Scotland - Central Scotland
Stirling Castle and the Trossachs
A canon defends the battlements of Stirling Castle
Low cloud overlies the nearby hills and a statue of Robert the Bruce looks towards the Wallace monument on a craggy tree covered slope a few miles to the north east. High above the town, Stirling Castle still casts a formidable and imposing presence, with panoramic views over the surrounding, quintessentially Scottish landscape.
For centuries this was a strategically vital fortress dominating the heart of Scotland. The hills to the east and west forced anyone traveling between the Highlands and Lowlands to pass close by. The castle also controlled the easiest crossing of the River Forth at nearby Stirling Bridge and important roads running west and east.
Visit Stirling Castle today and you are still struck by it's sense of importance and grandeur. The earliest written evidence of the castle dates from around 1110, although previous incarnations are more than likely. Added to and fortified over the ages, you can tour medieval halls, Jacobean lodgings and Georgian defences. For many, Stirling Castle has also become an important symbol of Scottish identity.
Barman and brewer Craig McCallum prepares a take out for a customer
My next destination is on rather different scale. The Bridge of Allan micro-brewery is situated in unlikely surroundings behind a pub-hotel and adjacent to flats and a housing estate. It's a small pebble-dash building that looks uninspiring from the outside. Step through the door however and you would be hard pressed to find a more unique, warm and welcoming atmosphere.
This is a pub and micro-brewery rolled into one, with books, card and board games. It doesn't serve food, but you can bring your own sandwiches and even bring in a fish supper from the nearby chippy.
Barman Craig Mc Callum shows me the brewing area, where they make 36 gallons of beer a time (that's 4 casks for those in the know). This is what's known as a 'one barrel brewery.' In total the Bridge of Allen micro-brewery makes around 42 to 43 varieties of beer, including 'Sage Pot' and is the only brewery in Scotland to make gluten free beer.
There's a live music night every week. Craig says he would like to do a 'Ruby Tuesday' beer - and another for each day. I sampled a mango beer and I have to say it was pretty good. I bought a couple of bottles to take away with me.
The Falls of Dochart - Trossachs National Park
To the north of Stirling is the Tossachs National Park. Stirling is in-between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the Trossachs, also known as the 'Highlands in Miniature' are a popular destination for weekenders and day-trippers from the cities.
I head off to gain a flavour of the area, driving through loch-side roads and hills covered in pine forest and shrouded in mist and rain. I soon realise that this is a big slice of countryside which will take time to explore properly, so turn off to take a break at one of many well known and popular beauty spots in the Trossachs - the Falls of Dochart.
At the village of Killin, the River Dochart runs quickly over a bare bed of dark granite and under an attractive stone bridge. It's not exactly a waterfall, more like rocky rapids, but with the subtle greens of April foliage in the foreground and the brooding hills of Ben Lawers to the north, this is a great Scottish destination for tourists.
The River Dochart runs into nearby Loch Tay. Further to the north is Loch Rannoch and the area in-between the two - Loch Rannoch and Glen Lyon, is well supplied with high, pine clad mountains, with Ben Lawers, or 'Hill of the Mountain Stream' closest by - a paradise for walkers. Strictly speaking the area is outside the Trossachs, but so what. This is an atmospheric region of Perthshire which seems to sum up Scotland in a nutshell. Visit in winter and you will be able to smell the pinewood smoke from the fires. Combine with Haggis and neaps and a glass of whisky and it couldn't be bettered.
The Wallace Monument - Stirling
Returning to Stirling I stop off quickly at the Wallace Monument, a Victorian five-storey tower built in 1860 to commemorate Sir William Wallace, the Scots freedom fighter who led resistance to King Edward I, 'Hammer of the Scots' in the late 13th century.
You can climb up the 246 spiral steps to be rewarded with superb views, and there are exhibits inside the tower including Wallace's long steel sword. The monument is built on the site of his most famous victory, the crag from where, in 1297, his troops rushed down to defeat the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
Stirling and the surrounding area seems to some extent to be bound up in a sense of it's own identity, as a historic bastion of resistance against the English and a modern day sense of Scottishness. It's a kind of Scottish equivalent of somewhere like Berkshire, where Windsor Castle is located. I enjoyed my visit. The people I met were friendly and the sense of culture and history coupled with the atmospheric landscape made for a memorable and evocative experience.
Getting there: Stirling is easily accessed by road from the M9 and M80 motorways and is situated in-between the major conurbations of Glasgow and Edinburgh, where the nearest airports are located. Stirling is also connected by rail. For further information please visit the Travel Information section.
- Places Visited...
- Stirling Castle
- Address: Stirling Castle, Castle Esplanade, Stirling, FK8 1EJ
- Opening Times: Open April to September, 9.30 a.m. to 6.00 pm - please see website for full details and admission prices.
- T: (General enquiries) +44 (0)1786 450 000
- W: Stirling Castle
- Bridge of Allan Brewery
- Address: The Brewhouse, Queens Lane, Bridge of Allan, FK9 4NY
- Opening Times: 12.00 noon to 5.00 pm Monday to Thursday and untill 6.00 pm on Friday and Sunday. 12.00 noon to 7.00 pm on Saturdays - sometimes later.
- T: +44 (0)1786 834 555
- W: Bridge of Allan Brewery
- The Trossachs National Park:
- Contact address: Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Headquarters, Carrochan, Carrochan Road, Balloch, G83 8EG
- Park Opening Times: All year round - admission free.
- T: +44 (0)1389 722600
- W: Loch Lomons and The Trossachs
- The Wallace Monument
- Address: Abbey Craig, Hillfoots Road, Causewayhead, Stirling, FK9 5LF
- Opening Times: Open daily, all year round, except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. Opening times vary - please see website for full details and admission prices.
- T: +44 (0)1786 472 140
- W The Wallace Monument
Mystery Traveller, 10th April 2012