Stirling Castle was one of the main reasons for my visit to Stirling. It’s a very famous location, and visible from miles around. I was really excited to visit, and I was not disappointed. Stirling Castle is vast and beautiful, with lots of history and lots to see. It cost around £15 for a ticket, which seemed a lot at the time, but there is easily a whole day of fun and adventure to be found. A must-see, if you’re in the area!
What trip to a monument would be complete without stopping off at the cafe? This was the first place we went since we were a little hangry (hungry leading to angry). The cafe at Stirling Castle is run by Belugo, who run basically every museum cafe in London, so that was familiar. They do a fine line in slightly over-priced but perfectly acceptable food. The coffee was fine, the cake was delicious.
Our next stop was the Great Kitchen. This was a surprise! The whole place was filled with models and statues of medieval servants. They were preparing and cooking plastic models of food. It sounds quite cheesy, but it was really atmospheric. The lighting was very low and flickering, and you could definitely imagine working in these dark and cramped conditions. The only thing I couldn’t really imagine was the smoke and the heat, but that probably would’ve been one step too far!
Walking around generally
After this, we went a good while not really seeing anything. We went on a lovely walk around the castle, checking out all of the nooks and crannies. There are dozens of canons, portcullises, turrets, and other castle things. You can walk all the way around one of the battlements, which was really great. My mum was terrified of falling off, but I wasn’t worried.
On our walk we came across several museums. One was a design museum, dedicated to recording old construction techniques. It was very interesting, and there was plenty to touch and watch and listen to. I would have loved to stay there a little longer, but there is so much to see and I could feel time ticking past…
The other attractions in that corner of the castle were the gunpowder store and the tapestry museum. We were afraid of the tapestry since it didn’t look like there were any tourists in there, just an enthusiastic castle employee/guide. We didn’t want to be educated so we gave it a miss.
The gunpowder store was really interesting though. It was only built recently and there was lots and lots of rules in order to keep everyone safe. You couldn’t wear any metal, for example, in case it made a spark, and you had to wear special shoes that wouldn’t create any friction. It was really fun reading all of the careful precautions they had to go to, and imagining how it would feel to work in such a dangerous location.
Our next stop was the Great Hall. It was built in 1497 by James IV as a sort of secular cathedral, to show his wealth and success and the education of ‘modern’ Scotland. The Great Hall has recently been refurbished (the army occupied the whole castle from around 1800 to 1965) and it was just so beautiful. The ceiling in particular is fantastic – made of new wood but in exactly the same style as the old hammerbeam roof. The whole room is so magical and warm, you can easily imagine the medieval feasts and events that took place there.
The outside is painted yellow following the restoration. This was controversial at the time since everyone was so used to the Great Hall being grey. Nonetheless, the yellow paint means it can be seen from miles around, which was definitely the point! I actually read a really good article about the restoration process here, which I would very much recommend.
After the Great Hall we took a little secret passage that the royals would have taken to their apartments. I’ve visited a lot of royal apartments before: at Schoenbrunn and in Naples, for example. These apartments were a lot smaller than the later European counterparts, which isn’t a surprise. Those apartments were built in the 18th century, whereas the apartments at Stirling Castle were built in the 16th.
These apartments were also recently refurbished, and I really liked how simple some of the rooms were. It gave me a much better idea of the space, and allowed what furniture there was (all beautifully made and wooden) to really sing. Then again, a lot of the rooms were also very elaborate and exotic – certainly fit for a king!
Stirling Heads museum
Next on the agenda were these two museums. We only made it into one, since we were too late to visit the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum. The museum we did visit was all to do with the Stirling heads. James V decided to cement his claims to royalty by commissioning 37 wooden seals of his ancestors and other famous figures – Roman emperors, gods – as well as traditional poses of the day.
The heads themselves were all but lost to neglect and woodworm, so they have been re-made by industrious Scots-people. It seems bizarre, and it totally is, but you’ve got to admire the effort.
Our last stop was the chapel. It was built in 1594 to celebrate the birth of Henry, first son of James VI and I (the numbering gets like this because of the union of the crowns). I guess James knew that his son could be king of England, since Queen Elizabeth I wasn’t looking very broody. As it happened, Henry died of typhoid and the UK got Charles I instead… and everyone knows how well that went!
The chapel wasn’t desperately religious, mostly just very simple and calm. It was the perfect place to end our tour of the castle, looking out through those lovely windows over the Scottish countryside.
A lovely day out!