Stirling Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Stirling

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    Stirling Castle

    by Drever Updated Feb 16, 2014

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    Model of Stirling Castle
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    Stirling Castle is a national monument managed by the Historic Scotland agency. A fortress, garrison, king’s home, and a parliament during its lifespan, it played an important part in Scotland’s history.

    Standing atop a volcanic crag, a strong defensive position surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, it looms impressively against the skyline. As ‘He who holds Stirling, holds Scotland’, it often came under attack. Edward I of England bombarded the castle, using twelve siege engines, for four months in 1304 with lead and stone balls, Greek fire, and even a gunpowder mixture before the garrison of 30 surrendered.

    Robert the Bruce levelled the site, preferring that it never again be used against him. Most of the castle therefore dates from the 15th and 16th centuries—the outer defences fronting the town from the early 18th century.

    King James III erected the gatehouse, forming part the forefront extending across the width of the Rock. At either end were massive rectangular blockhouses, and flanking the gateway, were four great 'rounds', with conical roofs. Unfortunately, only the southern blockhouse, the adjoining curtain wall, the gateway, and lower portion of the inner rounds, remain.

    To the left of the gatehouse, and forming the south side of the upper court, is the Palace block. Built by King James IV and V, with its combination of Renaissance and late-Gothic detail, it is one of the most charming buildings in Scotland. The famous portrait roundels known as The Stirling Heads, originally decorated the ceiling of the King’s Presence Chamber. Taken down in 1777, many of them are now in the Smith Institute, Stirling, and some in the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh.

    The Royal Lodgings is decked out, medieval style, complete with tapestries, furniture, and decorative ceiling detail. Inventories dating from James V's reign, show over one hundred tapestries in the Royal collection by 1539. Among these, are the 'Hunt of the Unicorn' series, which date from 1495-1505. The aim is to recreate the entire seven tapestries. Six of the magnificent tapestries are complete and hang in the Queen’s Inner Hall of the Palace where they can be viewed They have been woven by hand, using techniques dating back to the 1400s. Work on the final one is underway in a purpose built studio within Stirling Castle. It gives a rare opportunity to view the complexity of this form of art from cartoon to finished product.

    On the east side of the upper court is the great Parliament Hall, built by King James III. It is 125 feet long and 36 feet wide, with two magnificent oriel windows flanking the dais at the southern end. After more than 30 years of work, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Great Hall, restored to its 1504 condition on November 30, 1999.

    The small building on the Hall’s east side is the old Mint. On the north side is the magnificent renaissance Chapel Royal, fully restored to its original condition.

    Guided tours are available, or if you prefer your own pace, take an audio guide.

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    Wallace's Monument

    by Drever Written Feb 2, 2014

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    Wallace's monument is situated on Abbey Craig
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    Completed in 1869 after 8-years construction, the 220-feet high Wallace Monument sits prominently on the Abbey Craig 2-miles north of the city of Stirling. From this prominent hilltop in 1297 William Wallace surveyed the English army’s approach across Stirling Bridge before leading the Scots into battle and victory. It forms a fitting, and striking, location for the national monument to a national hero. Financial support came from expatriate Scots and many European leaders, including the Italian patriot, Garibaldi.

    In 1296, Edward I of England triggered the Scottish Wars of Independence by invading Scotland. William Wallace began a successful guerrilla campaign, becoming known as the hammer and scourge of the English. Chiefly through not having the support of the Scottish nobles, Wallace suffered defeat in 1298 at the Battle of Falkirk. Eventually betrayal, Wallace received a gruesome fate. Hung, drawn and quartered in London in 1305, he became a symbol for Scotland and freedom. Robert the Bruce then took-up the battle and succeeded in throwing the invaders out.

    On reaching the Pavilion Visitor Centre some visitors to the Wallace Monument are startled by the similarity of the statue of William Wallace to Mel Gibson, who played William Wallace in the film "Brave Heart." From here, visitors can climb Abbey Craig or take the minibus service to reach the foot of the monument.

    A panoramic view exists from the base of Wallace Monument, but from the top it is breathtaking. In the entrance foyer of the monument there is a display about Sir William Wallace, the fund-raising campaign, the design competition, and the building of this national landmark.

