I’ve just been watching a documentary on the iPlayer about the history of Scottish art, covering up until the Middle Ages, from the Romans, Picts and Gaels right on through. It has covered many of my favourite places, including Linlithgow, Orkney and Iona. Another was Stirling.
I was in Stirling just before Christmas, to visit the Castle, by far and away my favourite big castle in Scotland. Stirling can lay claim on being the most historic place in Scotland. From the castle battlements, you can see Bannockburn, Stirling Bridge and Falkirk, the scenes of three of the most historic battles in our nation’s history. The views are amazing from up there, to the Trossachs and the beginning of the Highlands, across central Scotland towards Edinburgh and the other way towards Strathblane. Down below is the King’s Knot, a raised grassy area laid out in an elegant pattern, designed to reflect European elegance from the centre of the Scottish court.
The Palace (shown below) at Stirling Castle is stunning. The statues, gargoyles, pillars and features are a feast of details, a treat even on the dullest day. It was designed to show the prestige and power of Scotland in the 16th century. Inside are the Stirling Heads, wooden sculptures that once graced the Palace’s ceilings, one with musical notations around it that weren’t deciphered until very recently.
Across the way is the Great Hall (shown above), harled in yellow as it was when it was once built. It has a magnificent hammerbeam ceiling, held together by pegs rather than nails, and I like to sit there a while, ignoring the faux medieval music and the folk posing in the chairs at the top table, gazing at the ceiling and at the magnificently restored windows. I was there last year, though, when the Great Hall was hosting the Great Tapestry of Scotland, a tapestry woven by people from across the country depicting scenes from Scotland’s past, including some not so far from where I was standing. I am not overly fussed by decorative art but the Tapestry is wonderful, a great way of encouraging people to learn more about their history and look at something beautiful while they’re at it.
The Chapel Royal, scene of the coronation of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1543, is also a fine building. I love its light.
Stirling Castle is, for me, the best castle in Scotland, with the possible exception of Tantallon or Hailes. I just like to walk around, to imagine the past that once played out there as much as to look out over the walls to the present happening all around. It’s an once or twice a year kind of place, in winter and maybe in summer, to see the different light and the gardens in full bloom. There’s always something a new detail or a new angle of the light to enjoy there, which makes each time worth it and special in its own way.