Stirling is one of the most attractive towns in Scotland, and we could not resist staying there awhile to explore it. It is the "key to the Highlands," and one of the oldest of the Royal burghs. It was a place of some importance in the time of the Romans, as it stood between the two great Firths of the Clyde and the Forth, where the Island of Britain is at its narrowest. The first Roman wall was built between the Forth and the Clyde, and the Second Roman Legion was stationed at Stirling. According to an old inscription on a stone near the Ballengeich road, they kept a watch there day and night, and in A.D. 81 a great battle was fought near by against 30,000 Caledonians, who were defeated.
Stirling has a commanding geographical position, and all the roads converge there to cross the River Forth. It was at Stirling Bridge that Wallace defeated the army of 50,000 soldiers sent against him in the year 1297 by Edward I, King of England. The town had also a lively time in the days of Charles Edward Stuart, "Bonnie Prince Charlie," whose father, during his exile in France, had been encouraged by the French to return and lay claim to the English Crown. Landing in Inverness-shire in 1745, Prince Charlie was immediately joined by many of the Highland clans, and passed with his army through Stirling on his way towards London. Not finding the support they expected from the south, they were compelled to return, followed closely along their line of retreat by the English Army, and they were soon back again at Stirling, where they made a desperate but unsuccessful effort to obtain possession of the castle, which was held for the English. The Duke of Cumberland's Army by this time was close upon their heels, and gave them no rest until they caught them and defeated them with great slaughter up at Culloden, near Inverness.
There was much in Stirling and its environs that we wished to see, so we were astir early in the morning, although the weather was inclined to be showery. First of all, we went to see the cemetery, which occupies a beautiful position on a hill overlooking the wonderful windings of the River Forth, and here we found the tomb of the Protestant martyrs "Margaret and Agnes," the latter only eighteen years of age, who were tied to stakes at low water in the Bay of Wigtown on May 11th, 1685, and, refusing an opportunity to recant and return to the Roman Catholic faith, were left to be drowned in the rising tide. Over the spot where they were buried their figures appeared beautifully sculptured in white marble, accompanied by that of an angel standing beside them.
We stayed there for a few solemn moments, for it was a sight that impressed us deeply, and then we went to inspect an old stone with the following curious inscription cut on its surface:
Some . only . breakfast . and .
Others . to . dinner . stay .
And . are . full . fed .
the . oldest . man . but . sups:
And . goes . to . bed:
large . is . his . debt:
that . lingers . out . the . day:
he . that . goes . soonest:
has . the . least . to . pay:
We saw another remarkable structure called "The Rock of Ages," a large monument built of stone, on each of the four sides of which was a Bible sculptured in marble with texts from the Scriptures, and near the top a device like that of a crown. It was a fine-looking and substantial building, but we could not ascertain the reason for its erection.
There were two churches quite near to each other standing at one end of the cemetery, and these, we were informed, were known as the East and West Churches, and had been formed out of the old Church of Stirling, formerly noted for its bells, which were still in existence. One of them, a Dutch bell, was marked "Rotterdam, 1657," and inscribed "Soli Deo Gloria"; the only pre-Reformation bell was one that was said to have come from Cambuskenneth Abbey, measuring 8 ft. 6-1/2 in. round the mouth, 4 ft. 6 in. over the neck, and 2 ft. 1-1/2 in. in depth, and bearing a Latin inscription, in Old English characters, which was said to be the angelic salutation from St. Luke i. 28: "Hail, Mary, full of grace, God is with thee; blessed art thou among women and to be blessed." This bell, dating from the fourteenth century, was perfect in sound, and had been the tone bell in the old abbey. The remainder of the bells of Cambuskenneth had been lost owing to the swamping of the boat that was bringing them across the river.
We now went to view the castle, and as we approached the entrance we were accosted by a sergeant, whom we engaged to act as our guide.
