Stirling and historic Stirlingshire Scotland

Tangible remnants of the past

The town of Stirling was the first capital of Scotland and the main town of historic Stirlingshire (Stirling county).  Stirling received its first charter as a royal burgh (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_burgh) in the 12th century.

For the modern visitor, a stroll through the streets of Stirling Old Town and the Castle Wynd gives a feeling for how the town looked centuries ago.

Stirling Old Town, with Holy Rude on the left
Stirling Old Town, with Holy Rude on the left

Holy Rude is a historic church where James VI (son of Mary, Queen of Scots) was crowned in 1567. Behind the church is a series of graveyards overlooked by Stirling Castle.

Keeping Holy Rude to your left, if you were to turn around and face the other direction, on your left is Cowane Hospital. Quite convenient, having the hospital near the church and graveyard, don’t you think?

Cowane Hospital
Cowane Hospital

Actually Cowane Hospital was a mid-17th century almshouse for poor members of the merchant guide.  A merchant and member of the Scots Parliament, John Cowane, donated most of the money to fund it.

A sign on the wall  eloquently states:

“This hospitall was erected and largely provyded by John Cowane for the entertainment of decayed gild brethren.”

Decayed? “Hmm”, I thought. “Interesting word usage.”

Cowane Hospital inscription
“Decayed gild brethren”?

According to https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/decay, the obsolete meaning of decay is “to cause to decay”, as in “infirmity that decays the wise” (William Shakespeare).  I don’t think any 21st century person over the age of 30 would appreciate being described as “decayed”.

Other notable sites on the Castle Wynd and the Old Town include the Unicorn Mercat Cross, Argyll’s Lodging and the Old Town Jail.

Argyrll's Lodging
Someone named Argyrll lived here

The Castle Wynd terminates at Stirling Castle. I found Stirling Castle to be more engaging than Edinburgh Castle.

Stirling Castle from Bannockburn
Stirling Castle from Battle of Bannockburn site

At Stirling Castle, you can try on medieval costumes and play period musical instruments.  You can also see the King’s and Queen’s rooms as they might have appeared in the mid-16th century.

The queen's audience room
The queen’s audience room
A servant of the queen
A servant at the queen’s desk

The castle kitchen is complete with mannequins dressed as kitchen staff.  Speaking of kitchens, the cafe is worth the stop for a sweet treat or filling lunch.

Bread bakers in the kitchen of Stirling Castle
Bread bakers in the kitchen of Stirling Castle
Meat and vegetable preparation in the kitchen of Stirling Castle
Meat and vegetable preparation in the kitchen of Stirling Castle

Two historic battles in the fight for Scottish independence were fought in Stirlingshire. You can visit Stirling Bridge on foot and imagine The Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297).

The battle of Bannockburn (1314) visitor center provides a quite a bit more to help you imagine the fight.

Sunrise at Bannockburn Memorial
Winter Sunrise at Bannockburn Memorial

At the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Center, you can transform into a knight by slipping on chain mail, a helmet, and grasping a replica sword in one hand and a shield in another.

Trying period weapons and costumes
Trying period weapons and costumes

You can also transform to an archer if chain mail seems a bit heavy.

Period costume for crossbow foot soldier
Got my crossbow!

One of the highlights of your visit will be participating in a simulation based on the battle. I’m told the Scots always win. They certainly whipped the English during my visit.

Stirling churches and historical records

The history of churches in Scotland from the 16th to 18th centuries is tumultuous.

This article provides a narrative http://www.stirling-lhs.org/uploads/5/0/2/4/5024620/stirlings_churches_annotated.pdf.

Locating the actual congregation an ancestor belonged, was married, or were buried can be difficult. For example, one of my 7th great-grandfathers lived, married and died in St Ninians, Stirlingshire.  James Wands died in 1760. Burial records place him on the “back of ?ngle Hugh Campbell stone closing a double grave”. The burial list for the  St Ninians graveyard that I could find does not include any Wands or Campbells.

You can browse the database at Scotland Peoples and pay a small fee to download records of birth, baptisms, marriages, and deaths at https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/.

Getting to Stirling

Stirling is a 57-minute train ride from Edinburgh Wavery Station. Buses run from the train station to Old Town, Stirling Castle, the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Center and the Wallace Memorial. You can also choose to walk 15 minutes from the train station to Old Town or engage a taxi at the taxi stand outside the station.

Visiting London at Christmas

Christmas in London, New Year’s in Edinburgh — sounds romantic, doesn’t it?

My travel partner and I celebrated Christmas and New Year 2018 in the UK. Our visit was pleasant because we understood and accepted certain caveats.

It’s cold outside. Temperatures never got above 45° Fahrenheit. It is a damp cold, being at sea level and close to the water. The morning of our day trip to Stonehenge, the temperature gauge on the bus showed 2° Celsius (35.6° Fahrenheit).

One of the best times to avoid crowds at Stonehenge is early on a cold winter morning when frost is heavy on the grass.

Frosty morning at Stonehenge
Frosty morning at Stonehenge

Find your own ride! Public transportation in London and most of England shuts down on Christmas Day. Don’t count on the Heathrow Express to get you into London if you arrive on Christmas Day. Forget the tube. It’s closed as well. Your best choice is a hotel shuttle or a taxi. We pre-booked a taxi to take us from Heathrow to Westminster. Our cost was 68 pounds. Transport is limited to a lesser extent on Dec 26 (Boxing Day) and Jan. 1.

Pre-book your Christmas lunch. Most restaurants in London close on Christmas and Boxing day (December 26). The restaurants that are open have limited hours or only take reservations for a set menu.

Bring your patience.  If you land at London Heathrow airport on Christmas morning, the line at passport control will be slow. We counted two officers working passport control on Christmas morning. We waited 2 hours to get our passports stamped. The wait would have been longer but around 11:00 am, more staff arrived to check passports.

A lot of other people visit during Christmas week. Expect crowds at all the major tourist attractions. Be prepared for crushing crowds if you venture to Edinburgh for Hogmanay, the city’s 4-day New Year celebration. The air smelled of candle wax as we gently pushed our way through the throng of bystanders watching the Torchlight Procession. Our goal was an Italian restaurant (Bella Italia at Northbridge Rd and the Royal Mile). We were seated right away. The meal, and the view of the people were excellent once we got there.

Torchlight Procession
Watching the Torchlight Procession from inside the restaurant

Your London rewards for accepting the caveats with grace and good humor are plentiful! You can see holiday street and store front decorations and enjoy traditional holiday fare. Two hop-on hop-off bus companies run on Christmas Day. Anyone is welcome to attend the Christmas evensong service at Westminster Abby or St Paul’s Cathedral. Maybe the best London  reward is the relative quiet of a city that stops on Christmas day so residents can celebrate the holiday.

Mayfair decorations
London’s Mayfair neighborhood decorated for Christmas
Lights near Picadilly circus
Street decorations near London’s Piccadilly circus
Northbank lights
London holiday Northbank decorations
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square

Your Edinburgh reward is celebrating the new year with thousands of other revelers. If you choose to take part in any Hogmanay activities (https://www.edinburghshogmanay.com/whats-on ), plan in advance. I’ll cover driving into Edinburgh in another post, but my final caveat is DON’T EVEN THINK about driving into Edinburgh during Hogmanay. Edinburgh Waverley station (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh_Waverley_railway_station) is a ten minute walk down the hill from the Royal Mile and accessible to the new town.