Friday, July 9, 2010

A town with a Stirling reputation

As the pun in the title suggests, we spent the day yesterday in the city of Stirling. Stirling is home to Stirling Castle, the Church of the Holy Rude, the Old Town Jail, and the No 2 Baker Street pub. There are probably other great things there too, but these are the places I visited during my brief stay, so it is on these I will report.

Stirling Castle is the oldest surviving building in Stirling with records dating back to around 1110. (There were way too many "ing"s in that last sentence.) It was a favored royal residence from that time until James VI became James I and moved his royal court to London in 1603.* As soon as we arrived at the Castle, we were greeted by the drums and bagpipes of an Australian boys' bagpipe band. They had been touring Scotland, and we just happened to stumble upon their final engagement before they left the country. When they finished, we took a short guided tour of the Castle and then had lunch in the Castle Restaurant. After lunch, we visited the Whisky Shop. (Every good Medieval/Early Modern castle has a well-stocked whisky shop.) In the whisky shop we tasted a very sweet whisky flavored with honey and sloes and had our picture taken by a very nice Englishman named Stuart.

Walking down from the hilltop Castle, we almost bypassed another historic site. The Church of the Holy Rude (alternately spelled "Rood") is Stirling's second-oldest building and the church where James VI was crowned King of Scotland when he was just 13 months old. There's not a whole lot to say about it as it resembles many other churches of the same kind. The glass was lovely, and I always enjoy wandering around old churches with their vaulted ceilings and solemn chapels. We spent about 15 minutes there before continuing on our way, but such a stop is always enriching.

Old Town Jail is a jail. That's pretty much it. But let me tell you, I've visited a number of 19th century jails in the past couple months, and this one had one of the best tours I've seen. What made it so good were the costumed actors performing the tour rather than presenting it like a museum docent. I don't want to say too much about it because I think you should go and see for yourselves, but let me just say that I got picked on by an angry prison guard with a lazy eye that told me multiple times he was from Glasgow. What was really nice about the tour is that the actors traced the history of the place from its beginnings as a real hell-hole to its transformation into a rather nice (by Victorian standards) correctional facility and finished with an exhibition on prison life in Scotland today. It was very eye-opening. Not to mention, the roof of the Old Town Jail has one of the best 360 views of the city in Stirling.

After a long day of visiting historic sites, what could be better than to ask a random local where to get a drink? Naturally, we were pointed in the direction of No 2 Baker Street by a woman who had just come from a wedding. After being asked by the barkeep whether I was over 18 (and having confirmed that I am, in fact, one week shy of 22), I grabbed a seat outside with my ice-cold pint of Pear Cider. Pear Cider, if you haven't tried it, is delicious. It's way better than the traditional Hard Apple. I'm not sure what brand I had yesterday, but Magner's** makes a pretty good Pear Cider.

So after a nice long sit outside No 2, we headed back to the train station at the bottom of the hill for our short return trip to Larbert, where a lovely chicken dinner was waiting. All-in-all a good day in Stirling, recommended to anyone who plans to be in the near-Glasgow area.

*Probably even more intriguingly, I visited this very castle almost exactly four years ago (next week) on my 18th birthday. See, aren't you intrigued? 
**Interesting fact: Magner's Cider - which I have enjoyed in the US and the UK - is the same as Bulmer's Cider - which I recently enjoyed in Ireland. It is an Irish Cider that is marketed outside Ireland as Magner's to avoid confusion with an English cider of the same name, according to Wikipedia. 

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