Your local guide:
Craig Roberston is a Stirling resident and author of Random, Snapshot and Cold Grave (June 2012).
I’ve lived in Stirling all my life, long enough to see it change from a town to a city even if no one locally noticed any difference. It’s a great place if, in some ways, a strange place; town meets country, north meets south, history meets the 21st century.
Today, Stirling is a buzzing university town – sorry, city – that merges its past with its present. The following is a personal guide to some places to visit, eat in and drink in. Don’t blame me if you don’t like them.
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If the history trail gives you an appetite then I can recommend some places to eat. The Junk Rooms in Friar Street has a great chef and an eclectic interior where everything is for sale, including the tables and chairs. Also on Friar Street is The Kitchen which is relatively new but has made a great start. The Bank serves great food and also features briefly in my next book. Cibo e Vino is a classy little Italian bistro in the Stirling Arcade while Brea offers great value.
If you want to pay a bit more then Scholars in the Highland Hotel or Hermanns on Broad Street will happily indulge you and the grub is good. Three eateries that aren’t within walking distance but worth seeking out are The River House, at the foot of the Castle rock, Birds & The Bees on Easter Cornton Road and Corrieri’s Cafe at the foot of the Wallace Monument in Causewayhead.
Of the various India, Chinese, Thai and Mexican restaurants, my suggestions would be Kama Sutra and The Regent, both in the Upper Craigs, Wilawan Thai on Baker Street and Smiling Jacks on Barnton Street. A maverick suggestion would be the surprisingly excellent Gabe’s Diner near the cinema on Forthside.
You will no doubt have a thirst after that and there are plenty of pubs within staggering distance of the festival venues. Many seem to be increasingly split upon age lines so a quick look in the window will tell you all you need to know.
The Settle Inn on St Mary’s Wynd is Stirling’s oldest and has been serving ales since 1733, seemingly to the same people. Number 2 Baker Street has a good range of beers and often has live music as does Molly Malone’s in Maxwell Place. City Walls on Rock Terrace is quite literally built within the fortifications on the Back Walk and just a few hundred yards from the Albert Halls. The Portcullis is just yards from the castle and not far from the Highland Hotel.
Most pubs get very busy on Friday and Saturday nights and it’s best to point out that the area around Friar Street gets a little “lively” around closing time as students and young locals make their way up or down the narrow, pedestrianised route in search of taxi ranks or nightclubs.
Stirling has always held a crucial place in Scotland’s story and reminders of that are all around. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned in the chapel of Stirling Castle in 1543, while James V1 was crowned king in the nearby Church of the Holy Rude in 1567. The castle dominates the city’s skyline and is easily Scotland’s finest – the refurbished Great Hall and Royal Palaces are a must on any visitor’s itinerary.
Scotland’s most iconic figures, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace won their defining battles in Stirling against the might of the English army. The Bruce defeated Edward 11 at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and Wallace did the business at the Battle of Stirling Bridge at the end of my street in 1297. My street wasn’t there at the time.
You’re in Stirling to celebrate crime so here are a couple of Stirling’s most infamous murders of the past. In 1452, King James 11 bumped off the 8th Earl of Douglas in the castle by stabbing him then throwing him through a window into what are now known as the Douglas Gardens.
The last man executed in Stirling was a (very) old rogue named Allan Mair. He was 84 when he beat his wife to death in 1843 and was hanged in Broad Street, just a minute’s walk from Bloody Scotland’s festival HQ. Despite his age and having to be carried to his gallows in a chair, Mair managed to free his hands as the executioner made the final drop and grabbed at the rope. It meant that the hangman had to grab Mair’s legs and tug the old man down until he was dead. Nice.