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Scottish archaeology - Archaeology at the Stirling Wall

07 August 2012

Scottish archaeology - Archaeology at the Stirling Wall

John G Harrison explains how the collapse of a wall close to Stirling Castle led to new archaeological investigations.

John G Harrison explains how the collapse of a wall close to Stirling Castle led to investigations which have shed light on a landscape which was part of a major redesign of the entire landscape of Stirling.

Sometimes historians and archaeologists have to seize opportunities as they arise. That was the case when members of Stirling Local History Society (SLHS) noticed that a section of wall close to Stirling Castle had collapsed. For this was not just ‘any old wall’, it was part of a system of terracing – and there is every possibility that the terraces had been part of the Great Garden, created for James IV in the 1490s. The collapse presented a unique chance for further investigation of what was (quite literally) behind the wall.

In summer 2011 work was completed on the magnificently-recreated palace built for James V, a generation after the Great Garden. Today, once again, visitors can see something of the setting of sixteenth-century royal life at Stirling. That experience is all the more vivid since the palace complements previously-completed work on the Great Kitchens, the Great Hall and the Chapel Royal. Stirling Castle, for the last two hundred years presented as a fortress, is now presented as a residence on the grandest scale.

But what few visitors will realise is the importance of the surrounding landscapes. Of course, if they see the imposing western view they cannot fail to be impressed. But how many will realise that that was part of the intention of the Stewart kings. The dominant setting underwrote their dominance of the nation. It also provided them with wonderful views – out over land which they controlled – their park, their inheritance, their nation.

SLHS made a start on that research last summer with a geophysical survey undertaken jointly with Glasgow University Archaeology Department at the King’s Knot. This showed that there is older structure below the present octagonal earthen mound [illustration]. When we noticed the collapsed wall we were able to enlist the support of Stirling Council’s archaeologist; AOC Archaeology quickly carried out a survey of the terracing. Plans are now afoot for more investigations as the re-instatement of the terrace proceeds.

It is a project which can involve local people as well as technical experts. It would, once again, link the castle and its royal residence to the surrounding landscapes. In the last few years road widening, the spread of scrub, the growth and the felling of trees have all damaged the landscapes. Until more people know more about them –and value them for their unique character – the landscapes will continue to be at risk.

John G Harrison is chair of Stirling Local History Society.

For all the latest Scottish archaeology news and Scottish archaeology events, see each issue of History Scotland.

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