On September 11, 1297 atop the heights of the Abbey Craig, a rocky promontory across the River Forth from Stirling, the Scots army stood poised.
William Wallace and Andrew de Moray’s troops watched the farcical crossing of the English host over Stirling Bridge and knew the time was ripe for a strike. They stormed down the Craig towards the bridge, forging their names into posterity in one of the most decisive and romanticised battles in Scottish history.
It is for this reason that the Wallace Monument stands where it does today, rivaled in its supremacy over the landscape only by Stirling Castle itself. It has attained the status of a national icon, not only for its significance to the story of Scotland but for its jaw-dropping effect on visitors approaching Stirling via road or rail.
Completed in 1869 and funded entirely by subscriptions, the monument’s striking Victorian Gothic aesthetic is complemented by excellent historical displays inside. The monument’s four levels not only tell the story of Wallace and the victory at Stirling Bridge, but of famous Scots throughout the centuries and the construction of the tower itself.
Stirling, like a huge brooch, clasps the Highlands and Lowlands together.
Stirling’s strategic significance to anyone hoping to control Scotland is illustrated by the diorama on the third level, bringing into crystal clarity the truth behind Alexander Smith’s observation that “Stirling, like a huge brooch, clasps the Highlands and Lowlands together.” Perhaps the biggest draw is the Wallace Sword, supposedly wielded by Wallace but whose pedigree is the subject of no small deal of exasperation from the experts.
After ascending 264 tightly wound stone steps you emerge onto the Crown, offering a breathtaking panorama which makes you feel as though you could keep watch over half of Scotland. On a clear day, you wouldn’t be too far off.
From the Crown, the horseshoe-shaped trap formed by the curve of the River Forth into which the English army marched in 1297 becomes immediately apparent. One can easily daydream of playing their hand at General, particularly when the location of the Battle of Bannockburn, perhaps Scotland’s most decisive military victory of all time, is also visible to the southwest.
After calling on one hero at the Wallace Monument, paying tribute to another, Robert the Bruce, at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre would be a fitting conclusion to your day in Stirling.