Stirling Castle Walking Tour, Stirling

Stirling Castle Walking Tour (Self Guided), Stirling

Sitting atop Castle Hill in Stirling, Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland, both historically and architecturally. Before the union with England, the Castle was also one of the most used of the numerous Scottish royal residences, acting as both a palace and a fortress. Several Scottish kings and queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1542, and others were born or died here.

As you approach the Castle's entrance, you can't help noticing standing guard over the esplanade, almost silhouetted against the sky, the impressive monument to one of Scotland's greatest heroes, King Robert I, popularly known as Robert the Bruce.

Most of the Castle principal buildings date from the 15th and 16th centuries. A few structures remain from the 14th century, like the North Gate, probably the oldest part of it, erected in the 1380s; while the Outer Defences, fronting the town, date from the early 18th century.

The Forework, the gatehouse providing entry from the Outer Defences into the Castle proper, contains a courtyard known as the Outer Close. From here, to the south you can reach the Royal Palace, the King's Old Building to the west, the Chapel Royal to the north, and the Great Hall to the east.

Nowadays, visitors to the Castle are often greeted with the costumed characters playing the roles of bodyguards, court officials, maids of honor and servants, thus recreating the atmosphere of a 16th-century life. To acquaint yourself more fully with the facets of Scotland's eventful past, take this self-guided walking tour back in time and enjoy yourself!
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Stirling Castle Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Stirling Castle Walking Tour
Guide Location: Scotland » Stirling (See other walking tours in Stirling)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
Author: karenv
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Robert The Bruce Monument
  • Forework of Stirling Castle
  • Outer Defenses of Stirling Castle
  • Stirling Castle Royal Palace
  • Great Hall of Stirling Castle
  • North Gate and Great Kitchen
  • King's Old Building
  • Stirling Castle Chapel Royal
Robert The Bruce Monument

1) Robert The Bruce Monument

The sculpture of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots (from 1306 to 1329), at Stirling Castle, was designed by George Cruikshank, a caricaturist and book illustrator, and was made by the Scottish sculptor and antiquarian, Andrew Currie, in 1876-77. It was erected by public subscription, reflecting the growing interest in Scottish history and commemorating the events of the Scottish Wars of Independence.

Set upon a square pedestal, the king is carved in stone as a tall figure clad in chain-mail armour, with his hand resting on the pommel of his sword. At the feet and to the rear of the king are his shield and axe. The front of the pedestal is adorned with a copy of Bruce's shield with Lion Rampant. The stone statue incorporates some metal elements, such as the axe head, sword and parts of the shield; it is unclear whether these were included in the original design or added later to replace the lost features.

The figure faces south, towards the Bannockburn Battlefield, which lies within the sight of the castle. There, in 1314, Robert the Bruce's decisive victory over the English restored Scottish independence before the English were back at the castle, once again, in 1336. Another, equestrian statue of Robert the Bruce, by Pilkington Jackson (1887-1973), created in 1964, can be found at the Bannockburn Visitor Centre.

As of 2020, the Robert the Bruce monument at Stirling Castle has been featured on the Clydesdale Bank £20 note.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Forework of Stirling Castle

2) Forework of Stirling Castle

The gatehouse providing entry from the outer defenses to the castle proper was erected by King James IV, and was probably completed around 1506. It originally formed part of a Forework, extending as a curtain wall across the whole width of Castle Hill. At the center is the gatehouse itself, which now stands to less than half its original height.

The round towers at the outer corners rose to conical roofs, with battlements carried around the tops of the towers. These were flanked by more round towers, of which only traces now remain, and mirrored by further rounds at the rear of the gatehouse. The overall design, as drawn by John Slezer in 1693, shows French influence, and has parallels with the forework erected at Linlithgow Palace.

Like the Linlithgow structure, the Forework was probably intended more for show, evoking the "age of chivalry", than for defense, as it would have offered little protection against contemporary artillery. The entrance was via a central passage, flanked by two separate pedestrian passages. This triple arrangement was unusual in its time, and Classical triumphal arches have been suggested as an influence. The gatehouse was dismantled gradually, and was consolidated in its present form in 1810.

At each end of the crenellated curtain wall was a rectangular tower. The west tower, known as the Prince's Tower, probably after Henry, Prince of Scotland, survives to its full height, and is now attached to the later palace. At the east end, the Elphinstone Tower contained a kitchen and possibly an officer's lodging. It was cut down to form a gun battery, probably in the early 18th century when the Outer Defences were rebuilt.

