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For this example of Scotland tours from Edinburgh, take the fast A9 motorway north-west for Stirling – well under an hour. You can’t go wrong finding Stirling Castle. Like Edinburgh Castle it sits prominently on a crag and dominates the skyline. Just to take in the ambience you could find a parking place in the lower end of the town and keep walking uphill until you find yourself in the Esplanade, the parade ground outside the castle. If you’re less energetic you can park here as well – it’s only fair to tell you now.
Stirling Castle sits on top of a rocky ridge, just like Edinburgh Castle, and is prominent for miles around.
Stirling with its castle was once one of the most important strategic places in Scotland. Whoever occupied Stirling Castle, formerly at the lowest bridging point of the winding River Forth, controlled the main route between Highlands and Lowlands. The most famous battle in Scotland’s story, the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, which won almost four centuries of independence from England, was fought close by, with the castle as a prize.
Yes, really, you should stroll around a bit if time permits. (Now, ahem, best guidebook voice.....) The complex of buildings which today makes up the Castle, date from various times and show the many modifications made to them as the castle developed, for example, from the royal court of the Stewarts, kings of Scotland, into a military headquarters.
The outer defences of a great curtain wall and batteries were rebuilt around 1708. Note the conspicuous Palace built by King James V between 1538 and 1542. This shows the influence of French masons who carved the decorative figures that festoon the ornately worked outer walls.
The Great Hall, now restored, was originally completed in the time of King James IV in 1503. Before the Union of Parliaments in 1707, this building had been used as one of the seats of the Scottish Parliament. Afterwards this hugely important building in Scotland’s story became first a riding school, then a barracks, until a recent programme of restoration work began restored its former grandeur.....
Wait, that’s quite enough information as I’m beginning to glaze over. (These Scotland tours from Edinburgh are only meant to start you off - there are lots of places where you can find out detail.) There are other buildings to see and you should certainly allow an hour or so if you’re doing the tour. If you just want to admire the building from the Esplanade, then look out for the marks of bullets and cannon balls on the walls, many from Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempt to capture it. Stirling Castle is high on the atmosphere of the vanished monarchs of Scotland’s royal court, Scottish politics and the deadly art of war.
It’s such a wide panorama from Stirling Castle that you can only get chunks of it in your viewfinder. The Trossachs hills that you may have seen distantly from Edinburgh Castle are very conspicuous. Go from Stirling to Callander. If you’re a Monty Python fan, then you can go via Doune Castle, where scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail were filmed.
(Above) Looking towards Loch Katrine from a viewpoint on the Duke's Road. Obviously this is a winter shot. You can see a high summer picture of this popular chunk of Trossachs scenery by following that link.
The little town of Callander is probably where you’ll pause for refreshments, if not some new outdoor gear. (It’s that sort of a place, usually pretty busy with day trippers and visitors on Scotland tours.)
These visitors are taking part in a tradition of Scotland tours that goes back more than two centuries – because it was towards the end of the 18th century that the ’Cult of the Picturesque’ came about. (It was partly an emotional response to the order and symmetry of the preceding Georgian age. To be honest, I blame these hippy Romantic poets.)
As early as 1794, the local minister in Callander wrote that 'The Trossachs are often visited by persons of taste, who are desirous of seeing nature in her rudest and unpolished state.' Remember this was in the days when Scotland tours and Highland travel was a really big adventure!
Amongst these early Scotland tourists was the Hon. Mrs Murray of Kensington (in London, England). She published one of the very earliest travel guides in 1798, with the snappy title 'A Companion, and useful guide to the beauties of Scotland, to the Lakes of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire....to which is added a more particular Description of Scotland, especially that part called the Highlands' (As a search term, let me tell you it isn’t brilliant.)
The famous Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott travelled here on legal business as early as 1790. Gradually, the wooded hills and lochs worked their magic on him, so that by 1809, already as an established literary figure, he was quartering the ground, even checking riding times and distances for complete accuracy within the verse-world he was soon to create. His work was called ‘The Lady of the Lake' and after its 1810 publication it became a best seller. This work was a major milestone in the development of Scotland tourism. Take the road at Kilmahog westwards to judge for yourself. You’ll probably end up in the carpark at the side of Loch Katrine with enough time for a cruise on the SS Sir Walter Scott, the steamship that has sailed the loch for more than a century.
The view here is from the summit of Ben Venue, looking east, with Loch Achray (nearer) and Loch Venachar beyond. The town of Callander shows distantly as a pale line above and to the left of Loch Venachar.
Either as you drive around, or as you stroll along the pedestrian-only little road that runs round the shore of Loch Katrine from the main carpark, you’ll work out the real secret of the Trossachs. It’s Scotland-Lite. Nothing too demanding. Pleasant but not spectacular. Easy to reach - and so one of the most popular Scotland tours from Edinburgh.
But it's still worth doing. After all, visitors have been covering the ground here for more than two centuries. So, to conclude, it’s southwards and up and over by the Duke’s Road (or the Duke’s Pass), called after the Duke of Montrose – a descendant of the aristo who was an enemy of Rob Roy – who had it built in 1932. Drop down to the little tourist resort of Aberfoyle and turn east for Edinburgh, more than an hour away.
Follow this link for more good stuff about how cruising Loch Lomond and the Trossachs made for a great day out, even in Victorian times. And, like the Trossachs, Loch Lomond was another early tourism honeypot. Follow that link to find out more.
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Our insider travel tips.
The original 16th century wooden carved Stirling Heads in Stirling Castle are amazing.
Travelling north out of Callander we sometimes stop at The Lade Inn at Kilmahog. Simple, tasty pub food (large portions) and you can try haggis here.
A drink or meal overlooking the Lake of Menteith - this is a magical spot, and you could even go fishing, the Fishery is next door and they sell delicious snack food such as a Stornoway Black pudding roll.
Scotland in Three Days