I associate Stirling first and foremost with its castle. I always say that it’s my favourite big castle in Scotland, far better than Edinburgh which benefits hugely from its location but otherwise is just a barracks. For this second Intercity round, I had to think of other streets I associate with Stirling and the only other one that came to mind was the other road up to the castle, the one that goes past the Old Town Jail and the Youth Hostel. I was in Stirling on a warm July afternoon and walked up to the Castle Esplanade where I stood for a moment and looked up to the castle itself. I had no time to explore it, sadly, and headed back down the esplanade with a fair few others. A piper stood outside Mar’s Wark so I couldn’t really look much at the edifice. I might be chucked out of Scotland for saying this but I don’t actually like bagpipes. Luckily the tourists and purists do so it benefits the economy and makes the world go round. As I passed the Church of the Holy Rude, an impressive grey pile, I made the usual resolution to go in one day. Again, time.
Cities are excellent places to look up in. Stirling is a great example of that. I turned my head and saw the Tolbooth tower with a weathervane on the building below, the words ‘Quarrelling is taboo’ across its lintel. That building belonged to the Scouts judging by its symbols. Across the road was the Old Town Jail, which had an interpretation board talking of its modern design with single cells and which meant ‘the chaplain could preach to all the prisoners whilst they were in their cells’. I suspect the prisoners might have been especially repentant after that. Next door was a monument to Ebenezer Erskine, an 18th century secessionist from the Church of Scotland, the cupola and pillars suitably grand and it’s not at all surprising that they were added in 1859. A proper old 16th-17th century townhouse complete with lime harling stood across the way. The house next door boasted it was once the home of James IV’s tailor. It’s not for nothing that I think of Stirling as historical Disneyland. The old Royal Infirmary is now a hotel.
Going back to the modern world, a cafe further down the hill was called Mamma Mia. Always one for the easy joke, I couldn’t help thinking ‘Here I go again’ as I came past it. The school across the road was a suitably Victorian schoolhouse, the 1891 epitome of ‘the most recent improvements in school architecture’, according to the board. Welly boots hung on the railings and I’m not sure why. Further down the hill the Wetherspoons was full of Hibs fans in town for the football, just enjoying the day soon to be ruined by our team’s dismal performance. A sign for a cat cafe made me shake my head in disbelief. I just don’t get cats as a concept. Strange animals. Anyway, what I do like is architecture and the Athenaeum at the top of King Street was great, bearing a statue of William Wallace. Frankly it would be either him or Bruce. The Athenaeum is a stunning building, designed like a horseshoe with an elegant spire and clock tower. It now houses shops and offices, according to the Stirling City Heritage Trust. King Street is generally interesting with lots of businesses, hotels and restaurants, the Co-op building suitably Victorian style. The lampposts bore banners for the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival which happens in Stirling in September. That’s a genre I like to read but sadly I am yet to get there. I always like a town that flaunts its reading.
After a walk through the shopping precinct, I ended up back at the station, my next destination the rather fine Engine Shed, a centre for historical buildings and their conservation, and finally the football. My last thought came as I passed a shop. Its A-frame had the words: ‘Dad, Are We Scottish? Shut Up Son And Drink Your Whisky’. Guess what they sold?
Thank you for reading. Another Intercity adventure will appear here in August. Other instalments in this series can be found on the Intercity page including the first Stirling walk which was on a wet day in December.