One of Scotland’s great strongholds, Stirling Castle has been pivotal in the country’s history time and again. Its location – on a rock outcrop above a flat Forth Valley from which the Highlands slowly rise – put it at the country’s strategic centre and have made it the site of several battles.
The burly, impregnable-looking, castle evolved over centuries. The first fortifications date back to the Iron Age, but now it’s mostly 15th- and 16th-century. Its ad-hoc construction helped make the castle a wonderful place to explore and a real hit with kids: think multiple levels of battlements, cannon ports, hidden staircases and chambers, all interspersed with pretty gardens and lawns.
Also very child-friendly is the castle’s events programme, which include sword fights and tapestry weaving demos to bring the past alive.
Otherwise highlights include an elegant Great Hall, a Royal Palace and a Museum to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regiment.
The 1503 Great Hall, with its five huge fireplaces and impressive rough-wood beamed ceiling, was used by the British army until 1964. But it’s been magnificently resorted since, making it Scotland’s finest medieval secular building – and, yes, the rather sickly creamy exterior is faithful to the original!
But the biggest castle building is the mid-16th century Palace whose royal chambers lie mostly bare, yet remain impressive. Their greatest treasures are the intricate Stirling Heads: 56 elegantly carved oak ceiling medallions from the chamber where royalty once received visitors.
A castle audio-guide is available in six languages (£2); but the free guided tours (enquire – times vary) are less formal and more entertaining.
The castle also has a reasonable café, ideal for soups, sandwiches and coffee and cake.