    The first floor contains displays telling the story of the life of Wallace and of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The highlight is a 3-D simulation in which Wallace appears at his trial at Westminster Hall, telling his own story via the "William Wallace Talking Head." Also on display is Wallace's sword, some 5 feet 4 inches long. Amazing how anyone could have fought with such a massive weapon! Repaired three times, it had certainly been wielded powerfully.

    In the Scottish Hall of Heroes on the next floor are marble sculptures of other great Scots. These include writers, explorers, inventors, and statesmen including, Robert the Bruce, Sir Walter Scott, David Livingstone, Robert Burns, and James Watt.

    The third floor of the Wallace Monument contains a 360° diorama presenting the history of the surrounding landscape. The final climb leads to The Crown of the Monument, which brings the diorama to life and makes every one of those 246 steps worthwhile. In looking over the town of Stirling and the carseland of the Forth Valley, as far as the Forth bridges in the East and Ben Lomond in the West, the monument offers one of the finest views in Scotland.

    Upon returning down the narrow spiral staircase to the ground level, visitors can browse the gift shop or drop into the Victorian Tea Room and ponder the do or die times past.

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    Old Town Jail

    by Drever Written Feb 2, 2014

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    The Jails's grim exterior
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    Stirling’s forbidding Old Town Jail stands at the heart of the city's historic quarter, in its day a deterrent to wrongdoers. The prison is now one of Stirling’s attractions. Opened in 1847, it replaced the stinking, overcrowded Tollbooth Jail. With transportation to the Colonies no longer practised, prisons were there to encourage criminals not to offend again.

    Victorian reformers practised what they preached. "Coarse food; a dress of shame; hard, continual, irksome labour; a planned and regulated and unrelenting exclusion of happiness and comfort" was their prescription for the unfortunate souls detained within these walls. Prisoners suffered endless hours on treadmills and pointlessly turning a crank handle, as the moralistic Victorians believed that hard work was good for the soul.

    The jailers could make turning the crank handle harder by tightening a screw (the phrase "turning the screw" originates from this, as does the UK slang term of "screw" for a prison warder).

    Living History actors took us on a tour to show what jail life was like behind bars 150 years ago. In those days, criminals could be publicly whipped, branded, banished, or hanged. Although Jock Rankin, the hangman, detailed his job, his explanation was wasted on me, for one of my neighbours had been a real hangman. He liked to explain his grisly job and measure me up for the drop! He professed no regrets but was fooling himself.

    We also heard Frederick Hill's, Victorian Inspector of Prisons, views on prison reform. He described the new conditions as "a hotel for criminals." It's a view still held about modern prisons—now prisoners have loads of human rights, while 150 years ago they had none.

    On visiting the inmates in their single cells, we witnessed the strict regime by which the Victorians sought to correct their morals. At one point alarm bells rang—a prisoner had escaped! Kindly he took time to stop and give us his views on prison and what he would like to do to the "screws."

    Perhaps the most atmospheric part of the tour was when we wandered round the cells on our own to see the Spartan conditions. Reaching the small area at the top of the building, we saw where prisoners were allowed to breath fresh air—for 30 minutes a day, if they were lucky! A viewing deck gave us panoramic views over the Old Town, the Forth Valley, and north to the first mountain ranges of the Highlands.

    Handsets provide commentary on prison life. They paint a frightening picture of what it would have been like to be imprisoned here. As we walked through the dark corridors inspecting the cells, we experienced the atmosphere of jail life: creaking hinges, a shuffle of feet, and time hanging heavily in the air.

    There is a small museum of items connected with the prison, and finally there is a gift shop for you to buy a souvenir of your time in Stirling’s forbidding Old Town Jail.

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    Argyll's Lodging

    by Drever Written Feb 2, 2014

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    The High Dining Room
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    Argyll's Lodging, in the historic old town of Stirling, is the finest surviving 17th century townhouse in Scotland. The founder of Nova Scotia, Sir William Alexander (Earl of Stirling), bought and extended the house in the 1630s. He added wings to create a building on three sides of a courtyard with a screen wall facing on to Castle Wynd. Using the latest architectural ideas— including thinner walls and larger windows—he make the building lighter and more pleasant to live in. Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, inherited the property in the mid-1660s.

    Argyll's Lodging stands on the approach road to Stirling Castle, making it a convenient address for nobles meeting the king, as he often stayed at the Castle. Indeed the main source of architectural inspiration for the Renaissance exterior detail is James V’s palace in Stirling Castle.

