Stirling’s Royal Park
Stirling Castle sits at the centre of a much larger royal landscape and is one of the best preserved Royal Parks in Scotland. The 800-year-old park was established by King William I and what we can see today reflects this long history of royal investment and changing fashions. The park performed many roles: its farm fed the castle, it housed the stables and the laundry, held jousts, and witnessed the celebration of royal births. However, it also has a darker history of warring Celts and executions!
The King’s Knot is an elaborate 17th century garden (known locally as the Cup and Saucer) this was constructed in anticipation of the Coronation of Charles I in 1633. However, it represented the last phase of royal investment in the Park. In 1625 William Watts was dispatched from London to be ‘maister gairdiner to his Majestie at the Castell of Stirling’. Watt’s design takes full advantage of the magnificent views to the west. Walk towards the corner opposite the main entrance of the King’s Knot, and climb the steps. You are now at the Butt Well, which was one of the main water supplies for this part of the city and was named after the Butt Field where 16th century archery practice and jousting took place. If you close your eyes you can almost feel the thunder of horses’ hooves as they charge past and clash and screams of combat.
Walk up the slope through the various boulder terraces. These are the 500 year old remains of the orchard planted by James IVth around 1500 which took advantage of the south facing slopes. At the top of the hill is the Old Town Cemetery, well worth a visit if you have the time. The Victorian part of the cemetery is known as The Valley and it was here just after her birth in 1542 that Mary Queen of Scots’ baptism was celebrated. Later when the future James VIth was born the area was the scene of the first fireworks display in Scotland.
Walk past the cemetery and keep on the Back Walk, with the Castle to your right. Don’t miss the view to your left of the King’s Knot from above. This section of the route is only 200 years old and was opened up to tourists in the 1790s. As you walk along this path you will cross two walls, the first is 500 years old and built by James IVth, the second is on the 12th century boundary of the Park and could be as much as 800 years old. Keep walking till you hit Ballengeich Road, cross over and keep to the path. You are now on Gowan Hill, which is well worth exploring and has its own trail. Gowan Hill was only added to the Royal Park around 1500, when improvements in artillery meant that cannons from the Castle could shoot at Stirling Bridge and thus control the crossing. Keep walking along the path and follow the signs for Mote Hill, which is at the northern tip of Gowan Hill. Climb up Mote Hill, catch your breath and look at the 360 view round Central Scotland, on a clear day it’s truly astonishing.
Mote Hill is also known as Heiding Hill and right in front of you is the Beheading Stone, the traditional execution point of Medieval Stirling and it was here that Murdoch Duke of Albany was executed in 1424 for treason. The two cannons were installed by the Council in 1904. You are also standing on an 1800 year old Celtic hillfort, destroyed by fire around AD 200. The original entrance is to the right of the cannons. We don’t know who burnt the fort down but it may have been the Romans on their march north.