- Where to stay: Friars Wynd Hotel
- Transportation: Rental Car, Walking
- Where to eat: Brew Dog Stirling, Friars Wynd Hotel, Mackie’s of Scotland,
- What to see & do: William Wallace Monuement, The Church of Holy Rude, Stirling Old Town Jail, Old Stirling Bridge, Mar’s Wark,
Want to skim through the post? Look for the bold words!
Stirling, Scotland is not only rich with historical influence but it’s positioning within the country makes it a great base to explore both Edinburgh and the surrounding areas, as well as Falkirk, and Glencoe (Glen Coe).
Here’s a quick little history lesson for you: Stirling (and it’s bridge) were made famous thanks to William Wallace (along side Andrew Moray) and their courageous defeat of the English forces led by John De Warenne and Hugh De Cressingham. Wallace and Moray were strategic in their attack and let the English forces advance over the bridge (nearly 2000 men), waiting for their opportune moment to attack. Wallace and Moray charged with a counter attack, locking the English in poor positioning and wiped out the forces as they attempted to cross over Stirling Bridge. This was a monumental success for Wallace, Moray, and the Scottish forces and the English destroyed the bridge in retaliation of this Scottish defeat. The bridge was latter rebuilt as well as several monuments around the area. The Stirling we see today is a vibrant town with something to entertain every type of traveler.
After our time in Isle of Skye, we made our way along A87 towards A82 and Glen Coe, then to head South towards Stirling on A85 and A84. Believe me, it’s not as confusing as it sounds and it we actually found it quite easy to navigate across the country. After leaving Skye and driving through Glencoe, you’re greeted with some of the most pristine landscapes imaginable and endless opportunities for some great hiking and photo opportunities. Typical Scottish weather, we had moments of utter downpour as well as some moments of striking blue skies and we took full advantage of the changes in weather in order to snap some very different photos of the same locations.
Where A87 and A82 meet, there is an area known as Invergarry and if you follow the route, you’ll see one of the Scottish Heritage Trust (SHT) signs that signifies that there is a castle in the area. We decided to check it out and found ourselves at a completely abandoned castle known as Invergarry Castle. There was, of course, a fence around the property and a sign that read something like, “Unstable, do not enter. Should you choose to ignore this warning, you lift all legal consequences from the owner of the property.” Now that’s not exactly what the sign said, but you get the idea, and it was all we needed to hop the fence and snap some pictures of the incredible structure from the inside. After walking around the perimeter of the fence, we found a section that had been ripped down by previous trespassers and used this as our entrance. From here we were able to see a path that led down to the waters edge of Loch Oich with which the castle remains rested upon.
Our next stop along this stretch of our journey was Fort William, a small town along Loch Eil and Loch Linnhe. The remains of the original fort can still be seen and if you’re into hiking, Fort William is your base for Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak. Not to mention it’s in close proximity to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, aka the iconic railroad structure for the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter series. We didn’t spend too much time here other than exploring the small remains of the 1600s fort and grabbing gas before heading off in the car again. I wish we had at least gotten lunch here and explored a bit more, as the town is quite quaint.
After Fort Williams you’ll hit the actual town of Glencoe which is rather small, but the area that is considered Glencoe is worth every bit of exploring. It was absolutely stunning and the way the weather was changing so quickly created some pretty dramatic changes in the landscape as well. The area is pretty remote so if you’re looking for hikes where you might not see another person for awhile, this is the place to do it.
After Glencoe you’ll drive through the Northeastern edge of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. Again, some absolutely incredibly scenery and it had become quite foresty in this area. There were signs to watch for wildlife absolutely everywhere and we saw multiple deer along this stretch of drive. We should have stopped and explored this area a bit more. There were campsites and outdoorsy activities around nearly every turn.
From there we approached an area called Doune and saw another SHT sign for a castle so we veered off the freeway only to find ourselves at none other than Doune Castle, AKA the castle used as Winterfell during the earlier seasons of Game of Thrones. The castle has been used in many films and TV series such as the aforementioned Game of Thrones series, as well as Monty Python and Outlander. The castle has had major restoration done to it thanks to it’s use in film and is therefore in impeccable condition. It’s also free to explore at will and was fun to recognize some of the rooms from the films I mentioned. We arrived at the castle relatively late, as we did with nearly every other castle we viewed, and therefore had the pleasure of exploring the castle with no one else there. Naturally, this made for some epic photos and videos and we walked away from the castle with it being one of our favorites along our trip. Do not miss this castle if you’re in the area.
From Doune you’re just a short drive from Stirling, and you’ll pass through Falkirk on the way where the Kelpie sculptures are and it’s definitely worth a quick stop for a few photos. There is a small cafeteria style venue that serves up some fresh made plates as well as grab and go sandwiches. We got ourselves some coffee and strolled around the park for a little, taking in the sights and admiring the incredible Kelpies. At night, different colored lights come on and light up the Kelpies which transforms this amazing art instillation into a glowing masterpiece.