    To fit with the earls’ exalted status, the lavish interior design equalled the impressiveness of the outside. Many of the rooms furnishing included arras tapestries, and matching screens. Roaring fires blazed from the huge carved fireplaces, painted in gold and vibrant colours.

    The building is now in the care of Historic Scotland. Using an available inventory, they have refurnished the apartments as they appeared around 1680, when the Earl of Argyll owned it, making it easy to envisage life here.

    The drawing room’s sumptuous furnishing includes tapestries lining the walls. The fireplace is decorated with mythical beasts and the arms of Lord Stirling and his wife. In the "state apartment" the Earl had his meals and entertained distinguished guests. He sat upon his chair of state while his family and guests sat on cane chairs. For larger dinner parties he entertained guests in the high dining room with the tables set with fine glass, china, and silver dishes. Here, also, the family’s collection of paintings hung from the wall. To allow the space to double as a reception room on formal occasions, the 12 tables folded away. A blazing log fire, with a richly carved surround, kept everyone warm.

    The bedroom used by the Earl and Countess of Argyll has a huge four-poster bed, draped in purple cloth matching the wall hangings. In the 17th century, this was often the most expensive item of furniture in an aristocrat's house. On occasions, the Earl may have received favoured guests while sitting up in bed—a sign of haughty condescension, which would allow him to show off his expensive furniture!

    There are several doors off the bedroom, with one leading on to a spiral staircase used by servants to gain access without having to pass through public areas. Another leads to perhaps the most remarkable room in the house, ‘my Lady’s closet’. In 1680 the list off furnishings and precious objects in this room owned by Lady Anna MacKenzie, the earl’s second wife proved longer than for any room except the storeroom. Doing her very best to fit with the earl’s exalted status, or just being a woman?

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    Wallace Monument

    by Kuznetsov_Sergey Written Dec 6, 2013

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    Wallace Monument
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    The Wallace Monument is well seen from the Stirling Castle because it is a is a 67-metre sandstone tower standing on the summit of Abbey Craig a hilltop near Stirling.
    It commemorates Sir William Wallace, the 13th century Scottish hero who was said to have watched the gathering of the army of King Edward I of England, just before the Battle of Stirling Bridge. We all know an of Wallace's life is presented in the 1995 film Braveheart, directed by and starring Mel Gibson as Wallace.
    The tower was constructed in 1869 in the Victorian Gothic style.

    You can watch my 3 min 37 sec Video From England to Scotland by bus part 2 out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.

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    Stirling Castle Highlights

    by Kuznetsov_Sergey Written Dec 6, 2013

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    Stirling Castle Highlights
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    Stirling Castle Highlights
    When visiting the Stirling Castle you will see:
    the Statue of Robert the Bruce on the castle esplanade;
    the Forework - entry to the main part of the castle;
    the Royal Palace with Renaissance-period statues;
    the Chapel Royal which was later modified for military use, housing a dining room;
    the Grand Battery dates back to the days of the first Jacobite Rising in 1689;
    the Great Hall which was built for James IV around 1503 now following restoration;
    the King's Old Building that is over 500 years old;
    the French Spur - part of the Outer Defences, looking eastward;
    two Gardens within the castle, the southern one including a bowling green;
    the Nether Bailey, looking northward;
    the north gate and the Wallace Monument from the distance, commemorates the actions of William Wallace.

    You can watch my 3 min 25 sec Video Scotland Stirling Castle part 2 out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.

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    What a brilliant little pub.

    by planxty Written Jun 19, 2013
    Settle Inn, Stirling, UK.
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    I realise that many of my tips here on Virtual Tourist involve pubs and bars and I make no apology for it. I certainly do not wish to offend anyone who does not indulge in alcohol for religious, medical or any other reason and I know of no bar in the world (I have been in a few) where you are forced to drink alcohol. I offer this tip as an interesting place of historical interest and if you want to go there and have an orange juice or mineral water I am sure you will be most welcome.

    Enough explanation and on to the tip. I do love pubs, the older the better, as I find them to be endlessly fascinating and the Settle in Stirling is no exception. As I explained, I only spent a few hours in the town, a situation I certainly hope to rectify very soon. Having been running about all day and having a wonderful time in Dunfermline, Culross and the simply incredible Falkirk Wheel I really fancied a drink. My friend suggested a place of (their) long acquaintance and I was, as always, quite happy to accede to local knowledge, no matter how old! I am so glad I did as this place is an absolute little gem.

