Stirling Castle: Royal Palace from Queen Anne Garden

An excursion to Stirling was one of the few days out we had at the beginning of the year before the torrential rains of February / March and the following months of lockdown. As Stirling Castle reopened on 1st August (pre-booked tickets only) this seems an appropriate time to publish my post about it which has been lingering in drafts for some months. It was a fabulous day, so be prepared for a lot of photographs!

Starting at the castle, we first of all wandered around the outside. The grey building is the Royal Palace and the golden one is the Great Hall. Views from the walls round the Palace are magnificent.

The first building we went into was the Royal Palace, one of the best-preserved Renaissance buildings in the UK, which has been refurbished to look as it might have done in the 1540s. This includes ceilings with brightly-painted replicas of the Stirling Heads (the originals can be seen in a museum onsite which we didn’t visit this time) and unicorns everywhere. The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries are also replicas, based on a series created in the Low Countries in the early 1500s which are now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York’s Cloisters. They took 13 years to weave and cost £2 million.

It’s not so long since you could watch part of the tapestry being woven in one of the castle’s outlying buildings (they were completed in 2014). Now the same building hosts an exhibition about the weaving process. I learned a lot from the panel of samples shown below, especially the knee samples. The single knee was woven at eight warps per centimetre which matches the 15th century originals. The other two knees are woven at four warps per centimetre, which is the warp count chosen for the replicas. This saved 13 years of production time – how much respect is due to the original weavers? What an achievement.

Next, we visited the Chapel Royal, built in 1593-4 on the orders of James VI who wanted somewhere suitable for the baptism of his son and heir, Prince Henry. In 1603 the Union of the Crowns saw James head south to rule from England, and in 1625 he was succeeded by his surviving younger son Charles I. The frieze was painted by Valentine Jenkin in 1628 in the expectation of a coronation visit to Scotland by the new king. He didn’t come.

The Great Hall is the largest banqueting hall ever built in Scotland and was used for feasts, dances and pageants. Completed for James IV in 1503, it has four pairs of tall windows at the dais end, where the king and queen sat, and an impressive Scottish oak triple height ceiling.

Of course, you would not expect us to miss out on a visit, or two, to the Café! Having already had lunch there, we popped back for a cup of tea before venturing out again.

Suitably fortified , we explored the Old Town Graveyard which lies between the castle and Holy Rude Church. The ladies in the glass case are “Margaret, virgin martyr of the ocean wave, with her like-minded sister Agnes”. These were part of the educational and “improving” atmosphere of Victorian Stirling. Eighteen year old Margaret Wilson was a heroine of the Presbyterian Reformation who was executed by drowning in the Solway Firth for refusing to renounce her Protestant faith.

Shown below are Argyll’s Lodging (pink) and Cowane’s Trust (yellow). The former is a 17th century townhouse which can be visited with a castle entry ticket. Cowane’s Hospital, now run by a charitable trust, is also a 17th-century building. The merchant John Cowane (1570–1633), whose statue adorns the front, left 40,000 merks in his will for the establishment of an almshouse.

On nearby Broad Street is the Mercat Cross (another unicorn) and Norie’s House. James Norie was a lawyer and town clerk who built his fashionable new house in 1671.  His bewigged head looks down from the top of the roof.

Walking further down into town we came across representations of various historic figures. A howling wolf, here carved from a tree stump, appears on Stirling’s coat of arms. Legend has it that in the 9th century a wolf saved the town by howling in response to a Viking raid. Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1836-1908) was the Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs for almost 40 years, including a term as Prime Minister from 1905 to 1908. Rob Roy, Robert Burns and William Wallace probably need less of an introduction to anyone interested in Scottish history and literature.

Our final stop before heading back up to the castle was outside Central Library which opened in 1904 and, like so many others, was funded by Andrew Carnegie.

As we walked back to the car, the sky began to change colour. We rushed up to a vantage point in the Old Town Cemetery from which we watched a spectacular sunset unfold. A perfect end to a perfect day.


  1. Many years ago I had to go to Stirling with work as my then employer had a factory there. I rember the castle but, of course, it was closed in the evening when I had some free time. So now I know what it’s like inside!


  2. Those tapestries are fab, and I love the little guys along the outside of the castle as well. Was drowning a standard form of execution for heresy in Scotland? I’m very well versed in English methods of execution, but clearly I have a lot to learn about the Scottish justice system!


    • As usual, you ask very good questions which sent me to Google! Apparently, until the late 17C drowning pools were used to execute women for crimes where men would be hanged, possibly because it was seen as less violent. This doesn’t apply in this case though, because poor Margaret was tied to a stake in the Solway Firth and left to await the tide (we’ve seen the monument where she actually died in Wigtown). I don’t think that was common, but I don’t know for sure. Women accused of witchcraft, of course, were a different matter: if they floated they were guilty, if they drowned they were innocent. But dead anyway.

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      • Ugh, sounds like the same bum deal where women were buried alive in Germany for crimes where a man would have been beheaded, or where women were burned at the stake for petty treason in England because it was “more modest” than being hanged, drawn, and quartered. I don’t know if drowning is better or worse than short drop hanging, since they both would have been prolonged and terrifying, but I’d definitely pick beheading over live burial, though there’s frankly no good options in those scenarios!


  3. Hi Anabel – I’ve wanted to go since they discovered Sir John Strychly’s bones (d 10 Oct 1341) under the kitchen floor before it was renovated … I loved the BBC’s cold cases back in 2010 or thereabouts … when Sue Black and team from Dundee University’s Centre for Human Identification and Anatomy … chased the records down, scientifically investigating as they went along.

    Your pictures do it much justice – and one day I hope I can get north of border and see Stirling … wonderful to see – stay safe – Hilary