Within the Forework is a courtyard known as the Outer Close. To the south-east are Georgian military buildings; the late 18th-century Main Guard House, and the early 19th-century Fort Major's House. To the west of the Outer Close, the main parts of the castle are arranged around the quadrangular Inner Close: the Royal Palace to the south, the King's Old Building on the west, the Chapel Royal to the north, and the Great Hall to the east
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Outer Defenses of Stirling Castle

3) Outer Defenses of Stirling Castle

The Outer Defences comprise artillery fortifications, and were built in their present form in the 18th century, although some parts, including the French Spur at the east end, date back to the regency of Mary of Guise in the 1550s. The French Spur was originally an ear-shaped bastion known as an orillon, and contained gun emplacements which protected the main spur. This projecting spur was fronted by an earth ramp called a talus, and was entered via a drawbridge over a ditch. Excavations in the 1970s showed that much of the original stonework remains within the 18th-century defenses.

Following the attempted Jacobite invasion of 1708, improvements to the castle's defenses were ordered as a matter of priority. A scheme of new defenses was proposed by Theodore Dury, although this was criticized by one Captain Obryan, who put forward his own, much more expensive, scheme. In the end a compromise was built, and was complete by 1714. The main front wall was extended outwards, to form Guardhouse Square. This had the effect of creating two defensive walls, both of which were fronted by ditches defended by covered firing galleries known as caponiers. One of the caponiers survives and is accessible from Guardhouse Square by a narrow staircase.

To the rear of the walls, chambers called casemates were built to strengthen the wall, and to provide gun emplacements. The French Spur was modified slightly to allow more cannons to be mounted. The buildings within Guardhouse Square date from the 19th century. Outside the castle is the early 19th-century Esplanade, used as a parade ground, and now as a car park and performance space.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Stirling Castle Royal Palace

4) Stirling Castle Royal Palace

To the left of the gatehouse, and forming the south side of the Inner Close, is the Royal Palace. The first Renaissance palace in the British Isles, this was the work of King James V. With its combination of Renaissance architecture, and exuberant late-gothic detail, it is one of the most architecturally impressive buildings in Scotland, covered with unique carved stonework. It was begun in the 1530s, and was largely complete by the late 1540s.

The architecture is French-inspired, but the decoration is German in inspiration, and sources for the statues have been found in the work of the German engraver Hans Burgkmair. The statues include a line of soldiers on the south parapet, and a series of full-size figures around the principal floor. These principal figures include a portrait of James V, the Devil, St Michael, and representations of Venus and several planetary deities. Their arrangement on the north, east and south faces of the Palace has been interpreted in relation to the quarters of the heavens.

Internally, the Palace comprises two apartments, one each for the king and queen. Each has a hall, presence chamber, and bedchamber, with various small rooms known as closets. The Renaissance decoration continued inside, although little has survived the building's military use, excepting the carved stone fireplaces.

The ceiling of the King's Presence Chamber was originally decorated with a series of carved oak portrait roundels known as the Stirling Heads, described as "among the finest examples of Scottish Renaissance wood-carving now extant". Some of the heads may have been made by a French-born carver Andrew Mansioun. The carvings were taken down following a ceiling collapse in 1777, and of an estimated 56 original heads, 38 survive.

Some of the portraits are believed to be of kings, queens or courtiers, and others are thought to show classical or Biblical figures. As with the exterior carving, similarities to German sources have been noted, and in particular to a ceiling in Wawel, Poland.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Great Hall of Stirling Castle

5) Great Hall of Stirling Castle

On the east side of the Inner Close is the Great Hall, or Parliament Hall. This was built by James IV following on from the completion of the King's Old Building in 1497, and was being plastered by 1503. Described as "the grandest secular building erected in Scotland in the late Middle Ages", it represents the first example of Renaissance-influenced royal architecture in that country.

It was worked on by a number of English craftsmen, and incorporates some English design ideas, being comparable to Edward IV's hall at Eltham Palace in Kent, built in the late 1470s. It includes Renaissance details, such as the intersecting tracery on the windows, within a conventional medieval plan. Inside are five fireplaces, and large side windows lighting the dais end, where the king would be seated. It is 42 by 14.25 m (137.8 by 46.8 ft) across.