The ramparts of the castle command the noblest prospect imaginable - Grampian, Ochil and Pentland Hills, the River Forth, through all its windings, and "Auld Reekie" in the distance - twelve foughten fields are visible - the bridge where Archbishop Hamilton was hanged, the mound on which the Regent, Earl of Levenax, was beheaded on May 25th, 1425, along with the Duke of Albany, his son-in-law, and his grandson - the chamber where the Scottish King James II was assassinated - a noble valley, where tournaments were held, and the hill, whence Beauty viewed "gentle passages of arms" and rewarded knights' valour with her smiles, lie just below the ramparts. Here James I lived, and James II was born, and it was a favourite residence of James III. From these walls the "Good Man of Ballangeich" made many an excursion, and here James V and James VI were indoctrinated at the feet of that stern preceptor, George Buchanan, and the seventh James and the second of England visited here in company with the future Queen Anne and the last of the Stuarts.
Such was the official description of the place we were now visiting. As our guide conducted us through the archway into the castle, he showed us the old chains that worked the portcullis. We noted how cautious the old occupants of these strongholds were, for while one of the massive doors was being drawn up the other went down, so that the inner entrance was always protected. From the top of the walls the sites of seven battlefields were pointed out to us, including those of Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge. The Battle of Stirling Bridge was won by Wallace by strategy; he had a much smaller army than the English, but he watched them until they had got one-half their army over the narrow bridge, and then attacked each half in turn, since the one could not assist the other, the river being between them. In the following year he was defeated himself, but as he retreated he reduced Stirling and its castle to ruins.
The Bridge of Allan, which could be seen in the distance, was described as a miniature Torquay without the sea, and the view from the castle on a clear day extended a distance of nearly fifty miles. We were shown the aperture through which Mary Queen of Scots watched the games in the royal garden below, and of course we had to be shown the exact spot where "our most gracious Majesty Queen Victoria with the Prince of Wales" sat on a much more recent date. The castle stood on a rock, rising precipitously on two of its sides, and was now being used as a barracks. It was a fine sight to see the soldiers as they were being drilled. The old Chapel Royal was used as the armoury, and our guide told us of many objects of interest which were stored there; but we had no time to see them, so, rewarding him suitably for his services, we hastened back to the town to refresh the "inner man."
It appeared that in former times none of the members of the Town Council accepted any gift or emolument while in office; and, before writing was as common as it is now, the old treasurer kept his accounts in a pair of boots which he hung one on each side of the chimney. Into one of them he put all the money he received and into the other the vouchers for the money he paid away, and balanced his accounts at the end of the year by emptying his boots, and counting the money left in one and that paid away by the receipts in the other. What a delightfully simple system of "double entry," and just fancy the "borough treasurer" with a balance always in hand! Whether the non-payment for services rendered by the Council accounted for this did not appear; but there must have been some select convivials even in those days, as the famous Stirling Jug remained as evidence of something of the kind. It was a fine old vessel made of brass and taken great care of by the Stirling people, who became possessed of it four or five hundred years before our visit.
We then walked some distance to see Wallace's Monument, the most conspicuous object for many miles round, and which had only just been erected to perpetuate the memory of that great warrior, having been opened by the Duke of Atholl in 1869. We paid twopence each for admission, and in addition to climbing the hill to reach the entrance to the monument we had to ascend a further 220 feet by means of a flight of 246 steps before we could reach the top. There were several rooms in the basement, in one of which we found an enthusiastic party of young Scots who were vociferously singing:
Scots, wha hae wie Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has often led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victorie.
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in divy blow!
Let us do or die!
These were the first and last verses of the poem written by the immortal Burns to represent Robert Bruce's address to his army before the Battle of Bannockburn. We did not reveal our nationality to the uproarious Scots, but, after listening to the song, which we had never heard sung before, and the cheers which followed it, in which we ourselves joined, we went quietly past them, for fear they might treat us as the "usurpers" named in the last verse and "lay us low."
On reaching the top of the monument we had a magnificent view, which well repaid us for our exertions in climbing up the craig and ascending the tower, and we lingered awhile to view the almost fairy-like scene that lay below us, with the distant mountains in the background. On descending, we entered our names in the visitors' book and took our departure.
