Stirling’s Big Weekend is just a few months away, so if you haven’t done so already, clear your diaries! Running from June 27 – 29, this exciting weekend is a celebration of Scotland’s history, culture, music, food and more, commemorating both Armed Forces Day and the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
Starting the weekend off in style is Pipefest Stirling, an all-drumming, all-dancing piping parade featuring hundreds of pipers and clansmen from Scotland and beyond. Leaving from the magnificent Stirling Castle, Pipe Major Ian Duncan and the Atholl Highlanders will lead the impressive march down Castle Wynd, turning at Broad Street and onto Bow Street. The parade will then travel down Baker Street and turn onto Albert Place, arriving at the castle gardens, known as the King’s Knot, for the grand finale – have a look at the official route map on the Pipefest website for more details.
Stirling Castle is somewhat famed for its long and chequered history: it’s seen at least eight sieges and numerous fires, Kings and Queens crowned and christened, Lords beheaded or assassinated, and (perhaps unsurprisingly, given all that) is said to be haunted by scores of ghosts – one, the Pink Lady, is rumoured to be the spirit of Mary Queen of Scots herself!
But of course, the castle is not the only place in Stirling to boast a turbulent history. The Pipefest route takes you past some of the most interesting landmarks in Stirling’s historic streets; below are just a few of the stories you’ll walk past when you follow the parade on June 27…
Just down the Wynd from Stirling Castle is Argyll’s Lodging, a romantic Renaissance townhouse once home to Sir William Alexander of Menstrie, 1st Earl of Stirling. The name might ring a bell for our North American readers, as he’s well-known over the pond for the settlement of Nova Scotia in the 1620s – the Canadian Coast Guard even has a ship named after him.
The Earl bought the house upon his return to Scotland in 1631 and had it refurbished when he heard King Charles I intended to visit. Most of us would probably give the place a quick tidy if we heard the monarch was coming round, but Sir Will really went all out – he had the house transformed into a series of grand chambers and lavish suites, leaving him penniless upon his death in 1940.
The building was bought by the Earl of Argyll in 1666. Argyll’s name may have stuck, but there are still a few markers of Sir William’s influence – look out for his coat of arms featuring a mermaid, a Native American and the first armorial representation of a beaver above the front door. The house has also been used as a hospital and a youth hostel, and is now a fantastic museum giving visitors a glimpse of upper class life in the 17th century.
Further down Broad Street sits Mar’s Wark, the ruins of a lavish Renaissance townhouse built by John Erskine, Earl of Mar, in the 1570s. The house was occupied by Jacobites during the Rising of 1745, who left the place in a right state – it was sorely damaged by gunpowder, and today only its richly decorated façade remains. Look out for the gargoyles and the statue of Joan of Arc (or, as she was known locally, ‘Jeannie Dark’), a wee nod to the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France.
Many towns and villages in Scotland have a Mercat Cross, a large, often pillar-like statue used to designate the local market place. This was where people would shop and gossip, where public announcements were made and public punishments were dealt out. Thieves, criminals and adulterers would be tied up, shackled, or, in some gruesome cases, have an ear nailed to the cross while their enraged neighbours chucked abuse and rotten food at them. Stirling’s Mercat Cross is located on Broad Street and has no doubt seen many such punishments over the years. Like the Mercat Crosses in Edinburgh and Dunfermline, it’s topped with a unicorn, Scotland’s national animal, which is known locally as ‘The Puggy’ – it’s unclear why, as ‘puggie’ is Scots for ‘monkey’.
Just off the street is the Tolbooth, a vibrant arts venue that once served as the site of public executions and a jail for men, women and children as young as six. A secret staircase was uncovered during the building’s renovations, as was a full skeleton. It was thought to be that of Allan Mair, an 86-year-old farmer who became the last man to be hanged in the town in 1843. Don’t feel too sorry for him though – he was a thug who starved and locked up his poor wife before finally murdering her. Some stories say that he was so reluctant to die that the hangman had to tug on his ankles before his neck finally snapped.
Darnley’s Coffee House on Bow Street may look like a simple café from the outside, but this 16th century building has royal connections. It once served a lodging house and hosted Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots’ then-lover and later husband, while she and her entourage stayed in rather more luxurious accommodation up the road.
Darnley’s associations with the lodging house didn’t end after their marriage in Edinburgh in 1565, though. According to some sources, the building was more bordello than B&B, and the young Lord would visit on the numerous occasions that a tiff with his wife saw him chucked out of the royal chambers. He was even rumoured to have spent the night here while Mary celebrated their son’s christening at Stirling Castle, an extravagant affair that included the first ever fireworks display seen in Scotland.
Moir of Leckie’s House, further down Bow Street, stands on the site of Wiliam Bell’s tavern, which also put Darnley up after he became estranged from his wife. The house was rebuilt in the mid-17th century by the Moirs of Leckie, a family of genteel Jacobite enthusiasts. They once entertained Bonnie Prince Charlie, who tried to seize Stirling Castle in 1746. He failed miserably, and there have been no more sieges of the castle since.
Keep an eye out for more historical and architectural gems as explore the city, such as the Athenaeum on King Street, with its majestic statue of William Wallace, the colourful Darrow Lodging on Spittal Street, or the famous Church of the Holy Rude near Mar’s Wark.
Comprised of Pipefest, the Armed Forces Day national event and Bannockburn Live, Stirling’s Big Weekend promises three days full of brilliant moments – so don’t miss out! Find out more with our blog posts on Bannockburn Live and the festival’s musical offerings, and get the most out of your weekend in Stirling with things to see and do, itineraries and much more.