castle. Adult tickets normally cost £14.50. Andrew and I decided to join one of the free guided tours of the castle that they offer. While it was a beautifully clear day, it was still cold and most of the guided tour remains outside so it wasn’t as enjoyable for me because I was so cold. Our guide was very knowledgeable and quoted all these dates and years (although I wonder if he just made some of that up). Stirling Castle is made up of three main buildings, The Royal Palace, The Great Hall, and The Chapel Royal.
Some of the rooms in The Royal Palace have been restored to help us imagine royal life in the 1500s.
Historic Scotland recently finished its 14-year project to recreate some of the lost tapestries of James V. The were working on the last tapestry, the “Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn”. Here’s a random Scottish fact for the day for you — the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland. Now, I love unicorns. I grew up with My Little Ponies, love magical fairytales, and am a 90′s kid who had Lisa Frank products. Mostly however, I like unicorns because of this scene in Despicable Me.
Anyways, back to the unicorn tapestry. I learned that unicorns are a symbol of Jesus Christ. They symbolize innocence, purity, power, healing, joy, and life. In the “Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn” tapestries, the unicorn is hunted, killed, but no longer dead.
Stirling Castle’s Great Hall is often used for events and weddings. Michael Bublé and Rod Stewart even had a concert there. It was previously used as barracks for the army.
There are also other things to see at the castle, but I didn’t take that many pictures. There are lots of historical displays and you can walk through Queen Anne’s Gardens, where Mary Queen of Scots probably played as a child. You can walk along the wall of the Castle and have nice views of the Wallace Monument (more Braveheart). We didn’t visit the monument this time, but if we return, it’s on our list of things to do.
As we walked down the hill back to the train station, we passed Argyll’s Lodging, a 17th-century town house intended for a nobleman serving the royal court. In the summers, it is available for tours.
After walking around the city centre and its shopping centre, we went back to the train station and headed home.1 castle down, hundreds more to go….
But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. Psalm 22:19-21
Lord, I know that you’re near and know my sufferings, but help me. Help my unbelief.