Just as we were leaving, our attention was attracted by a notice which informed us that Cambuskenneth Abbey was only one mile away, so we walked along the banks of the Forth to that ancient ruin. The abbey was supposed to have taken its name from one Kenneth, who fought a successful battle with the Picts on the site where it was built. A Parliament was held within its walls in 1314 by King Robert Bruce, but the abbey was destroyed, with the exception of the tower, in 1559. The chief object of interest was the tomb of James III, King of Scots, and his Queen, the Princess Margaret of Denmark, who were buried near the High Altar. The tomb, which appeared quite modern, recorded that King James died June 11th, 1488, and that "This Restoration of the Tomb of her Ancestors was executed by command of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, A.D. 1865."
We now walked back to Stirling, and were again among the windings of the River Forth, which are a striking feature whether viewed from Wallace's Monument, the Castle walls, or the cemetery. To follow them in some places, the traveller, it was said, would have to go four times farther than by the straighter road.
Recovering possession of our bags from the hotel, we resumed our march along the road to Falkirk, eleven miles distant, and, on the way, came to the village of St. Ninians, with its long, narrow street of dismal-looking houses, many of them empty and in ruins, and some marked "To Let"; and, from their dingy appearance, we imagined they were likely to remain so. The people who lived in these houses were formerly of evil reputation, as, before railways were constructed so far north, all the cattle from the Western Isles and the North were driven along the roads to Falkirk to be sold, and had to pass through St. Ninians, which was so dreaded by the drovers that they called this long, narrow street "The Pass of St. Ninians." For, if a sheep happened to go through a doorway or stray along one of the passages, ever open to receive them, it was never seen again and nobody knew of its whereabouts except the thieves themselves. We walked along this miry pass and observed what we thought might be an old church, which we went to examine, but found it to be only a tower and a few ruins. The yard was very full of gravestones. A large building at the bottom of the yard was, we were told, what now did duty for the original church, which in the time of Prince Charlie was used as a powder magazine, and was blown up in 1745 by a party of his Highlanders to prevent its falling into the hands of the advancing English Army, before which they were retreating.
Shortly afterwards we overtook a gentleman whom we at first thought was a farmer, but found afterwards to be a surgeon who resided at Bannockburn, the next village. He was a cheerful and intelligent companion, and told us that the large flagstaff we could see in the fields to the left was where Robert Bruce planted his standard at the famous Battle of Bannockburn, which, he said, was fought at midsummer in the year 1314. Bruce had been preparing the ground for some time so as to make it difficult for the English to advance even though they were much more numerous and better armed than the Scots. As soon as the armies came in sight of each other on the evening of June 24th, King Robert Bruce, dressed in armour and with a golden crown on his helmet, to distinguish him from the rest of his army, mounted on a small pony, and, with a battle-axe in his hand, went up and down the ranks of his army to put them in order. Seeing the English horsemen draw near, he advanced a little in front of his own men to have a nearer view of the enemy.
An English knight, Sir Henry de Bohun, seeing the Scottish king so poorly mounted, thought he would rise to fame by killing Bruce and so putting an end to the war at once. So he challenged him to fight by galloping at him suddenly and furiously, thinking with his long spear and tall, powerful horse to extinguish Bruce immediately. Waiting until Bohun came up, and then suddenly turning his pony aside to avoid the point of his lance, Bruce rose in his stirrups and struck Sir Henry, as he passed at full speed, such a terrific blow on the head with his battle-axe that it cut through his helmet and his head at the same time, so that he died before reaching the ground. The only remark that Bruce is said to have made was, "I have broken my good battle-axe."
This fearful encounter and the death of their champion was looked upon as a bad omen by the English, and Sir Walter Scott thus describes it:
The heart had hardly time to think,
The eyelid scarce had time to wink,
High in his stirrups stood the King,
And gave his battle-axe the swing;
Right on De Boune, the whiles he pass'd,
Fell that stern dint - the first - the last! -
Such strength upon the blow was put,
The helmet crash'd like hazel-nut;
The axe shaft, with its brazen clasp,
Was shiver'd to the gauntlet grasp.
Springs from the blow the startled horse,
Drops to the plain the lifeless corse.
The battle began on the following morning, Midsummer Day, and the mighty host of heavily armed men on large horses moved forward along what they thought was hard road, only to fall into the concealed pits carefully prepared beforehand by Bruce and to sink in the bogs over which they had to pass. It can easily be imagined that those behind pressing forward would ride over those who had sunk already, only to sink themselves in turn. Thousands perished in that way, and many a thrown rider, heavily laden with armour, fell an easy prey to the hardy Scots. The result was disastrous to the English, and it was said that 30,000 of them were killed, while the Scots were able afterwards to raid the borders of England almost to the gates of York.
