Nestled close to Glasgow and Edinburgh, yet only a short hop from some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery, the ancient town of Stirling is well worth a visit. Synonymous with two of Scotland’s greatest heroes, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, the town and its surrounds have witnessed many crucial struggles between the Scots and the English. The infamous Battle of Bannockburn, when Robert the Bruce forced Edward II’s much larger army to retreat, was fought just a few miles away in 1314. Being so close to the bigger cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, Stirling can easily be visited in a day, but it is a pleasant city in which to linger, with a laidback atmosphere and a langorous buzz in the summer months.
More homely than Edinburgh Castle, Stirling’s castle has royal apartments, a rose garden and kitchens furnished with life-sized models of people, food and even a genuine cookery book from the castle’s medieval era. There are beautful vistas: just gaze west from the ramparts for an awe-inspiring view along the Carse of Stirling past Ben Vorlich and Ben Ledi to Ben Lomond.The palace part of the complex is currently closed as part of a major restoration project and will reopen in March 2011.
Castle Wynd (A2), Old Town, 01786 450 000, www.historicscotland.gov.uk, open daily 9.30am-4.30pm, £8.50 (£6.50), child £4.25.
National Wallace Monument
You’ve seen the film, now visit the monument. See Wallace’s broadsword, look at the views and let the computer-generated face of Wallace tell you the how he vanquished the English.You might be surprised, dismayed or amused to see how much the statue of William Wallace at the visitor centre resembles Mel Gibson. It's so awful it has to be locked away at night to stop vandals improving it.
The Abbey Craig, 01786 472 140, www.nationalwallacemonument.com, open daily 10am-6pm, £5.
Doune Castle, one of Scotland’s best preserved medieval castles, can give you all the atmosphere of a Highland ruin without the bother of actually driving up there. Fans of Monty Python’s The Holy Grail will instantly recognise the castle and surroundings, which were used as a setting from the film, and can spend a happy afternoon wandering around clopping coconuts together, obtained from under the counter at the gift shop (just ask nicely).The castle enjoys a lovely setting by the salmon-filled splendour of the River Teith. Don’t be surprised if somebody leans over the battlements to insult your bodily hygiene in a silly accent.
Castle Road, 01786 841 742,. www.undiscoveredscotland.com, open daily 9.30am-4.30pm, £4.20 (£3.20), child £2.10.
The Outback Bar and Grill
It certainly can’t promise the weather you would get down-under, but this Australian themed bar attempts to capture some of the good-time atmosphere of Aussie drinking holes. It has only recently opened, in a prime spot near the city's Albert Hall, but is already winning an audience amongst the students of Stirling.The food is good, cheap and reliable, the atmosphere raucous when it needs to be, but calm when there's grub at the table, and for homesick Aussies, this place will feel like their local.
9 Upper Craigs (C5), 01786 451 130, www.outback.moonfruit.com, open 11am until late, food 11am-9pm.
BARS AND CLUBS
Nicky Tam’s Bar and Bothy
Rowdy good times rather than pristine cool is the deal at Nicky Tam’s Bar Bothy. On some nights you might compete for (already limited) space with the live bands, who push cosiness to its limits by cramming onto a stage of Lilliputian proportions.The intriguing trinkets peppering the stone walls and the well-worn furnishings reveal a lived-in charm that pulls in those seeking refuge from less sophisticated drinking establishments. Punters hoping to sup an ale in relative quiet should head to the cosier upstairs section.
29 Baker Street (C4), 01786 472 194, open Sun-Thu 11am-midnight, Fri-Sat 11am-1am.
Once populated by mad-for-it ravers, the Fubar is now a mainstream nightclub that's fairly respectable, if that's what you're into.Thursday night is for students during term time, which is your best bet as it can attract a tough crowd at the weekend. Franz Ferdinand recently played here on their tour of small Scottish venues, but don't expect much indie here: the music mostly has a whiff of cheese, with an emphasis on frilly pop, banging house and grinding R&B.
6 Maxwell Place (C4), 01786 472 619, www.clg.co.uk/fubar, opening times and prices vary.
If you've ever fancied taking to the skies with only a safety harness between you and infinity, Go Ape will be heaven, featuring Britain's largest zip slide that shoots over a 90-foot high waterfall. Essentially, one of Scotland's most beautiful wildernesses has been turned into a sky-high playground, with an array of rope bridges to clamber across and obstacles to tackle. During the summer months there's a bus that goes from Stirling (ask at the bus station) all the way to Aberfoyle through the scenic Trossach mountains.You could also take a taxi, which could be pricey - unless you share it between a few people.
David Marshall Lodge Visitor Centre, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park,Aberfoyle,FK8 3SY, www.goape.co.uk, open daily 9am5pm with bookings every half-hour, £25, children (10-17) £20.