We arrived in Stirling shortly after 6p and navigated some tiny streets to find our hotel (Friars Wynd Hotel). The location of our hotel was incredible and placed us within walking distance of Stirling Castle, William Wallace Monument, and tons of shopping and dining. I HIGHLY recommend booking this place if you’re in Stirling. Not only were the accommodations cleans and comfortable, the owner of the hotel was incredibly charming and gave us some good locals insight about Stirling.
Our first night in Stirling we were pretty tired from driving from Isle of Skye and making some stops along the way. Our hotel was located conveniently close to our one of our favorite spots in Scotland, Brew Dog, so we popped over for some beers and pizza. Within a matter of minutes of sitting down and getting our beers, the weather flipped a 180 and Stirling was hit was some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen in my life. It only lasted about 20 minutes, but my god did it come down! A perfect example of the extremes of Scottish weather.
The following morning we woke early and had the breakfast included with our room. My boyfriend went with some classic eggs Benedict while I opted for a full traditional Scottish breakfast. Let me just say that you can’t visit Scotland without having a traditional breakfast at least once during your trip. The plate consisted of: haggis, black pudding, Lorne sausage, beans, a fried egg, bacon, a tomato, and buttered toast. It was enough food and protein to easily keep me full throughout the better half of the day, but boy was it tasty. Also, I’m oddly obsessed with haggis after trying it. The flavors were exceptional and it had a fun texture as well. Honestly, the weirdest thing for me was probably the Lorne sausage, it looked like a piece of bologna, but the spices and flavorings were a bit much for me. After breakfast we made our way over to the William Wallace Monument.
The William Wallace Monument is an impressive tower with chambers throughout the structure that are reached by ascending 246 steps up a spiral staircase. There are four chambers to view: The Keepers Lodge, The Hall of Arms, The Hall of Heroes, The Royal Chamber, and The Crown. Each of these areas, aside from The Crown, offer museum style information and viewing of artifacts and timelines of important events in Stirling history and the significant role that William Wallace and Robert the Bruce had on the landscape we see today. At the very top of the structure is the Crown where you get 360* views of the surrounding area. We we were luckily having the best weather that day that we had had during our entire trip so we were able to see for miles from the top and it was truly a beautiful sight to see.
After clambering about the monument and the grounds with which it’s built on, we made our way back into the heart of Stirling to explore Stirling Castle. This castle is one of my absolute favorites in all of Scotland and it’s nearly perfectly preserved with authentic woodworkings in the great halls and artifacts left over from it’s highly important role throughout history.
It was rather warm by the time we reached the gates of Stirling Castle and the sun was shining bright on it’s perfectly manicured lawn so we grabbed some ice cream from a small food truck like stand called Mackie’s of Scotland and snacked on our ice cream while sitting in the sun in the grass. It was delightful.
Stirling Castle is a large and impressive structure and will take you at least 3-4 hours to explore in it’s entirety. There are plenty of dungeon like chambers, small passage ways, large kitchen areas, a great hall, a chapel, king and queens chambers, and much more to explore as well as surrounding structures along the road leading up to the castle that you can explore prior to or after visiting the castle.
The castle is HUGE, one of the largest we toured and it’s nearly perfectly preserved and makes you feel as you’re stepping back in time to the 16-1700s as you explore the castle at your leisure. It’s one of, if not the largest castle we saw while we were there.
Aside from the regular sight seeing that’s absolutely necessary when you visit Stirling, take some time to simply stroll around the city. It’s hard to get lost because you can see the castle or the Wallace Monument from nearly anywhere so maintaining your sense of direction is a breeze. On our final night there we grabbed a few beers and some more of those absolutely delicious salt & Chardonnay vinegar Chips from the local Co-Op and meandered over to a park to lay in the grass and enjoy the crisp air and sunlight late into the evening.
The next morning we packed up our car once more and began making our way back towards Edinburgh. I happened to see a small sign along the way that said “Wallace’s Cave” so naturally I made my boyfriend, Joe, veer off the road so we could check it out. It proved to be very difficult to find and we were simply following small wooden signs that pointed with arrows along the route. We finally came to an industrial farming area and parked our car behind a tractor and became hiking towards a small ravine with a creek running through the center. It was a remote area and as turned around a corner along the narrow footpath we came face-to-face with a fully grown Doe. She stopped and stared at us for a moment before bounding off into the forest. After hiking for about 30 minutes we can across what had to be Wallace’s Cave, although after looking it up, there seems to be several “Wallace’s caves” throughout the Scottish lowlands so I’m not sure if it truly had any connection to William Wallace. There was however some carvings into the rock which were very cool and VERY old.
Along the way back you’ll also pass Roslin Chapel and Castle, both are absolutely stunning and should not be missed. People were saying that the Roslin Chapel is what was used for inspiration for the book The Da Vinci Code but I’m not too sure about that one. The castle can apparently be rented out and allows for free range of the castle and it’s incredible ground and hiking paths.
Once we finally made it back to Edinburgh we said goodbye to our trusty rental car, dropping it off near the airport, and stayed for our final night in Scotland at the Hilton Double Tree near the airport so we could hop on the plane in the morning for the last led of our adventure: Paris, France.