Your local guide:
Craig Roberston is a Stirling resident and author of Random, Snapshot, Cold Grave, Witness the Dead and The Last Refuge.
I’ve lived in Stirling all my life, long enough to see it change from a town to a city even if no one locally noticed any difference. It’s a great place if, in some ways, a strange place; town meets country, north meets south, history meets the 21st century.
Today, Stirling is a buzzing university town – sorry, city – that merges its past with its present. The following is a personal guide to some places to visit, eat in and drink in. Don’t blame me if you don’t like them.
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There are a number of restaurants within a short distance of the festival hub at the Highland Hotel. Closest is fining dining at Scholars, within the hotel itself. Nearby, Hermann’s, just up the hill towards the castle, offers Austrian-Scottish cuisine.
Fifty yards down the hill from the Highland on Spittal Street, you will find Mamma Mia which offers classic Italian dishes. Round the corner from there, Brea on Baker Street has great food and service and a selection of handcrafted beers. A couple of doors away, Wilawan Thai is worth a visit.
On Friar Street, The Loft serves modern gourmet dishes. Cibe e Vino is a smart little Italian bistro in the Stirling Arcade while Cook’s of Stirling in Upper Craigs is a stylish restaurant with an excellent menu.
Green Gates Indian restaurant on Queen Street serves superb food, particularly its fish dishes. Its head chef formerly held the same position at Mother India and the Wee Curry Shop in Glasgow. Also recommended are Kama Sutra and The Regent, both in the Upper Craigs, and Smiling Jacks on Barnton Street.
Eateries that aren’t within walking distance but worth seeking out are The River House at the foot of the Castle rock, Birds & The Bees on Easter Cornton Road, The Jam Jar in Bridge of Allan, Corrieri’s Café at the foot of the Wallace Monument in Causewayhead, The Inn at Torbrex and Gabe’s Diner by the cinema on Forthside..
You will no doubt have a thirst after that and there are plenty of pubs within staggering distance of the festival venues. Many seem to be increasingly split upon age lines so a quick look in the window will tell you all you need to know.
The Settle Inn on St Mary’s Wynd is Stirling’s oldest and has been serving ales since 1733, seemingly to the same people. Number 2 Baker Street has a good range of beers and often has live music as does Molly Malone’s in Maxwell Place. City Walls on Rock Terrace is quite literally built within the fortifications on the Back Walk and just a few hundred yards from the Albert Halls. The Portcullis is just yards from the castle and not far from the Highland Hotel. The popular Curly Coo on Barnton Street was recently voted the best whisky bar in the world.
Most pubs get very busy on Friday and Saturday nights and it’s best to point out that the area around Friar Street gets a little “lively” around closing time as students and young locals make their way up or down the narrow, pedestrianised route in search of taxi ranks or nightclubs.
Stirling has always held a crucial place in Scotland’s story and reminders of that are all around. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned in the chapel of Stirling Castle in 1543, while James V1 was crowned king in the nearby Church of the Holy Rude in 1567. The castle dominates the city’s skyline and is easily Scotland’s finest – the refurbished Great Hall and Royal Palaces are a must on any visitor’s itinerary.
Scotland’s most iconic figures, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace won their defining battles in Stirling against the might of the English army. The Bruce defeated Edward 11 at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and Wallace did the business at the Battle of Stirling Bridge at the end of my street in 1297. My street wasn’t there at the time.
You’re in Stirling to celebrate crime so here are a couple of Stirling’s most infamous murders of the past. In 1452, King James 11 bumped off the 8th Earl of Douglas in the castle by stabbing him then throwing him through a window into what are now known as the Douglas Gardens.
The last man executed in Stirling was a (very) old rogue named Allan Mair. He was 84 when he beat his wife to death in 1843 and was hanged in Broad Street, just a minute’s walk from Bloody Scotland’s festival HQ. Despite his age and having to be carried to his gallows in a chair, Mair managed to free his hands as the executioner made the final drop and grabbed at the rope. It meant that the hangman had to grab Mair’s legs and tug the old man down until he was dead. Nice.
The Wallace Monument and the new Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre mark the aforementioned battles, while there are plenty more historical attraction at the Top of the Town including Mar’s Wark, Argyll’s Lodgings, the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum and, of course, Stirling Castle.