In the small town of Bannockburn, Stirling, the historic center is located next to the exact place where the most important battle in Scottish history happened: The Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where King Robert the Bruce and Robert I managed to unite behind the Scottish nobility of the country's independence. At the entrance there is a small souvenir shop and behind it is a small museum that tells the story of Robert the Bruce and the battle itself. The battlefield is behind and has two monuments, one of a circular shape with the flag of Scotland (called the Saltire) in the center and the famous one seen on postcards, a sculpture of Robert I on horseback. It is a very nice place, surrounded by trees and meadows on all sides where, in addition to enjoying the surroundings, you can learn a lot about the history of Scotland and undoubtedly the most important figure in its hisotry (though perhaps not to fans of the film Braveheart).
Bannockburn Live is an event that celebrates the history and culture of Scotland, reliving the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburm. This year, the festival will feature traditional and contemporary Scottish music, food, storytelling, theater and a recreation of the battle in the battlefield where it took place. In addition, the recreation will be choreographed by Clanranald, famous for his work in different Hollywood movies. In spring 2013 the New Interpretation Centre of the Battle of Bannockburn opened, allowing you to use 3D technology to learn more about the history of the battle.
The important battle that took place in 1314 led to the development of this village, close to Stirling, but separated by thick forests. The bend in the river, the Bannock Burn that gives the settlement its name, was used by King Robert the Bruce to ambush the English. It's a charming little village, with four churches and some municipal buildings, a library and a few pubs. You'll feel a long way from the city of Stirling, and that impression only grows stronger when you talk to locals, who will tell you rather bluntly that they are not from Stirling, they are from Bannockburn.
From the Industrial Revolution to the early twentieth century, Bannockburn grew considerably because of the tartan industry, which is used, for example, to make the traditional kilts in clan colors. It became one of the most prosperous areas in all of Stirling. I spent a few days here to get a feel for the town, and really enjoyed it.
This is perhaps the most colorful Catholic church in Stirling. It stands out among the churches of Bannockburn because of its bricks of various colors; although the architecture is quite sober, the colors are very unusual.
Interestingly it isn't a particularly old building, having been completed in about 1927. A local Bannockburn aristocrat, Lady Murray Polmaise, donated the land for a Catholic church to be built in 1897, as before then there was no dedicated space for Catholics, and many of the miners ve lived in the town followed that particular faith. In the exterior there is a small chapel, built as if it were a cave, in honor of St Ninian, ve slept in a cave on his way through the area. Different and very interesting.
It is common to find monuments to the dead of the First and Second World Wars in every town and village in the UK. Here in Bannockburn there is a small fenced park with benches and flowers, and a small obelisk to remember those ve died in the line of duty. It's a quiet place, usually fairly empty. One thing that makes it unusual is that the monument only commemorates the First World War; it seems that no residents of Bannockburn died during the second.
It's definitely one of the most peaceful places in Bannockburn, with the walls separating it from the neighboring, much noisier park, which I'll write about later.
The mining and weaving industries led to Bannockburn growing and expanding, and the town center is exactly what you'll find all over the UK. The main street is called, simply Main Street (it is called High Street in some other towns), and there are lots of shops ... butcher, deli, restaurants, pubs, churches. Interestingly, the street begins and ends with a church, the first being owned by the Calvinist Church of Scotland and the second by the Evangelist Free Church of Scotland. It's a colorful street, without so much traffic as the dual-carriageway now connects Stirling to Falkirk, passing outside the town. A nice area.
I arrived in Stirling to live almost ten years ago, but had visited it several times previously as a tourist. And in those ten years, I've often gone down this road and noticed the huge mansion, which looks like a haunted house from a movie. Indeed, you get the impression that somebody is watching you from behind the windows ... well, finally I decided to get closer and investigate. It seems that this is the largest house in Bannockburn, belonging to the incredibly wealthy Murray family. Several British TV series have been filmed here, as it's an old building, typical of the Victorian era. As it's a private residence, you can't go inside, but you can at least admire the exterior view. Not so spooky, after all!
Along with the Kings Park, this is one of the largest parks in Stirling. You can walk almost half an hour to reach the Balquhidderock forests. The park is well-signposted, with paths, benches, barbecue areas and more, as well as a roofed shelter for rainy days (always useful in Scotland). There are two main entrances: one leads to a children's playground, and the other takes some stairs down into the valley, as this park follows the course of the river.
Lady Murray, the wealthy benefactor ve also funded the construction of the local Catholic church, developed a lot of this park. She was known locally as Lady Well, hence the name; the park pays tribute to this woman ve did so much for the town.
First things first, I want to make it clear that this is separate from Ladywell Park, which I've already discussed. But the best way to start is indeed through the park. You'll find a narrow path that follows the course of the River Bannock, a tributary of the River Forth that passes through Stirling and Edinburgh. You can follow the path in the direction of the mountains, leading to the forest area, where the river becomes bigger and wilder.
It's amazing to be so close to Stirling but still feel like you're out in the middle of nowhere, especially as this is not a very well-known path, and you'll often be alone. A lovely place to spend the day with the family, have a picnic, or walk the dog. It seems that Lady Murray really enjoyed following this path, and it's easy to see why.
I've already explained that Bannockburn was an independent town, separate from Stirling, but was slowly absorbed as the city grew. However, it retains its air of separation. An example can be seen here: there are municipal buildings that serve the same function as those in the center of Stirling, showing the area's independence from the bigger city.
These attractive buildings reflect the area's Victorian history. Sadly, there's no museum like you'd often find in other, similar towns ... the buildings may look beautiful, but they really are just offices, containing the council and other local government matters. Very well-preserved, and a good example of how Bannockburn prospered during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
You may have thought that the Freemasons were a thing of the past, but here in Scotland you'll find numerous lodges, with five in Stirling alone. The most prominent are in the Bridge of Allan and here in Bannockburn. Both are fully operational, with meetings, rituals, and everything else that comes with being a Mason.
Masons started to appear in the late seventeenth century as a kind of educational/philosophical group, but they gradually turned into a kind of cult, without the religious elements. It is a controversial group, but here in Scotland they are often known for their great architecture ... not in Bannockburn, though, where we found a rectangular building with rubble by the door, not well-maintained at all. It is officially called the lodge of Bannockburn, Bruce and Thistle 312 (the number suggests just how many lodges there are in the country). Nearby you'll see a huge number of barrels of beer, suggesting what the Masons are really all about...
What a nice surprise! As I reached the end of the historical main street of Bannockburn, I arrived at this church, known to residents as "the auld kirk" (the old church). It's not a very tall building, and has a gabled roof and no central steeple. It's the most historical church in the town, with the natural inclination of the street suggesting that when it was first built, it stood apart on a little hill.
This was originally Catholic but, as a result of the Religious Reformation, it fell into other hands before finally being abandoned, until it was acquired by the Presbyterian Free Church of Scotland. This group was founded in 1900, and arrived in this area in about 1950, after the Second World War. How strange, to see the oldest church in the town run by newcomers! As a historian, I have to say that it's not as well-preserved as it could be; instead of colorful stained glass, the windows are boarded up like you'd expect from squatters. Let's hope things improve in the future.
If you're looking for a pub and not feeling particularly hungry (ie you don't want anything more than crisps and nuts), then this is the place to go in Bannockburn, where the locals socialize. It's very busy at the weekend, although to be fair the people aren't particularly rowdy or aggressive, just having a good time. A great place to go to enjoy some good Scotch whiskey or some beer. Don't bring the kids in the evening: it's illegal to bring them after 8 pm. A great pub, the perfect spot if you want to have an authentic Scottish experience!