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Thursday, 28 August 2014

National Wallace Monument

William Wallace statue, National Wallace Monument, Stirling, bit about Britain
Beyond Scotland, ex-pat Scots and possibly a few corners of Britain as a whole, few people would have heard of William Wallace before the 1995 film, Braveheart.  The American, Mel Gibson, directs and stars in the movie, playing the downtrodden, noble, medieval Scot battling the evil English, led by Patrick McGoohan depicting a particularly villainous King Edward I.  The hero, Wallace, comes across as a kind of Mad Max meets Lethal Weapon meets Nelson Mandela painted blue wearing a kilt.  However, for all its well-known historical unreliability, Braveheart is a great film of the ‘goodies and baddies’ type, with acres of armour, scores of swords and buckets of blood (and gore).  Even English audiences can boo the baddies; in Scotland, the film probably increased membership of the Scottish Nationalists overnight – particularly those in the 0-16 age group.

Despite Mel’s best propagandist efforts, then, you may think it sad if there remained a few poor deprived souls in some remote places – Birmingham, for example – who are ignorant of Wallace and do not realise that he was a real person, and a Scottish idol.  William Wallace has an almost mystical quality to many Scots.  The reality is that Wallace bravely and briefly frustrated Edward’s plans 700 years ago to unify Britain under one crown (Edward's), but ultimately failed, was unjustly tried for treason and then met a cruel and barbaric death.  We don’t know much about his life – go to the Wallace Memorial, Smithfield, for a brief summary.  In the end, Edward’s ambitions were thwarted by his own demise 2 years after Wallace’s execution, the Scots under Robert the Bruce dealt the English a blow at the Battle of Bannockburn 7 years later and it took a Scots king, James VI, to unify the crowns about 300 years after that.

Wallace's sword, claymore, Stirling, Scotland, bit about Britain
So what’s all this about a National Wallace Monument?  Wallace, though undoubtedly a good Scotch egg, actually achieved nothing tangible for his country.  Maybe there’s a theme here; if you look up ‘Scottish heroes’ on the Internet, up comes the official Scotland website which lists, amongst others, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scots and Greyfriars’ Bobby - two more failures and a wee pooch.  Derision of course misses a point - a sense of pride in the underdog who refuses to be beaten coupled with the tremendous power of myths.  Heroes and national emblems don’t necessarily rely on the inconvenience of facts in order to inspire – look at the enduring legend of King Arthur and, more recently, the English football team.  It was in similar spirit, and perhaps in the context of maintaining Scotland’s unique identity in the wake of Sir Walter Scott discovering the ‘Honours of Scotland’ (see Edinburgh Castle), that a National Wallace Monument was proposed in the 1830s.  It was decided to site the monument in Stirling – a fair compromise between auld rivals Edinburgh and Glasgow – and on the Abbey Craig, a 300’ (91 metre) high hill where once an Iron Age fort stood, and from which Wallace is said to have watched Edward’s troops arrive before the Scots’ victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.  Funds were raised by public subscription; the cost of construction was in excess of £10,000 according to Stirling Council and as much as £18,000 according to Wikipedia.  It is said that amongst the foreign contributors was Italian nationalist leader Giuseppe Garibaldi (which just about takes the biscuit).

Battle of Stirling Bridge, Scottish Independence, bit about Britain
The National Wallace Monument was 8 years in the building and completed in time for the 572nd anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge on 11th September 1869.  It is an amazing structure, 220’ (67 metres) high in Victorian Gothic/Scottish Baronial style.  The walls are at least 5’ (1.5 metres) - in places 16’ (5 metres) thick – and there are 246 steps, mostly in a fairly narrow spiral, to the top, a spectacular stone crown affair reminiscent of St Giles’ cathedral in Edinburgh.  The views are impressive, though the battle site of Stirling Bridge in front of the castle now appears to be built over.

Beneath the crown are three chambers.  The first is largely dedicated to Wallace and contains a 5’8” (1.7 metres) long medieval broadsword, or claymore, which is reputed to have belonged to Wallace and used by him at Stirling, as well as the defeat at the Battle of Falkirk the following year.  The sword weighs 6lbs (2.7kg).  Imagine swinging that!  Whoever used it must have been big, and immensely strong.  Attributing the sword to Wallace though, is uncertain; but it is apparently Scottish - and old.  Wallace is alleged to have made a sword belt from the skin of Hugh de Cressingham, one of the English commanders at Stirling Bridge.

National Wallace Monument, Victorian memorials, Scotland
The second chamber, ‘Hall of Heroes’, contains busts of 16 notable Scots, including Burns, Bruce, Livingstone, Walter Scott, James Watt and Adam Smith.  Alas, they have not yet got round to including Sean Connery, Alex Harvey, Lonnie Donegan, Billy Connolly, Chris Hoy – or, indeed, Alex Salmond; give them time.  Even more puzzling; Greyfriars’ Bobby has been left out.  But the room does contain some rather nice stained glass.

The third chamber houses an exhibition that tells the story of building the monument.

