After 5 minutes in Stirling it was clear I’d come to the right place.
Needing somewhere to spend a few days between leaving Newcastle and when I was due to arrive in Edinburgh I chose to spend some time in Stirling, Scotland. At the time I knew little about this city in the northern part of the Scottish Lowlands, actually I only knew about the castle there and depending to who you ask; the Stirling Castle is as good a site to visit…or better…than the Edinburgh Castle. And since I’d been having good luck traveling places in the UK I knew next to nothing about (e.g. Norwich, Whitby) I used airbnb.com to rent an inexpensive room in a family’s house in a town called Tullibody (about 5 miles east of Stirling), bought a train ticket and set off.
Upon finally arriving at Stirling Station (I’ve had delays on nearly every train in the UK, including both on this trip) and getting picked up I knew my British luck had continued. I immediately saw two interesting things previously unknown to me that made me glad I came. One is a very old, and very cool, bridge crossing the River Forth that snakes its way through the northern part of the city. The second is the National William Wallace Monument that rests high atop the Abbey Craig. Standing guard over the river valley and tidal area west of the Firth of Forth this monument, in honor of the 13th century Wars of Scottish Independence hero Sir William Wallace, is 220 feet in height with 246 steps (I counted), mainly in a narrow spiral sandstone staircase, to the viewing gallery at the top. Luckily there are three interesting levels for pit-stops along the way.
The first level is ‘The Story of Wallace’, sort of life history of William Wallace complete with a talking Wallace figure/mannequin (it sounds cheesy but when you see how they pull
it off it’s actually pretty cool, and at the right angle a little creepy!). There’s a lot of interesting information in this room and it displays William Wallace’s personal two-handed broadsword. Its massive at 5 ft. 6 in. in length and stands proudly in a glass case. Its said Wallace must have been a very strong man standing at least 6 ft. 6 in. to have used such a large sword. Move up to the second level and you’ll find the ‘Hall of Heroes’ which houses the busts of many famous Scotsmen from throughout history. And on the third level the controversial story of the monument itself gets told (like many public buildings that are now considered pieces of art themselves, when the Wallace Monument was being built, it was thought of as an ugly scar on the Lowlands landscape by some). Once adequately rested from the first 210 or so steps climb the few remaining and arrive on the viewing gallery where you have panoramic views for miles in every direction. In the photo below you can see Stirling Castle on a hill below the horizon and above the river bend.
The Wallace Monument, while not as heavily advertised as some attractions, to me is easily the best in the area. It is not too expensive, it is historical and informational, it will be your daily workout (you have to hike about 20 minutes to the top of the crag and then climb 246 steps to get the top), it is beautiful and offers by far the best vantage point in the area, and it is just plain cool! It’s the best monument I’ve visited in Europe.
I learned many interesting bits of history while visiting the Wallace Monument and I also learned that the portrayal of William Wallace in the movie Braveheart was fairly close to a historic representation. He was a patriot in every sense of the word and left a lasting legacy few can match. Think about this: the monument was built in 1869…564 years after Wallace’s death in 1305. Five Hundred Sixty Four Years!