An Introduction to Stirling

The Entrance to Stirling Castle, Scotland.

The Entrance to Stirling Castle, Scotland.

by David Wheater

Stirling has a very important place in Scotland’s history.

Its strategic location as the gateway to the Highlands resulted in many battles for freedom and it’s no wonder that so many people visit every year to uncover its fascinating history.

Visitors have plenty to see and do in Stirling itself, including visiting Stirling Castle, the National Wallace Monument, Argyll’s Lodgings, Bannockburn – and much, much more. Plan for at least a day in Stirling.

The Forth Valley is a wonderful region to tour, with lots of picturesque villages and great landscapes to explore. The region offers visitors a variety of attractions, including the rugged Ochil hills, the marvellous Falkirk Wheel and the Antonine Wall – to name but a few.

The nearby historic town of Falkirk should also be on every visitors list and in particular its magnificent Callendar House, which will entertain the whole family. A trip along the Union and Forth & Clyde canals is also very worthwhile, as is the town’s excellent heritage trail.

No tour of Scotland is complete, however, without a tour of lovely Loch Lomond and The Trossachs. Now a designated national park, this region contains some of the loveliest scenery and landscapes in Scotland. The stunning beauty of the lochs, glens and mountains will leave a lasting impression on you and have you coming back for more every year.

Stirling is located in central Scotland where the River Forth meets the Firth of Forth estuary. It is the smallest Scottish city with a population of just 33,700, which is smaller than many major Scottish towns.

It’s uncertain where Stirling actually got its name from, but some believe it derives its name from the Scots or Gaelic terms for battle or struggle. Once the capital of Scotland, Stirling was given the formal status of being a city in 2002 as part of the Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

The city developed over many centuries around the large fortress we know today as Stirling Castle and the medieval town which sprung up around it. The city was strategically important over the centuries as the “gateway to the Highlands” and for its close proximity to the River Forth where a river crossing and busy port developed. Stirling’s strategic location can be easily appreciated by observing its surrounding geography. This is the point where the low lying and gently undulating Scottish lowlands meet the ascending slopes of the Highland hills and mountains at a point along the Highland Boundary Fault.

Major Battles took place in and around Stirling during the wars of Scottish Independence, most notably at Stirling Bridge in 1297 and at nearby Bannockburn village in 1314, involving the iconic Scottish warriors William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, respectively.

The second oldest building in Stirling, after the Castle itself, is the Church of the Holy Rude which dates back to 1129 and is thought to be the only existing church in the UK, apart from Westminster Abbey, to have held a Coronation Ceremony.

Economically the city’s port and harbour played a significant part in the good fortune of the city until its demise with the rise and dominance of the steam locomotive.

Stirling was primarily a market town and local farmers enjoyed being surrounded by some of the flattest and most agriculturally productive land in Scotland. Agriculture still plays a part in Stirling’s economy today, but in a much lesser way.

Financial services and the tourism industry are now some of the biggest employers in Stirling thanks to the Prudential Offices at Craigforth and the more obvious tourist attractions such as the castle and the National Wallace Monument.

Other major employers in Stirling are the University of Stirling’s Innovation and Science Park which has encouraged around 40 different research and development companies to the city since 1993.

Stirling has an excellent and internationally well-regarded University which opened in 1967. Stirling University now attracts around 11,000 students yearly to study there from over 80 different countries around the world. The University and city are also a major centre for sports education and training, with the Scottish Institute of Sports headquarters based in the university campus. Similarly, the Scottish National Swimming Academy and the Grannochy National Tennis Centre are also located on campus.

Unknown to many even in the city itself, Stirling was home to brothers Frank and Harold Barnwell who, in 1909, designed and flew the first powered aircraft in Scotland. A monument to their outstanding achievement exists to this day.

Stirling has an interesting reputation for large amounts of paranormal activity, the most famous ghostly sighting being of “the Green Lady of the Castle” who has been seen by many a startled soldier on night sentry. The nearby Settle Inn is also said to be highly active.

If you're planning a visit to Scotland, spending an afternoon is Stirling is highly recommended, even if it's just to see the magnificent castle.

This article is one of a series on Stirling by David. For more articles on Stirling, please click on the ‘Stirling tab’ below.