The surgeon said that in the Royal College of Surgeons in London a rib of Bruce, the great Scottish king, was included in the curios of the college, together with a bit of the cancerous growth which killed Napoleon. It was said that Bruce's rib was injured in a jousting match in England many years before he died, and that the fracture was made good by a first-class surgeon of the time. In 1329 Bruce died of leprosy in his fifty fifth year and the twenty-third of his reign, and was buried in the Abbey Church of Dunfermline. In clearing the foundation for the third church on the same site, in 1818, the bones of the hero were discovered, Sir Walter Scott being present. The breastbone of the skeleton had been sawn through some 500 years before, as was customary, in order to allow of the removal of the heart, which was then embalmed, and given to Bruce's friend, Sir James Douglas, to be carried to Palestine and buried in Jerusalem.
The surgeon also told us - in order, we supposed, to cheer our drooping spirits - of another battle fought in the neighbourhood of Bannockburn in 1488, but this time it was the Scottish King James III who came to grief. He had a fine grey courser given him "that could war all the horse of Scotland if the king could sit up well." But he was a coward and could not ride, and when some men came up shouting and throwing arrows, they frightened the king. Feeling the spurs, the horse went at "flight speed" through Bannockburn, and a woman carrying water, when she saw the horse coming, dropped her bucket down on the road and ran for safety. The horse, frightened by the bucket, jumped over the brook that turned the mill, and threw the king off at the mill door. The miller and his wife, who saw the accident, not knowing that the rider was the king, put him in a nook in the mill and covered him with a cloth. When he came round, he asked for a priest and told them he was the king. But he had fallen into the hands of his enemies. The miller's wife clapped her hands, and ran out crying for a priest for the king. A man called out, "I am a priest; where is the king?" When he saw the king he told him he might recover if he had a good leeching, but the king desired him to give him the Sacrament. The supposed priest said, "That I shall do quickly," and suiting the action to the word, he stabbed him several times in the heart. The corpse he took away on his back, no one knew whither, and the king's soldiers, now leaderless, fled to Stirling and Linlithgow.
We thanked our friend for his company and bade him farewell, as we reached Bannockburn village. We observed there, as in most villages near Stirling, many houses in ruins or built with the ruins of others. We thought what a blessing it was that the two nations were now united, and that the days of these cruel wars were gone for ever! At a junction of roads a finger-post pointed "To the Bannockburn Collieries," and we saw several coal-pits in the distance with the ruins of an old building near them, but we did not take the trouble to inspect them.
The shades of night were coming on when, after walking a few miles, we saw an old man standing at the garden gate of a very small cottage by the wayside, who told us he was an old sailor and that Liverpool had been his port, from which he had taken his first voyage in 1814. He could remember Birkenhead and that side of the River Mersey when there was only one house, and that a farm from which he used to fetch buttermilk, and when there was only one dock in Liverpool - the Prince's. We thought what a contrast the old man would find if he were to visit that neighbourhood now! He told us of a place near by named Norwood, where were the remains of an old castle of Prince Charlie's time, with some arches and underground passages, but it was now too dark to see them. We proceeded towards Camelon, with the great ironworks of Carron illuminating the sky to our left, and finally arrived at Falkirk.
Here, in reply to our question, a sergeant of police recommended us to stay the night at the "Swan Inn," kept by a widow, a native of Inverness, where we were made very comfortable. After our supper of bread and milk, we began to take off our boots to prepare for bed, but we were requested to keep them on as our bedroom was outside! We followed our leader along the yard at the back of the inn and up a flight of stone steps, at the top of which we were ushered into a comfortable bedroom containing three beds, any or all of which, we were informed, were at our service. Having made our selection and fastened the door, we were soon asleep, notwithstanding the dreadful stories we had heard that day, and the great battlefields we had visited - haunted, no doubt, by the ghosts of legions of our English ancestors who had fallen therein!
(Distance walked seventeen miles.)
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