Stirling Castle

Discover Stirling Castle the strategic key to Scotland on a driver-guided tour.

Stirling Castle

Scotland and Stirling are two historic 'peas in a pod', with the castle at the epicentre of some of the most iconic and dramatic events in the country's history; from Mary Queen of Scots' crowning to key battles for Scottish independence.

A majestic sight, the castle sits proudly atop a cliff of volcanic rock, watching over the sites of two key battlefields, Bannockburn (1314) and Stirling Bridge (1297). Later, King James IV created this decadent renaissance palace, within and protected by the medieval walls.

Visit Stirling and discover the intriguing and volatile history of Scotland on a driver-guided private tour of Scotland

A brief history of Stirling

The beginning
Perched on a 250 ft sheer crag dominating the town, this imposing castle seems to have grown from the stone on which it sits. Most of what you see today is between four and five hundred years old. King Alexander I probably built the first true stronghold in around 1110 ad. The Romans were active in the area but chose to construct a fort further up-stream at Doune. Importantly, Stirling is the farthest downstream crossing of the River Forth; a prime strategic location. 

Wars of Independence
After King John Balliol (1292-1296) surrendered to the hammer-of-the-Scots; King Edward I of England in 1296. Scottish landowners were forced to submit to their new master. This action provoked a revolt that trickled from the Highlands further south to push Edward's forces out of the country.

There have been no less than eight sieges of Stirling Castle and many skirmishes and battles in the area. The two most famous confrontations are battles of the Wars of Independence; Bannockburn (1314) and Stirling Bridge (1297).

The Battle of Stirling Bridge
Sir William Wallace, a Scottish knight and leader of the first war of Independence, defeated a large English force of approximately nine thousand soldiers with six thousand infantry and a few hundred mounted cavalry.

Patient Wallace allowed a large contingent of English cavalry to cross the narrow Stirling bridge, trapping the right volume of soldiers they knew they could take on. Wallace's men then proceeded to slaughter the English trapped on the east side of the river. With their confidence broken, the English retreat and destroyed the bridge, returning to the castle with their remaining troops fleeing south to Berwick. 

The Battle of Bannockburn
Robert the Bruce (King Robert I of Scotland) announced that followers of the English puppet King John Balliol would lose their land. That statement got the notice of King Edward II of England. He promptly sent a huge army of 25,000 north to relieve Stirling Castle, currently under siege.

The great two-day battle begun. The mighty English Cavalry advanced. Henry de Bohun singled out King Robert and attacked, as they passed on the field, Bruce split Bohun's head clean open with an axe. Robert's men then charged, undoubtedly fired up by King Robert's bravery and skill.

The 2nd day of battle saw the Scotts play their ace card. Disciplined and compact schiltrons advanced. A schiltron is a tight body of soldiers protected by their shields while using a long thrusting spear called a pike. The English Cavalry and archers were unable to break the Schiltrons and became trapped.

King Edward II fled with his guard, but most of the English and Welsh troops made a desperate dash to England's border, but many never made it and were killed in the countryside.

Renaissance Palace
The Steward dynasty was determined to replicate the grand palaces of Europe; their time had finally come. Kings, James IV through to James VI all invested heavily in Royal property. Renovations of chapels, walls and the building of the Great Hall took place during this time. Building continued until King James VI (King James I of England) of Scotland. James VI moved to London to rule his new Great Britain.

Union of the Crowns
In 1603, King James VI (1603-1625) of Scotland and son of Mary Queen of Scots, also became King James I of England – uniting the crowns, but not the states. King James ruled from London and only returned to Edinburgh once during his reign.

Prison and Garrison
In the 17th the role of Stirling Castle changed from Royal Palace to prison, and military fortress. During the Jacobite rising of 1745, Stirling saw action again and fired its artillery in anger, destroying a Jacobite battery on Gowan Hill. From 1800 onwards the castle was administered by the war office and alteration were made to suit the purpose.

Today
After a major restoration program, the castle has returned to its Renaissance grandeur. The project took ten years and cost over £12 million – the crafts-people have done an amazing job. Please come and see it soon on a Private Tour of Scotland. 

What to see

The Great Hall
The Great Hall at Stirling is the largest ever constructed in Scotland. So large that five fireplaces heated it.

The Royal Palace - Step into Scotland in the 1500s.
Decorated and furnished, as Mary Queen of Scots' would have known it as a child. Costumed guides set the scene and talk about real events and intrigue and gossip at court. 

The brightly decorated royal chambers are the rooms nobles and courtiers met the monarch of the day. See newly made tapestries allowing you to see the vivid colours and artistry of the past. It is heart-warming to know those skills still exist.

The Stirling Tapestries
Tapestries were originally made for warmth, decoration and status. The cost of producing large tapestries is mind-boggling. Overtime these precious works of art slowly deteriorate. Therefore, a set of seven beautiful new tapestries have been commissioned; they hang on the walls of the Queen's Inner Hall in the royal palace. They are based on the Hunt of the Unicorn series. The originals created in the Low Countries around five hundred years ago. They are now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York at its Cloisters Museum.

Only the very wealthiest people could afford tapestries, and James V had a large collection, including two sets that showed unicorns. Artisan's created the seven new huge tapestries in a £2 million project. They took 13 years to complete and allow visitors to recapture the atmosphere of Scotland's royal court.

The Great Kitchens
Kitchens in old palaces and castles are fascinating. They give you an insight into ordinary life, below stairs if you will. Royalty consumed; Puddings, venison, pies, salmon and beef. Only the best was good enough for the monarch's table – although, today we would think their diet as unhealthy, with too much meat and not enough vegetables.

Work was hot, long hours and labour intensive. What was life like in a Royal Kitchen, you can find out on a tour of Stirling Castle. We know it was incredibly busy with animals under your feet, such as dogs and cats, who chased the mince and rats. It all good fun, and the display at Stirling is great.

The Wallace Monument
The pinnacled monument celebrates the William Wallace victory over the English at Stirling Bridge and the war hero's life. The Tower sits on Abbey Crag and stands 362 ft tall. The Tower contains a display of armour and Wallace's 5ft 4inch sword.

Bannockburn visitor centre
Learn the details of the various battle. The award-winning visitor attraction tells the story of both sides of this famous historic battle. Learn about the people, the knights and the roles specific people played on the two days of fighting. See a digital recreation of the fight. Then walk in the footsteps of King Robert I on the battlefield. 

Touring and accommodation
We can incorporate a visit to Stirling Castle as part of a day tour from Edinburgh or include as part of a Private Tour of Scotland. A day tour from Edinburgh can consist of Drummond Castle and Stirling Castle for example. There are many options we can provide. Our Tour-Designers can tailor a tour of Scotland to include the special places relating to Scotland's history.

Edinburgh has a vast choice of accommodation. We look for quality, service and our ability to include complimentary amenities. Stay in the elegant New Town at The Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel. Enjoy views of Edinburgh Castle from the Waldorf Astoria Caledonian Hotel

Stay near the Highlands at Gleneagles Hotel and take day tours to Glamis Castle, Drummond Castle, St Andrews and the Cairngorms National Park - the options are endless. Fonab Castle Hotel and Spa is a delightful Scottish castle in Pitlochry. Please contact us for details.

The Key to Scotland

Immerse yourself in the history

  • See the Stirling Tapestries
  • Tour the Royal Palace
  • See the Regimental Museum
  • Palace Vaults for younger visitors
  • Climb the Wallace Monument