Monday, 23 January 2017

Stirling Old Town and Graveyard. Wallace Monument. City in the Mist.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A dry but dull and exceedingly dreich Saturday saw myself and Alan head for Stirling- one of Scotland's oldest inhabited places and the former capital of the kingdom- before that pushy young upstart Edinburgh stole the title in the early 1400s.
We passed Stirling in the car driving to Blairlogie and Dumyat a few weeks ago and Alan remarked then that he'd like to wander around there and I fancied another visit myself as it's an area with loads of interest. I didn't want to waste a good sunny day on it though when we could have been up a hill somewhere so a dry but cloudy still morning seemed perfect for a visit to the historic town centre. Despite being a centre for habitation since pre-history times before the wheel, the Flintstones and the invention of the female friendly softer wood dating club, beloved of cavemen, Stirling only gained city status relatively recently.
 Unlike other places around the world where a city can be a collection of low buildings on a plain, in a desert, or in a jungle with a start date of a mere 100 years or so and a population of 50, UK cities have to really graft hard for the coveted title. Stirling as a settlement was around before the bronze age, was well established before Jesus paddled across the water and Moses spoke to God.
"Can we be a city please? " (to assorted royals down the ages)  "Aw C'mon, gies a shot! We've waited long enough! "
"Certainly not.. you're just a town! Know your place!"
Eventually, the present Queen relented during her Golden Jubilee period and Stirling was finally elevated in 2002 from royal burgh to city status. Hooray!
The reason for its long history is its strategic position as a gateway between the wild Scottish Highlands just to the north and the fertile plains of the lowlands spreading out towards the south. Hill forts would have taken this easily defended position on top of this volcanic basalt plug long before the present castle arrived and the nearby River Forth provided a reliable route for trade with other tribes and kingdoms into the open sea. In an era of swamps, marshes and uncleared forests the River Forth would have been the best means of fast travel and also handy for moving heavy objects around as in the case of the massive and ancient standing stones that still litter Scotland's landscape to this day. Nearby Clackmannan, is named after one, the 'Stone of Mannan' which in turn is named after a sea god despite being a long way from the sea but crucially situated near the River Forth. Still upright in this modern age and well over 2000 years young, it stands the height of two tall men and is shaped  carefully to resemble a giant's phallus. A sea god indeed.
Stirling Old Town and Edinburgh's Royal Mile are remarkably similar, both in building design, antiquity and landscape. Although Stirling has just under 50,000 thousand of a population and Edinburgh is fast approaching half a million souls both have a castle perched on the highest volcanic summit, defended by natural steep cliffs with the ground behind protected by this solid lump of immovable rock sheltering the earth in the lee side from the sweeping erosion of glacial ice sheets pouring relentlessly past, an inch at a time, out of the Highland mountains to leave a sizable tail of downward sloping earth. This is where most of the oldest buildings have survived to create a mini version of Edinburgh's Royal Mile.
Alan was keen to visit the castle again to see the recent improvements although we had both been in it before years ago but an adult price tag of £14:50 each was considered too steep for something we had both seen and still remembered. Stirling Castle used to be around half the price of Edinburgh Castle but it's no longer the bargain it was, especially if you have children at £8:70 each. It is a great castle to explore but maybe the popularity of Braveheart, William Wallace and Rob Roy and the subsequent tourist numbers have bumped up the price. It's also £4 to park inside the castle car park. A couple of years ago was my last visit as I got in unexpectedly for free during September's Doors Open Day event. Not planned at the time to go in but I wasn't going to miss the opportunity :o)

We had already paid £2:70 to park up the hill near the castle (Sunday free parking here I think) and didn't mind that at all as that got us four hours to explore and I knew there was plenty to see below the castle for free. When we arrived the ancient city of Stirling was buried under thick mist which made the old graveyard just below the parapets and castle walls rather eerie and atmospheric. The suitable realm of old horror films, vampires, and the creepily creeping undead.

This is free and well worth a visit as it contains many fine headstones, monuments, tombs and Victorian and medieval structures.
After a short time the sun started to burn a hole in the gloom and we could see something of the landscape appearing below us.
A modern dragon. Heat rising from a petrochemical plant breathing vapour into the still air.
A view towards the nearby Touch Hills above Cambusbarron.
Sun and smoke over the River Forth in the direction of clearer weather conditions.
Wallace Monument. A lot of Scottish history, so beloved of tourists, is a Victorian confection. William Wallace never charged around the Highland mountains as seen in the film. He was strictly a lowland fighter on the open plains and never went anywhere near the Highland glens if he could avoid it. Scary people lived there at that time who were just as likely to kill him as any other outsider from the lowlands.
The modern kilt was invented by an Englishman by all accounts, likewise all the different colourful tartans and patterns we see today. Can't even claim the original plaid (longer wraparound kilt) as our own as that probably arrived from Ireland from what I've discovered in books about the subject. A celebrated Scottish freedom fighter now, in this own time he was regarded by the English and even many Scot's as a bloodthirsty terrorist, similar to the IRA, ETA and yes, even ISIS, for being public enemy number one. As such he couldn't surrender or escape, even if he wanted to, and was finally captured (betrayed by a fellow Scot) then publicly torn apart, as was the custom of the day, for people that threatened the crown and the established order. Bits of his body were sent out to be hung in various strategic cities and towns across the UK as a warning to anyone else thinking of revolt. Some new info on that.