The original hammerbeam roof was removed in 1800, along with the decorative crenellated parapet, when the hall was subdivided to form barracks. Two floors and five cross-walls were inserted, and the windows were altered accordingly. As early as 1893, calls were being made for the restoration of the Great Hall, but it was not until the army left in 1965 that the opportunity arose. It was agreed that a historically correct restoration could be achieved, and works began which were only completed in 1999. The hammerbeam roof and parapet were replaced, windows reinstated, and the outer walls were limewashed.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
North Gate and Great Kitchen

6) North Gate and Great Kitchen

Under the early Stewart kings Robert II (reigned 1371–1390) and Robert III (reigned 1390–1406), the earliest surviving parts of the castle were built. Robert Stewart, Earl of Menteith, Regent of Scotland as brother of Robert III, undertook works on the north and south gates. The present north gate is built on these foundations of the 1380s, the earliest surviving masonry in the castle.

The early North Gate, giving access to the Nether Bailey, contained the original castle kitchens, which were probably linked to the Great Hall. The Great Kitchen was constructed later, against the east wall of the castle. The small building above the North Gate is traditionally said to have been a mint, known in Scots as the Cunzie Hoose or "coining house".

Beyond the North Gate, the Nether Bailey occupies the northern end of Castle Hill. Surrounded by defensive walls, the area contains a 19th-century guard house and gunpowder stores, and the modern tapestry studio. There was formerly access to the Nether Bailey from Ballengeich to the west, until the postern was blocked in response to the threat of Jacobite rebellion.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
King's Old Building

7) King's Old Building

"The King's House", now known as the King's Old Building, is the oldest part of the Inner Close, and is located on its west side. It was begun as a new residential range by King James IV, around 1496, and originally comprised an L-shaped building.

The King's Old Building ceased to be the monarch's residence after the completion of the Royal Palace in the 1540s and subsequently saw a variety of uses. It had already become known as the "King's Old Work" by 1687, and in 1719 was used to house a number of the officers in the military garrison here. In the 1790s, floors and windows were inserted to provide accommodation for a larger garrison.

In 1855, the north end of the building burned down, and was rebuilt in a Baronial style by the architect and historian Robert William Billings. The north end is located on the highest part of the castle rock and it is likely that the site had already been built on, probably several times, in the earlier history of Stirling Castle.

At the southwest end of the range is a linking building, once used as kitchens, which is on a different alignment to both the King's Old Building and the adjacent Royal Palace. It has been suggested that this is an earlier 15th-century structure, dating from the reign of James I. Excavations within this building, in 1998, revealed burials, suggesting that this may have been the site of a church or chapel.

Today, the King's Own Building houses the regimental museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Stirling Castle Chapel Royal

8) Stirling Castle Chapel Royal

It is likely that there has been a chapel within Stirling Castle for as long as there has been the castle itself. Indeed, the earliest evidence of the castle's existence was the investiture of a chapel inside it, by Alexander I, in 1110. There are frequent later references to chapels at Stirling Castle, and at times it seems possible that there might have been more than one.

There are also frequent references to a Chapel Royal in particular. Perhaps the most famous of them is that infant Mary, Queen of Scots was brought to Stirling Castle for safety and crowned in the Chapel Royal on 9 September 1543. Another one is that she, controversially, celebrated Mass here upon her return from France, in 1561. Still, rather confusingly, none of this happened in the actual Chapel Royal that we see today.

The collegiate chapel established by James IV, in 1501, lay between the King's Old Building and the Great Hall, but it was further south than the present building. It was there that Queen Mary was crowned. When James VI's first son, Prince Henry, was born in 1594, it was decided to rebuild the chapel as a suitable venue for the royal christening.

The new building was erected within a year, north of the old site, to improve access to the hall. The chapel, with its Italianate arched windows, was the work of the Royal Master of Works, William Schaw. The interior was decorated by the painter Valentine Jenkin prior to the visit of Charles I, in 1633. The chapel, too, was later modified for military purpose, and was added with a dining room.

The extensive restoration began in the 1930s rediscovered the wall paintings and saw the removal of the extra floor. However, it took until 1996 for the Chapel Royal to be fully restored to the condition it's seen in today, complete with the reconstruction of the magnificent decoration put in place for Charles I's visit.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Stirling, Scotland

Create Your Own Walk in Stirling

Create Your Own Walk in Stirling

Creating your own self-guided walk in Stirling is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Stirling Introduction Walking Tour

Stirling Introduction Walking Tour

On the River Forth in central Scotland, you'll find the picturesque city of Stirling. Its location at the lowest crossing point over the river made it a strategic spot to start a settlement. The town dates back to ancient Roman times, though much of the city is medieval and Victorian. It was a small market town that grew while becoming known as the "Gateway to the Highlands."

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles