Walk 64: Stirling City Walk: Gateway to the Highlands

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2 miles (3.22km)

Time to walk: Lots of views & places to explore on this one so, although short, allow a couple of hours especially if you want to visit the castle

Difficulty: A mixture of hard paths & country trails, but shouldn’t get too wet. There’s a couple of short climbs as this is a hilly region of Scotland, but nothing too strenuous

Parking: We parked on street opposite Allan Park South church in Glebe Crescent. Beware though, most of the parking in these streets is Pay & Display

Public toilets: Cafes, bars etc

Map of the route:


When working in the Alloa we asked the locals if Stirling was worth a walk around. “No” was the answer as “there’s nothing to see”

Oh my word…thank goodness we didn’t take their advice as this is a lovely, vibrant city set in some stunning countryside & full of history

Stirling is located several miles to the west of the mouth of the River Forth. Historically it was strategically important as the “Gateway to the Highlands”, with its position near the Highland Boundary Fault between the Scottish Lowlands & Highlands & has been described as “the brooch which clasps the Highlands & the Lowlands together”

Its historical position as the nearest crossing of the Forth to the river mouth meant it attracted invaders. The beast of Stirling is the wolf. According to legend, when Stirling was under attack from Viking invaders, a wolf howled, alerting the people in time to save the town

One of the principal royal strongholds of the Kingdom of Scotland, Stirling was created a Royal Burgh by King David I in 1130, which it remained until 1975, when the burgh as an administrative unit was abolished. In 2002, as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee, Stirling was granted city status

Shall we go & explore?

Let’s Walk…

1. Stirling is a small city so it’s very easy to navigate but, because it’s small, every street is Pay & Display so make sure you do! We parked in one of the many ‘posh’ side streets off Dumbarton Road opposite the Church of Scotland’s Allan Park South Church


The clock towers are interesting…


2. Cross over to the Church side of the street to arrive at the statue of Robert Burns…

Who's that lurking behind wee Rabbie?

Who’s that lurking behind wee Rabbie?

Robert Burns (1759–1796), also known as Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire & various other names & epithets, was a Scottish poet & lyricist. He’s widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland & is celebrated worldwide. He’s the best known of the poets who have written in the Scots language, although much of his writing is also in English & a light Scots dialect, accessible to an audience beyond Scotland

Burns is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement &, after his death, he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism & socialism, & a cultural icon in Scotland & among the Scottish people around the world. Celebration of his life & work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th & 20th centuries, & his influence has long been strong on Scottish literature. In 2009 he was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish television channel STV


As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His poem (& song) “Auld Lang Syne” is sung at Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve), & “Scots Wha Hae” served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country. Other poems & songs of Burns that remain well known across the world today include “A Red, Red Rose”, “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”, “To a Louse”, “To a Mouse”, “The Battle of Sherramuir”, “Tam o’ Shanter” & “Ae Fond Kiss”.

3. Now who’s that bloke creeping up behind you Rabbie?


It’s only Rob Roy!

Robert Roy MacGregor was a Scottish outlaw, who later became a folk hero. He has been called “the Scottish Robin Hood”. The name Roy comes from Gaelic Ruadh meaning Red, & referred to his red hair

Rob was a freebooter & was probably also engaged in cattle stealing & blackmail. When the penal laws against the MacGregors were reintroduced in 1693, Rob took the name of Campbell. Since his lands lay between those of the rival houses of Argyll & Montrose, for a time he was able to play one off against the other to his own advantage. James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose, succeeded in entangling him in debt & by 1712 Rob was ruined

Rob then embarked on a career of brigandage, chiefly at the expense of Montrose, whom Rob continued to blame for his downfall & with whom he feuded for years. During the Jacobite (pro-Stuart) rebellion of 1715, he was distrusted by both sides & plundered each impartially. After the rebellion was put down, he was treated leniently because of the intercession of John Campbell, 2nd duke of Argyll. Rob continued his exploits against Montrose until 1722, when Argyll brought about a reconciliation. Later, however, Rob was arrested & confined in Newgate Prison, London. He was pardoned in 1727 when about to be transported to Barbados

In his old age Rob became a Roman Catholic. His letters show that he was well educated; the view of him as a mere brutish highwayman seems not to do him justice

Told you there was lots of history in this city!

4. The large building next to Rob’s called the Albert Halls which is the city’s premier concert venue


The path we need to take is up the right side…


We’re now walking uphill & there’s glimpses of the castle on the right. The path gets steeper, but it’s not too strenuous

5. At the junction with the bollards head diagonally right…


…at which point the path becomes narrower for a time


…& eventually crosses a road…


6. As we get higher across to the left’s the remains of some unusual, yet striking earthworks known as the Kings Knot…


The King’s Knot, known locally as the ‘cup & saucer’ consists of a stepped octagonal mound set within a square parterre, & to the north-west is a second (much smaller) low circular mound. These conspicuous earthworks represent the final form of the royal gardens of Stirling Castle, & were constructed for Charles I in 1627-9

Viewed from the castle above, James IV had earlier created in the 1490s a landscape of leisure with his park, loch, fish ponds & great garden of fruit trees, flowers & hedges which came close to the garden ideal of the Italian Renaissance. The garden was maintained throughout the 16th & 17th centuries, before falling into decay


Although considered the most important pre-1600 garden in Scotland, & the subject of much speculation, the King’s Knot has received very little archaeological attention. Aerial photographs taken in 1980 by the Royal Commission for Ancient & Historical
Monuments of Scotland however made an important discovery. Three concentric ditches in a trapezoidal form beneath & around the King’s Knot mound suggested that an earthwork monument had preceded it. Many think this is King Arthur’s ’round table

7. This track ends at the ancient drinking fountain known as Butt Well…


This much-neglected site got its name from there being a number of archery shooting targets, or butts, which used to be erected in the fields immediately below this once popular drinking spot. Although the Stirling historian J.S. Fleming (1898) could find no definitive records of the place as a holy or healing well, he told how…

“The copious spring arising in the centre of the rock on which Stirling Town 7 Castle are built, must have been extensively used during the Royal occupation of the Castle for watering the horses engaged in hunting in the Park…& it must also have been the source from whence the canal or ornamental waters & fountains in the ancient pleasure-grounds of the King’s Knot were supplied, the fall being amply sufficient for the rise to a considerable height of the latter… The Well had at one time a railing surroundings its then open trough, the marks of the lead used in grouting the rails remaining visible until the last alteration.”

8. Just stand here a few minutes & take in the view…


…& when done, head down 14 of the flight of 22 steps & turn right along the narrow path



9. This is a beautiful little 400 yards or so with great views. On reaching the end of the path turn right up the lane, but be careful as there’s no path & it’s quite busy



The road gets a little steep here as we climb Ballengeich Road. Ignore the steps on the right &, where the road turns right, walk straight ahead on the path marked ‘Gowanhill’


10. Keep looking through the trees on the left as you climb as the views get more spectacular & on the right are some very unstable cliffs


Bear right at the fingerpost going up the track rather than down


11. As the track begins to bear right stop & look across the valley to the left…the views are pretty good


The tower in the above picture on the top of Abbey Craig is a significant part of Scotland’s history. It commemorates Sir William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish hero, also known as Braveheart

The tower was constructed following a fundraising campaign, which accompanied a resurgence of Scottish national identity in the 19th century. In addition to public subscription, it was partially funded by contributions from a number of foreign donors, including Italian national leader Giuseppe Garibaldi. Completed in 1869 to the designs of architect John Thomas Rochead at a cost of £18,000, the monument is a 220 ft sandstone tower, built in a Victorian Gothic style


The tower stands on the Abbey Craig, a volcanic crag above Cambuskenneth Abbey, from which Wallace was said to have watched the gathering of the army of King Edward I of England, just before the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. The monument is open to the general public. You can climb the 246 step spiral staircase to the viewing gallery inside the monument’s crown, which provides expansive views of the Orchil Hills & the Forth Valley

12. Carry on along the path & take the right fork as it heads uphill towards a wall…


At the top turn left & then up the steps & over the wall


13. Ahead of us now is the magnificent Stirling Castle


But we’re not going there at the moment so follow the cut route down the hill & please don’t try to go straight down the grassy slopes


14. Exit through the gate near the Castle walls…


…& turn left following the castle walls as they start to descent the hill. This hill is affectionately known as ‘Beheading Hill’ as Gowan Hill has witnessed millennia of history

Traces of ramparts & ditches suggest that an Iron Age fort once crowned the summit. From the rocky outcrop Roman soldiers may have studied their routes north across the river to subdue the tribes of Caledonia. In the Middle Ages people who had offended the king met their fate at the Beheading Stone. The last serious action was in 1746 when Prince Charles Edward’s Jacobite troops dragged 3 cannons up the hill to bomb the castle. Half an hour after the firing started they were forced to flee

15. Continue along Ballangeich Pass – there’s some fab plants growing out of the wall



16. If you fancy visiting Stirling Castle head up the steps on the right…


Stirling Castle is one of the largest & most important castles, both historically & architecturally, in Scotland. Its strategic location, guarding what was, until the 1890s, the farthest downstream crossing of the River Forth, has made it an important fortification from the earliest times. Most of the principal buildings of the castle date from the fifteenth & sixteenth centuries. A few structures of the fourteenth century remain, while the outer defences fronting the town date from the early eighteenth century. Several Scottish Kings & Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary Queen of Scots, in 1542. There have been at least eight sieges of Stirling Castle, including several during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with the last being in 1746, when Bonnie Prince Charlie unsuccessfully tried to take the castle


17. Keep going down Castle Wynd to reach the ruins of Mar’s Wark


Mar’s Wark is a ruined building built 1570–1572 by John Erskine, Regent of Scotland & Earl of Mar, & now in the care of Historic Scotland. Mar intended the building for the principal residence of the Erskine family in Stirling, whose chief had become hereditary keeper of the nearby royal Stirling Castle where the princes of Scotland were schooled. Wark is a Scots language word for work, & here it means building. The house is also called “Mar’s Lodging”

18. Next door’s the Church of the Holy Rude


The Church of the Holy Rude was founded in 1129 during the reign of David I, but the earliest part of the present church dates from the 15th century. As such it is the second oldest building in Stirling after Stirling Castle

It’s one of three churches still in use in Britain that have been the sites of coronations – great history!


19. We’re now starting to walk down probably the most picturesque street in Stirling which is called St John Street

The view's amazing

The view’s amazing

On the left’s ‘The Boy’s Club”…


This is a 1929 conversion of the town’s old Butter Market


20. Further on, the Old Town Jail is on the right…



21. Continue down the hill past Robert Spittal’s house who was tailor to James IV & left money to help the poor of Stirling


The building was originally erected about 1650 & was later divided into tenement flats

22. Opposite’s a boutique hotel…the Colossio


…& then further down’s the Athenaeum Clock Tower


The Athenaeum was built in 1816 on the site of a former meat market as a merchant’s library & meeting house to the designs of William Stirling (1772-1838). The curved facade sweeps behind a centrally-placed tall square tower, which comprises five storeys, a belfry & spire. An entrance porch was added at the base of this tower in 1859, surmounted by a statue of William Wallace. The building has served as municipal offices since 1875

23. Turn right into Corn Exchange Street. On the right’s the Municipal Buildings…



Over the road’s the Corn Exchange itself…


24. This is a lovely little area so have a stop & a coffee or beer. Then move on & turn left through the grounds of Church of Allan Park South



To end up back on Dumbarton Road where we started

We’ve no idea why the locals said don’t bother with Stirling as this a great little city & we’ll definitely come back & explore more

Castles, lots of history, great buildings & bars etc so…

Go Walk!