    On entering it was immediately obvious that this was no tourist bar in a place that relies increasingly on that industry. It was a proper "working mans" local pub. Great stuff, that is a good start. I ordered the drinks and was immdiately struck by the accent of the barmaid. No central Scottish burr here, pure Northern Irish which was great as I am from there as well. Drinks duly purchased, I set off for a look round the pub and it really is a fascinating building in addition to being an excellent place for a drink.

    I suppose the Settle Inn should have a lot of history and a few stories to tell as it dates back to 1733 but I was surprised at some of the things I found out. I bumped into the owner / manager who saw me taking pictures. I explained about VT and he was extremely helpful, answering all my many questions about his establishment including telling me about the use of the "back bar" as a prison cell for prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars. Looking at the construction of the place, I can usderstand why they used it. I cannot imagine how you would ever get out of here as the room backs onto a very huge lump of rock. No "Great Escape" here, I feel. The man could really not have been friendlier and you can see him in one of the images.

    I saw signs indicating regular music events here although we were there early week and it was fairly quiet. All in all, a brilliant, friendly and historic place and I really recommend a visit here if you are in town.

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    Remember the dead.

    by planxty Written Jun 19, 2013

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    War Memorial, Stirling, UK.
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    I appreciate that there are people who would suggest that writing a VT tip on something as mundane and common in the UK as a war memorial (in this case more than one) is hardly helpful to the traveller but I disagree. I have a number of interests when I travel and UK war memorials are one of them. If anyone has an interest in the subject, I thoroughly recommend the Imperial War Museum site. The IWM, which is internationally renowned as one of the foremost authorities in relation to war, is involved in a project to catalogue every memorial in the UK. I am surprised this has not happened before and I fully support it. It also means that I always take images of memorials wherever I find them for submission to the site.

    When I arrived in Stirling it was getting on in the evening. As my introduction page relates, I only spent a few hours here and my meagre tips relate to visiting a wonderful pub, having an excellent Thai meal and then heading off. However, there is always something to see and write about. In this case it is a number of memorials right outside the front entrance to the hugely impressive castle which are all dedicated to the 75th Regiment of Foot, the Stirlingshire Regiment. If you are not aware, in times past, British Army regiments were generally county based and given a number indicating their seniority in the OB (Order of Battle). OK, it is outdated now but was very important historically.

    to my shame, I had never heard of the Stirlings although a little research shows that they were raised in 1787 and subsequently subsumed into the Gordon Highlanders. Still further down the line they were further amalgamated and amalgamated due to defence cuts and are now part of the fairly generic Royal Regiment of Scotland. I have my own views on that but this is not the place for that.

    I am not going to write a tip on each individual memorial as they are all within feet of each other and if you see one, you will see them all. I would urge the traveller, as with any other such memorial, to pause a while and have a look at the lists of names. It is easy to be blase about these things but every name hear represents someone that died serving their country. I was interested to see that the Stirlings had served and died in both India (1857 - 8) including the Seige of Delhi and later in the South African War (1899 - 1902). It made me think a bit that the second conflict mentioned was withing the lifetime of all four of my grandparents, so it is not ancient history.

    Anyway, here are a few images and I do urge the traveller to stop and have a look if they are going to the rightfully much-visited Castle. Best of all, you do not have to pay the admission fee to enter the Castle to see these memorials.

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    Argyll's Lodging

    by iaint Updated Jan 4, 2012
    the front
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    A 17th century townhouse, just across the street from the Castle. It was a home of the Duke of Argyll, hence the name.

    It also belongs to Historic Scotland, the owners of the Castle, and as I understand it you can only visit as part of a trip to the Castle. A guided tour is compulsory. It cost an extra £2 per person on top of the Castle entrance. Worth it.

    It is not in its original state inside, but has been restored using records from the past so that it is genuine.

    Our guide was excellent.

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    Stirling Castle

    by iaint Updated Jan 4, 2012

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    inside the Palace
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    Another landmark which you see from all around, and as you drive along the M9 motorway. It's built on a hill in the middle of the River Forth flood plain, so highly visible.

    We didn't allow enough time to see it all, so will have to return to see the Chapel Royal, kitchens, Regimental Museum, Royal Buildings etc. I reckon about half a day is needed to take it all in comfortably.

    We did see the Palace, the Heads Gallery and the Great Hall. Very impressive, all.