After visiting the graveyard we had a wander along the circular high level balcony trail that runs under the castle cliffs from the lowest point of the castle walls with fine views over low lying Stirling in places until it enters the old town again near the Town Jail.
Town Jail. Incidentally, this is the one way street where we were parked and it also makes a handy starting point to explore the town. If you are driving here just follow the signs for Stirling then take the motorway exit leading to the town where you then follow the brown 'to the castle' signs uphill on a one way loop system that leads you up and down in a circle with plenty of parking opportunities- going up and coming down.
The howling wolf. According to tradition a wolf howled repeatedly as Viking raiders came sneaking up the River Forth to sack the town, and suitably warned the townsfolk had time to defend themselves properly and repel the intruders. I'd never heard of this legend before and this excellent wooden sculpture is fairly new but the more we explored the town centre the more clues we found on buildings.
A Victorian design in the high street area on an old tenement. Stirling has a wide range of unusual period buildings as well as a large modern shopping mall- The Thistle Centre.
Fine period detail.
And a closer look at the very spot where the wolf was supposed to live in a cave below the castle. Somewhere between the 8th to the 11th century presumably as that was the era of the Viking raids.
The poor old wolf didn't get much of a hero's welcome however as they were increasingly exterminated wherever they were found and finally died out in the early 1700s. Good short history snippet here of man's best friend and enemy. The last stand of the poor old wolf. A much maligned creature.

More old buildings and William Wallace statue.
Tudor style house.
Old High School. Signs of the Zodiac around the entrance. Now the Scottish Whisky Shop.
Rob Roy statue under the castle walls on the balcony walk which takes around 30 mins to an hour depending on pace and route. Highly recommended and fairly flat on wide paths all the way.
Stirling Arcade. A Victorian forerunner of shopping malls and one of only five examples of its kind in Scotland. Recently given a modern makeover inside and full of shops again. Found On King Street.

The interior view. Between this and several other good shopping streets it was an interesting place to explore and we also found an old traditional record shop selling vinyl albums of the kind that mostly died out in Glasgow. A real walk down memory lane.

This video seems apt for a Gothic looking Stirling. Great atmospheric music from a composition band who specialize in mood pieces, matched with a suitable film clip but not too scary, just interesting, and well conceived.  She may be a vampire but I'd give her a wee tour round the graveyard any day or night ."I ain't afraid of no ghost!" My kind of girl. Amazing what you can do with a bible and a few candles but a plumber might have been a better choice. No wonder she's upset, sleeping for entirety in a wet coffin. I'd have taken the huff as well. A dry warm female is a happy female I've always found.  Best watched full screen...with the lights out preferably :o)


Linda said...

Beautiful photos and lovely tour! I think you would be an ideal candidate for a travelogue book!

Carol said...

Love the atmospheric misty shots.

Vinyl is back in a very big way - apparently it outsold everything musically last year, including downloads. I just sold 17 LPs for fifty quid!

Anabel Marsh said...

I love Stirling and much prefer the castle to Edinburgh's which I haven't visited for years. Being Historic Scotland members helps. However, I have totally missed all that about the wolf and will have to go back to look. Great pictures.

Rosemary said...

Your photos are incredibly atmospheric and a delight to see. We don't always need a bright sun and a blue sky in order to capture memorable shots.
I have passed that second view of Stirling Castle so many times on trips up and down from Aberdeen when my son lived there.

Kay G. said...

Fantastic photos, as always.
I've never heard about the wolves warning of the Vikings. The statue of the howling wolf is a very good one.

Linda W. said...

Another great tour of an interesting city! Love all the foggy photos too.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda,
I already write Scottish photo books that don't sell :o)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol.
Well done. I know new LP's retail for £20 to £30 quid each brand new out the shops but that's great money for old ones. If you don't mind me asking where did you sell them- local record shop, e-bay or something else?
I've got a sizable vinyl collection myself from the 70s and 80s I never play now with early Bowie, Bolan, Donovan, Kate Bush, Curved Air, Neil Young etc etc so I would consider cashing in for that price.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
I have considered joining Historic Scotland but I don't do enough castles, stately homes, gardens etc at the moment to get my money back as it's just an occasional thing with me. Maybe later on when the hills get too tough.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Rosemary,
Yes, the mist can be very atmospheric and we seem to be getting a lot of it at the moment as it's been a remarkably dry, still, and relatively mild winter so far. Can't say I miss the big storms and winter floods we had last year.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Kay,
Yes, wood carved public art is very popular at the moment and much cheaper than stone or metal sculptures although a much shorter lifespan. Also safe from metal thieves.

blueskyscotland said...

Thanks Linda W.

Carol said...

We had a great new cafe bar opened up in town - 'The Sound Bar' - where they sell beer and coffee and other cafe type stuff and play whatever LPs they feel like (or you can probably request them). Great bar and great atmosphere and loads of LPs for sale. I figured they'd probably buy any I was clearing out so I had a weed out and they were very pleased with them. All my LPs are in excellent condition though.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to plan more city based visits as my interest in their history and architecture has been piqued by my friends visit to several European cities last summer especially Barcelona. Our own cities deserve attention as well and Stirling is a place I've often driven past on my way to the highlands. A great tour round to get me in the mood

Carol said...

Wood sculptures may be safe from metal thieves but just think how many folk nowadays are getting wood burners for their heating ;-)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
Yes, Barcelona is amazing. Drop me in any new city or unexplored area and I'm happy.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
My main concern there with many large power plants converting over to burning wood chips is a lack of pine timber after a while and they start looking at the UKs deciduous forests as just another source of timber doing nothing to earn its keep.

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Great post. I have only made very limited visits to Stirling and it's a place I'd like to explore properly; had a good 'feel' to it. Inevitably, I will need to visit the castle - though I have managed to tick the Wallace Monument off the list! Wonderfully atmospheric shots.