Stirling: where we stayed and where we ate

We’ve just spent two nights at the Stirling Highland Hotel. This was built in the 1850s as the city’s High School and didn’t become a hotel until the 1990s so, although the building is historic, the rooms and facilities are modern and comfortable. The location is excellent – at the bottom of the hill leading up to the Castle – and it has reasonable parking, which is not common in Stirling. The school connection is maintained in the names of the restaurant (Scholar’s) and bar (the Headmaster’s Study). We only used the former for breakfast – it’s a buffet, but I discovered on the second day that veggie sausages were available on request, which pleased me greatly. We had lunch in the bar the day we arrived – we were the only people there, and because the surroundings were so cosy we felt very much at home. However, it was quite pricy for what we had – ok, you’ve spotted the wine I’m sure, but even so £33 seemed a lot for that, a sandwich, a baked potato and two coffees. Overall, though, we were happy with our choice of hotel and would probably go back if we stayed in Stirling again.

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I was really keen to have a curry on our first night, especially after checking Trip Advisor and finding that an Indian restaurant was number one in Stirling.

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Green Gates was untypical both in decor (a converted Georgian townhouse) and menu, which was quite short. However, everything was freshly cooked to order and, because dishes came in two sizes, you could order several small ones and sample a good variety. It was all delicious, but the stand out for us was Punjabi Channa Mushroom Masala which was exquisitely spiced. Service was slow to start with – our starters took a while to arrive – but was always friendly and picked up speed later. Value was excellent – two starters, three small mains, one dessert and four beers for about £45. I would definitely come back here.

The second night, we decided to eat Italian. Mamma Mia was directly opposite the hotel and, as it was pouring with rain, we decided to look no further. It was a friendly place, the interior looked very like a genuine neighbourhood restaurant in Italy, and the food (the Christmas menu at £27.95 for three courses) was excellent. After a bottle of wine and complimentary limoncellos with the bill, we didn’t have to worry about having too far to stagger home to bed either.

Stirling is a great place for a short break. There’s a lot to do, especially if you’re interested in history, which we knew already. However, because it’s somewhere we would normally go on a day trip we didn’t know much about the restaurants available, but there seems to be a good range and plenty more places I would like to try on future visits.

Visiting Braveheart: the Wallace Monument

While staying in Stirling, we took a walk out to the Wallace Monument following the route from inStirling.com. NB If anyone else decides to do this, note that It’s mainly paved, but the paths up to Abbey Craig are very muddy and slippery; also the instructions about crossing the railway are out of date – ignore the reference to an overgrown path which no longer exists, and just keep going on the road.

Before you get to the monument, you can view what remains of Cambuskenneth Abbey (from behind a fence at the moment, because it’s only open in summer.) Parliament was held here after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and James III is buried here so it’s of considerable historic significance.

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Soon after leaving the Abbey, Abbey Craig, crowned by the monument, comes into view.

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The monument was built by public subscription and opened in 1869 – after costing twice the original estimate. Nothing changes there, does it? It’s 220 feet tall and, with a narrow spiral staircase of 246 steps, it’s not for the unfit or the claustrophobic. Fortunately, there are three viewing galleries on the way up where you can stop to catch your breath. The first floor tells William Wallace’s life story, the second concentrates on other Scottish heroes and the third documents the building of the monument. The fourth level is the Crown where you get spectacular views over the meandering River Forth to Stirling from one side, and of the Ochil Hills from the other. Here is pictorial proof that we both made it to the top.

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We walked back by a more direct route along a main road, crossing the Forth back into town at the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

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The whole excursion, including a stop in the Legends Coffee House at the Visitor Centre, which does snacks such as toasties and panini, took about five hours. Fresh air, exercise and a bit of culture – and we only got rained on twice. What more could we ask?

Stirling Castle at dusk

The last time we visited Stirling Castle (Historic Scotland) was a sunny, autumn day in 2011 and the pictures in the blogpost I wrote then reflected that. After arriving in Stirling for a short break between Christmas and New Year, we nipped up for a quick visit in the late afternoon and found the castle looking equally stunning, but with a totally different atmosphere as dusk changed to darkness. We visited:

The Palace

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The Great Hall

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The Chapel Royal

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The Great Kitchens

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By the time we left, when the castle closed at 5pm, it was completely dark. This is the other side of the Great Hall taken from the Grand Battery.

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Finally, on our way back down the hill we spotted these lovely Christmas lights designed by children.

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Stirling is less than an hour away from where we live, so it’s wonderful to be able to see it at different times of year. Normally, we’d be back on the motorway to Glasgow by 5pm, so it was an added bonus to see it at this beautiful time of day.

Stirling Castle

Robert the Bruce stands guard over Stirling Castle:

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We’ve visited Stirling Castle many times in the past, but not since the newly refurbished Royal Palace opened this summer. The beauty of being a Historic Scotland member is that you can go in free and just visit the parts you want, rather than feeling you have to go over the whole thing every time to get your £13 worth, so a few Sundays ago we set off to see the Palace.

The highlight is the ceiling with the brightly painted Stirling Heads, shown below. These are replicas, but you can see the remaining originals in the Stirling Heads Gallery:

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Other highlights of the castle are the ochre-harled Great Hall which can be seen for miles around:

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And the gargoyles:

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An unexpected bonus was that you can now have a free tour of Argyll’s Lodging, the 17th century townhouse just down from the Castle, which we had also not visited before:

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Finally, where to eat? The Castle has a nice café, but we usually opt for the Portcullis Hotel, just down the hill, which was built in 1787 as a boys’ school. Their lunches are substantial and good value. My stuffed peppers with salad also included a disc of breaded mozzarella and chips, neither of which had been mentioned on the menu.

Stirling is recommended as a lovely day out.