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Stirling's Braveheart

Discover the truth about William Wallace on this town trail.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 279ft (85m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Ancient city streets and some rough tracks

Landscape Bustling little city topped with magnificent castle

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 366 Stirling & Ochil Hills West

Start/finish NS 795933

Dog friendliness Mostly on lead, not good for those that dislike crowds

Parking On streets near TIC or in multi-storey car parks

Public toilets At visitor centre by Castle

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1 From the tourist information centre on Dumbarton Road, cross the road and turn left. Walk past the statue of Robert Burns then, just before the Albert Halls, turn right and walk back on yourself. Just past the statue of Rob Roy, turn left and join the Back Wall.

2 Follow this path uphill, with the old town wall on your right. Go up the flight of steps that takes you on to the Upper Back Wall. It's a steady climb now, up past Lady's Rock - where ladies of the castle once sat to watch medieval tournaments - and on past the Star Pyramid, a triangular cone incongruously situated by a graveyard.

3 Continue following the path uphill to reach Stirling Castle. Take the path running downhill just to the side of the visitor centre, so that the castle is on your left. At the bottom go left and walk to the cemetery. Turn right and follow the path to the other side of the cemetery. Bear right and go through the gap in the wall.

4 Follow the track downhill on to Gowan Hill. There are several branching tracks but you continue on the main path - heading for the cannons on the hill ahead. You'll come down to a wider grassy track, then climb uphill to the Beheading Stone. Retrace your steps to the wide track and follow it to the road.

5 Turn right along Lower Bridge Street, then fork right into Upper Bridge Street. Continue ahead, then turn right down Barn Road. Follow it uphill, then go left at the top. Eventually you'll pass the Castle Esplanade, followed by Argyll's Lodging, and will reach a junction.

6 Turn left, passing Hermann's Restaurant and the Mercat Cross. Turn right at the bottom down Bow Street, then left along Baker Street. When you reach Friars Street (which is pedestrianised), turn left and walk down to the end.

7 Turn right now, then first left to reach the station. Turn left, then right over the bridge, continuing to reach the riverside. Maintain direction and join Abbey Road. Bear left at the end, go right over the footbridge and continue along South Street, turning right at the end to visit the remains of Cambuskenneth Abbey.

8 Retrace your steps now, over the footbridge and back to the station. Turn right at the station, then left at the top to pass the Thistle Shopping Centre. Continue along Port Street, then turn right and walk along Dumbarton Road to the start.

To many Scots he is the ultimate hero, a charismatic patriot who died fighting for his country's freedom. To others he is less exalted - an outlaw and murderer. Discovering the truth about William Wallace is not easy, as few contemporary accounts exist - although we can be reasonably assured that he didn't look like Mel Gibson or paint his face with woad.

Wallace's heroic status is immediately obvious on your arrival in Stirling, which is dominated by the enormous monument erected in his memory. He was born at Ellerslie near Kilmarnock (not Elderslie as was originally thought) early in the 1270s (see, even his birth is something of a mystery) and little is known of his early life. He might have remained unknown were it not for the fact that in 1286 the Scottish King, Alexander III, was found dead on the sands at Kinghorn, Fife. His only direct heir was Margaret of Norway - and many powerful Scots did not want a woman on the throne. When Margaret died on her way to Scotland, the succession was plunged into further confusion. The only likely contestants were John Balliol and Robert Bruce. Edward I of England was asked to advise, chose Balliol, and then exerted his authority by demanding revenues from Scotland. Balliol later infuriated Edward by signing a treaty with England's enemy, France, and Edward retaliated by sacking Berwick in 1296, slaughtering thousands. The Scots began to resist, Balliol was deposed as king, and the Wars of Independence began.

Wallace joined the struggle. In 1297 he killed the English Sheriff of Lanark and led a number of attacks on English forces. Later that year he won the battle that was to make his reputation, defeating Edward's army at Stirling Bridge. Wallace's forces killed thousands of English and Welsh troops, driving the wounded into the marshes to drown. Wallace now had considerable power. Faced with the possibility of food shortages in Scotland, he ordered an invasion of northern England to plunder food. Many villagers were murdered, churches were burned and over 700 villages destroyed.

In 1298 Wallace was made Guardian of Scotland, but was defeated by Edward I later that year at the Battle of Falkirk. He resigned the Guardianship and travelled to Rome to enlist support from the Pope for the restoration of Balliol as king. Back in Scotland, he continually refused to accept Edward as King of Scotland and was eventually captured and taken prisoner in 1305 (some say he was betrayed by Scots). He was executed at Smithfield in London (the torture of being hung, drawn and quartered was invented for him) and immediately became a martyr for Scottish independence.

While you're there

Cambuskenneth Abbey was founded by Augustinian canons in 1147 for David I. Although the only surviving feature is the 14th-century belfry, it was once one of Scotland's richest abbeys. Robert the Bruce held his parliament here in 1326 and James III and his wife, Margaret of Denmark, are buried in the grounds.

Where to eat and drink

You've got plenty of choice in Stirling. La Ciocare is a 50s-style cool green Italian bar/bistro which serves ice creams, cakes, frothy cappuccinos and pizza. Just round the corner there's the Barnton Bar and Bistro, which has murky old-fashioned appeal and is popular with those seeking all-day breakfasts and snacks. For sandwiches, cakes and baked potatoes try Darnley Coffee House - said to have been the home of Lord Darnley, Mary, Queen of Scots' husband.

What to look for

It's worth breaking your walk to visit impressive Stirling Castle, which was the favourite residence of most of the Stuart monarchs. You can see the interior of the Chapel Royal, which was built by James VI in 1594 for the baptism of his son, and also the 16th-century kitchens which have been restored. You can also see the palace, where Mary, Queen of Scots lived until she left Scotland for France.

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