Stirling at War
The strategic importance of Stirling has played a key role in Scottish history and prehistory for millennia from Celts to Bonnie Prince Charlie, thousands of troops have clashed and died to control it. In peace time Stirling’s central location has meant it was ideal for barracks and military training. Following the Union of the Scottish and English Crowns, Stirling Castle fell out of use as a royal residence and in 1661 became one of three permanent bases for the Scottish army. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were created in 1881 with their HQ at Stirling Castle and the Argyll and Sutherland Museum explores their fascinating and glorious history.
The scale of troops required during World War One far outstripped the existing barrack capacity and so troops were housed in private houses and factories, for example Hayford Mills in Cambusbarron. Hayford Mills was where troops mobilised to fight at the Battle of Gallipoli were housed. Unfortunately many of these troops died in the Gretna disaster, the worst rail crash in UK history. Training for volunteers also extended beyond traditional military bases, for example the grounds of Plean Estate (now Plean Country Park ), where there are a rare series of upstanding World War One practice trenches. Travel to Plean Country Park and park in the main car park. Walk towards the walled garden and keep it on your left, walk over the burn with the bridal path on your right and after 30 seconds you are now in the network of practice trenches!
A more extensive network of practice trenches on what was a much older training ground is located at Sheriffmuir, the Sheriff’s Muir where medieval training was held. During World War Two the area was a top secret research facility. Drive to Dunblane, at the roundabout on the B8033 follow the sign for Sheriffmuir along Glen Road. At the top of Glen Road turn left just before the ‘dead end’ signs and follow the road up the hill. Turn left at the Sheriffmuir Inn and keep on the road for 5 minutes or so. In 1944 this was a top secret military research and training ground and you could not have entered without an official pass. Following the conquest of much of Europe by the Nazis, Hitler built a massive series of concrete defences, often with slave labour, along the Atlantic coast. Ahead of the allied invasion of Nazi occupied Europe, the British built a series of top-secret replicas to research how to breach the so-called Atlantic Wall. The biggest and best preserved of these is at Sheriffmuir. Look for the large concrete blocks to your right as you carry on the road, this was one of the key training grounds for D-Day, an event of genuine world significance. Wear boots and watch for sharp objects if you’re exploring the ruins, this site was bombed for decades.