17th Century Stirling
300 years ago Scotland had lost her King to England. Stirling had a population of 6000, all crammed behind the City Walls in the ancient dens, closes and wynds of the Old Town. These conditions resulted in a series of plagues in which a third of the City died, with the dying dumped outside the city in a series of wooden huts. Scotland and Stirling were invaded, conquered and garrisoned by Cromwell’s troops, there were religious riots and Stirling’s largest ever witch trial. Yet it was also a time of investment and construction. Argyll’s Lodging, the finest 17th century mansion in Scotland was built as were the elaborate Royal Gardens of the King’s Knot and the magnificent Cowane’s Hospital, the best preserved medieval hospital in Scotland.
Find St Ninian’s Well on Wellgreen Place and look for the small squat sandstone building in the top corner. This is an ancient well and one of the main sources of water for Medieval Stirling and a spot used by those accused of witchcraft. In 1659 Bessie Stevinson confessed to performing charms and folk cures at the well involving washing the clothes of the sick and transferring the disease to the clothes. She was subsequently tried, found guilty and executed in what was Stirling’s largest ever witch trial, involving another 12 people. Walk up the hill towards The Black Boy Fountain, an elaborate Victorian Fountain built on the site of the 17th century Gallows. Turn right along Port Street, named after the location of the Medieval Gate or Port. Keep going along Port Street and turn right into Thistles Centre and look for the Thieves’ Pot, part of the medieval city walls and used as a prison.
At the top of King Street turn left at the statue of William Wallace into Corn Exchange, the Medieval Corn Market. Turn right along the Back Walk and follow the City Walls, which were built in the mid-1600s to keep Henry VIII’s forces out of Stirling as he tried to force the young Mary Queen of Scots to marry his son Edward. Take the next right at the Stirling Highland Hotel and then turn left. As you walk up the hill opposite the Old Town Jail is the Tolbooth were Bessie Stevinson was condemned to death. Just outside the Tolbooth was also where the last beheading for Treason was held in Stirling in 1820. Keep walking up the hill and turn left at the Kirk of the Holy Rude on your left is Cowane’s Hospital, here a statue sits over the door of the hospital (this is the oldest statue in Stirling and dates from 1650) and is known locally as Auld Staneybreeks (old stone trousers). It’s said that he jumps down and dances a jig at Hogmanay each year.
Walk over to the nearby ancient graveyard. Can you find the Service Stone which was damaged in the 1651 siege or John Cowane’s grave? The west face of the Kirk of the Holy Rude is also covered in musket impacts from the 1651 siege. Walk back down past Mar’s Wark where James VI (of bible fame) briefly stayed. The roof of which was destroyed by accident in 1746 during Bonnie Prince Charlie’s siege of Stirling Castle and never repaired. Turn left and finish off your visit with a trip to Argyll’s Lodging the finest 17th century mansion in Scotland (entry included with Stirling Castle ticket). If you’re still hungry why not visit either The Portcullis or Hermann’s, or walk down Broad Street to Darnley’s Coffee House, where General Monck accepted the surrender of Stirling in 1651. Or if the kids need to blow off some steam, there’s a great play-park behind the coffee shop.