    I liked the Castle much more than Edinburgh. It's hard to explain why.

    You can book entrance tickets on the internet, and miss possible queues at the entrance. I had a problem with the booking I made this way, and the duty manager was very helpful about sorting it when we arrived. My refund should be credited to my card, according to the email I received a couple of days later.

    Cost was £13 per adult, and that includes the audio guide. A guided tour is also available - can't remember if it's extra.

    You can park in front of the Castle - £4 for half a day. We had to wait about 15mins in a queue, and that must be worse at busy times (a wet & windy January day is hardly peak time).

    Pick a good weather day if you can. You'll be walking from building to building, and would want to see the Queen Anne Garden too.

    A tour of Argyll's Lodging nearby is an extra £2 - well worth it. I'll do a separate tip on it.

    I'll also do a tip on the Unicorn Cafe.

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    Wallace Monument

    by iaint Written Jan 4, 2012

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    in silhouette
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    How many times have I seen this landmark from a distance, or even driven past it? Countless.

    Well, the other day I went in. Or up, rather (see below).

    The monument was built in the 19th century, and stands on the top of the Abbey Craig. You'll find car parks and a visitor centre at the foot of the hill, and that's where you buy your admission ticket. Parking is free.

    A shuttle bus will take you up the hill. You can walk (say 15 mins) but when we were there (2 Jan) weather and ground conditions were a trifle adverse. The bus was ideal.

    The monument has several indoor upper floors with exhibits etc, and those include Wallace's sword. The observation floor at the top is open to the elements. When we were there it was too windy than to do anything except huddle together for warmth & protection. On a good day the views must be wonderful.

    Like most such "attractions" in Scotland you're left wondering if it was value for money, at £7.75 per adult for something which will occupy your attention for little more than an hour.

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    ARGYLL'S LODGING

    by hevbell Updated Oct 11, 2011

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    Argyll

    Another Historic Scotland property, just down the road from the castle. If you visit the castle first you don't have to pay extra to see the Lodging, otherwise its about £2.50. You can see around the building by guided tour which explains the history of the building and the people who lived there, and you can see the kitchens, reception room as well as the more homely furnished apartments upstairs. The rooms have been restored to how they would have looked around 1680.

    Worth a visit!

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    Stay on the campus of the University of Sterling

    by yanes Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    We stayed at the University of Sterling in June in one of the student housing apartments. There were 7 of us in our group and the flat had enough single bedrooms(each with a sink), two showers and two toilets plus a complete kitchen, dining area and small commons area. Bedding was provided and even the beds were comfortable. There were other families and various size groups in other buildings surrounding the grassy center commons area . One of the best parts was the easy walk to the washing/drying machines. The city bus made regular stops at the complex so it wasn't necessary to have car. The campus is beautiful and it was quiet and peaceful at night. It was ideal for the members of our group who liked to jog in the early morning or late in the evening. It was previously a 300 acre estate with gardens, loches,streams and stately trees. The main student center/sports facilities was about a ten minute walk from our rooms. There is even a golf course on the campus. These rooms are available during the summer break. It really helped to be able to store and prepare some of the meals especially when traveling with a group. We met such a variety of interesting people (the laundromat is a great meeting place) it added to a nice touch to our visit.

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    A Place to Check Your Roots

    by scottishvisitor Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    This quaint and quirky building dates back to 1639 known as Cowan's Hospital. It was never used as a hospital in the proper sense of the word but rather an almshouse usually set up for the poor or elderly. In this case Thomas Cowan opened the almshouse as a place of refuge for bankrupt merchants. Today it is an ancestral centre where you can trace your roots if indeed your ancestors came from the Stirling area. Open in summer months only entrance is free.

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    The Chapel Royal

    by scottishvisitor Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    As long as there has been a castle in Stirling there has been a Royal Chapel. The Chapel you see today was built for James Vl for the occassion of his infant Son Hendry's Christening on the 30th. August 1594 the King beleived the infant would inherit the unified crown which he did not. Later the Chapel was lavishly decorated for a visit from Charles l in 1633. During the garrison days the Chapel had a far less religious purpose. It was used as a canteen and training room. Restoration work started here in 1930 but it took until 1996 before work was finally completed including the reproduction of decorations for Charles visit. We had the little Chapel to ourselves, it was a marvelous experience to visit a place painstakingly restored, creating great beauty, with quiet, peaceful and reverent thoughts.

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Stirling Things to Do

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