As one of the most important places in Scotland’s history, Stirling Castle has drawn countless visitors over the centuries. One of the most celebrated is that of Robert Burns, when he visited as part of his tour to the highlands in the late summer of 1787.
At the end of August that year, Burns travelled out of Edinburgh in the company of a schoolmaster friend, Willie Nicol. Heading eastwards, the pair stopped off at Linlithgow Palace, where the poet was intrigued to see the room where Mary, Queen of Scots, had been born. As the travelling companions approached Stirling, they made a point of visiting another key site in the nation’s history, the field of Bannockburn. There Burns recorded that he saw the hole where ‘glorious Bruce’ set his standard. While at Bannockburn, Burns also saw the house in which King James III was said to have been slain following the battle of Sauchieburn in June 1488.
On the afternoon of Sunday 26 August 1787, Burns arrived in Stirling. He and Nicol lodged in Wingate’s Inn (now the Golden Lion Hotel in Stirling’s King Street). The two friends ambled up the hill to the old town to see Stirling Castle that evening, where Burns recorded that he had admired the ‘glorious prospect’ of the River Forth winding its way through the carse of Stirling.
The following evening Burns and Nicol dined with a group of Stirling men, among whom was Lieutenant Forrester of the castle’s garrison whom Burns described as ‘a merry, swearing kind of a man, with the dash of the sodger’. On the morning of Tuesday 28 August, Burns breakfasted with Forrester, possibly within the castle. Later that day the poet and his travelling companion, Nicol, left Stirling to resume their journey into the highlands.
Burns’ visit to Stirling in August 1787 is perhaps best remembered today due to the poet’s composition of a short stanza that has become known as the ‘Stirling Lines’. Which he inscribed with a diamond stylus on a window pane at his lodgings in Wingate’s Inn. The ‘Stirling Lines’ emphasise Burns’ patriotic and Jacobite sentiments. They also bear testimony to a fact with which all visitors to Stirling Castle would agree – here, in Stirling, the Royal Stewarts did, once, in glory reign!
You can hear more about Burns’ visit to the castle by joining our special tours this weekend as we celebrate Scotland’s beloved bard.
Here Stewarts once in triumph reign’d,
And laws for Scotland’s weal ordain’d;
But now unroof’d their Palace stands,
Their sceptre’s fall’n to other hands;
Fallen indeed, and to the earth,
Whence grovelling reptiles take their birth.
The injur’d STEWART-line are gone,
A Race outlandish fill their throne;
An idiot race, to honor lost;
Who know them best despise them most.
Senior Guide, Stirling Castle