Standing over 150 metres above sea level, this imposing tower, dedicated to the real-life Braveheart, is a fitting tribute to a legendary Scottish hero
On a September day in 1297, Scottish national hero William Wallace stood atop the Abbey Craig hill, closely observing the English army in the moments before what would become his greatest success. Almost six centuries later, this dramatic peak would become the site of a spectacular monument to his legacy Born into a minor landowning family, little else is known about Wallace’s upbringing and path to heroism. A patriot at heart, the young warrior made a name for himself attacking Lanark in May 1297, a town held by the English. His assassination of the town’s English sheriff won him fame and notoriety, and he was soon able to gather together a band of commoners and gentry, united by a common enemy. And so began the first truly organised resistance against the growing English influence in Scotland.
The imposing monument overlooks the site of Wallace’s most notable victory over the English – the Battle of Stirling Bridge. As King Edward I’s men began to cross the narrow Stirling Bridge, hoping to encroach further on Scottish lands, Wallace picked his moment. He waited until half of the English army had made it to the other side, before launching his attack from Abbey Craig. The battle is revered in history as one of Scotland’s finest moments, and the 27-year-old Wallace became one of the nation’s greatest heroes. As a prize for his victory, Wallace was awarded a knighthood by the Scottish royal court. He fought once again at Falkirk, although defeat marked the start of his downfall and, just a few years later, he was captured by the English and hanged, drawn and quartered in London in 1305.
A revival of interest in Celtic nationality and culture in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the construction of a monument in his honour. Literary figures such as Robert Burns and Walter Scott began to romanticise the nation’s dialect, capturing the imagination of Scots that had lost their connection to the land and its unique history. William Wallace provided an ideal figurehead for this cultural renaissance.
It was decided that a bold, statement-making structure would be built to commemorate his remarkable impact on Scottish history. Once Stirling had been chosen as the location – resolving the fight between Glasgow and Edinburgh for the prestigious selection – a competition to design the tower was held. After 106 plans were sent in, including some that were disqualified for being too ‘anti- English’, a Gothic Revival design submitted by Glasgow architect JT Rochead won. The plan featured many subtle homages to Wallace, including stained glass windows, which portrayed a glowing likeness of the man himself.
“A bold, statement-making structure was required”
In order to finance this ambitious project, funds were sourced both from public subscriptions and foreign donors. One such benefactor was the Italian reunification leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, a sympathiser of the growing affection for Scottish heritage and nationalism in the Victorian era. At a cost of £18,000 (over £1 million in today’s money), construction began on Bannockburn Day in 1861, and it was opened on the 572nd anniversary of Wallace’s historic victory at the site.
TOP OF THE TOWER
Be warned that there is a mammoth 246-step clamber to the top. However, there’s a space on each level to catch your breath and absorb more of Wallace’s fascinating story. The climb is worth it as it ends at the crown of the monument, a regal tribute to Wallace that can be seen from miles around. Take a moment to reflect on the stunning view of the Ochil Hills, just as the ‘Guardian of Scotland’ did more than 700 years ago.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR…
CALL TO ARMS
The first floor of the tower narrates the story of the Battle of Stirling Bridge and features original weapons, armour and equipment used by each side.
THE HALL OF HEROES
Climb 64 steps to the next level and visit Scotland’s unofficial ‘hall of fame’, featuring busts of other great Scots such as Gladstone, Robert the Bruce and Rabbie Burns.
The Wallace Sword, Scotland’s very own Excalibur, is the centrepiece here. Whether Wallace actually used it is debatable, but its 5’4” length has to be seen to be believed.
BUILD YOUR OWN
The final floor is home to an interactive exhibit of the monument’s construction, where youngsters can try their hand at building their own tower.
The monument’s Gothic peak is an architectural wonder, featuring intricate battlements and ornate decorations that would not look out of place on a fairytale castle.
VIEW TO A THRILL
Spot the Scottish Highlands in the distance, with the Firth of Forth, Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle adding to this magical view, which is worth climbing up 246 steps for.
WHY NOT VISIT…
Some more Scottish gems for you to discover:
- STIRLING BRIDGE
On the way into Stirling town centre, visitors can see the site of Wallace’s greatest victory, and cross over the 15th-century bridge that now stands there.
- STIRLING CASTLE
Visible from the Wallace Monument, Stirling is one of Scotland’s finest castles, featuring banqueting halls and a royal palace within its hilltop grounds.
- BATTLE OF BANNOCKBURN EXPERIENCE
Four miles south of the Wallace Monument, watch a 3D demonstration of this other famous battle, then re-enact it.