If you’re in the Stirling area, or passing by it, you can hardly fail to spot the National Wallace Memorial.  High on Abbey Craig to the north west of the city, it is an undeniably proud sight.  You should pop in.  Park near the reception centre beneath the Abbey Craig and either take a courtesy bus, or walk up to the monument’s entrance along a pleasant, wooded path.  Just bear in mind that the hill is 300 feet high, then you have the 220 foot monument to scale.  There is, inevitably, a gift shop which unexpectedly specialises in Scottish things.  Even more surprisingly, there is a selection of books about Sir William Wallace and the Scottish Wars of Independence.  It might even be possible to buy a DVD of Braveheart.  Have a cup of tea and slice of haggis in the coffee shop; it’s called ‘Legends’.

By the way, Mel – it’s about time someone made a movie about Hereward the Wake or Caractacus.  Or - even better - Alfred the Great.  Hey - go for all three; I’d be glad to help.  “Freedom!”

There are memorials to Wallace all over Scotland, as well as in London, Australia, Canada and the United States.

Crown top, memorials, Scotland, visit Britain

Abbey Craig, memorial, Stirling, Britain

William Wallace, stained glass, memorial, Scotland.

Visit the National Wallace Monument website.

Or buy "Braveheart" - bad history, good movie.


  1. Well you certainly put places on my list of places to visit, that will be high up when I next go to Scotland. As for Alex Salmond he has to be the court jester because he is fast becoming a laughing stock. You should add Annie Lenox to the list

  2. What beautiful areas you have to photograph! Thanks for sharing. Tom The Backroads Traveller

  3. First things first: I had never heard the phrase 'takes the biscuit' until yesterday. Now I've heard it twice in two days! (The first was from Catty Kay, that beacon of truth from BBC America.) Anyway, I would love to visit the Wallace Monument, having read and loved 'Scottish Chiefs' by Jane Porter. I would like to read that book to my grandsons! I didn't make it all the way through Braveheart. Hard to disassociate Gibson from Lethal Weapon. Alas, I will probably never visit the Wallace Monument because The North is just too far north from anyplace else I visit in the UK. But Birmingham, I'll have you know, rose in my estimation when we drove past once and saw the huge Cadbury water tower (or chocolate tower!). I wondered if they gave free samples.

  4. I have just found your blog via J_on_tour. You have some interested posts on the sort of places that I like to visit. You have a new follower ;-)

    It is many many years since I visited the Wallace Monument.

  5. Another very interesting post, love your historical pieces and super photos to illustrate them. A place I would definitely love to see. I visited Stirling years ago, when I was not long past 20 and don't remember much about it. I seem to remember going to a Castle that the guide told us an old British series was filmed there called Colditz. I don't know whether these are facts or memories mired in fuzzy recollections of a 20 year old. I would love to go back one day.

  6. Well done Mike and a site I enjoyed. Braveheart might have taken the level of knowledge about this brave soul a notch or two up but not being a fan of Gibson, I am not sure it is due to his film (even less his acting abilities).
    Happy to hear Greyfriar's Bobby is on the list though, the story behind this lovable canine interest me much more.
    All the best,

  7. Great post, lovely photos. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing tour!

  8. We have a Wallace monument in Australia?

  9. I remember seeing the monument on a cycling tour many years ago (I was on the cycling tour - not the monument!) but I didn't investigate further, probably because I was soaked to the skin and keen to get to my evening's lodgings. As as usual in those days I can see I was in too much hurry. can Scotland really claim Lonnie Donegan; he left when he was 2.

  10. Oh I know all about Wallace, I even know a few present day Wallace's :) as a Scot it would be shameful if I didn't! Excellent post Mike.. have a good weekend.

  11. Loved reading all the history and seeing the pics. Thank you!

  12. I skipped that movie with Mel Gibson; it looked too violent for me. Frankly, I'd rather read your descriptions of England.

  13. Great post, history and observations.

    The Wallace monument is an amazing structure built on a pinnacle of rock with amazing views. My family roots are in the area and I have often had the privilege of waking up in the morning and seeing it in the far distance from a bathroom window.
    I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't do it justice on my blog when I was passing through ... a quick picture at the petrol pump when I was filling up the car !! I used to love driving to the site whilst in the area during the late afternoon for a quick walk up the hill. Unfortunately these days after the Braveheart film, it's not so friendly now with fencing, coach buses, visitor centre and I do remember a statue of Mel Gibson dressed as William Wallace, how cheesy. No doubt the revenue for the site has spiralled after the film as has in my opinion the acceleration to the current political situation in Scotland.
    It seems that we are in the age of UK leaders wanting to leave a legacy or rather not failing but I couldn't help smiling at your dual list of David Livingstone, James Watt, Walter Scott .... Alex Salmond !!

  14. I'd never heard of this one Mike. Mel Gibson's Braveheart yes, but the monument no. The interior sounds fascinating with the different chambers, and that sword, my word you could do some damage with that if you were able to pick it up and now have it dragging on the floor. Fantastic tour once again. Thank you.

  15. Good morning, Mike! First, I'd like to thank you for coming to my blog AND leaving a comment. Many people come by and just look at photos or decide the content is not interesting, then move on. But it's always lovely to see a comment from friends and new viewers.

    I am a French teacher and of course have been to France and Italy, but Britain is my next destination next summer after I take a group of high school kids to Brittany. Thanks to many kind British blogging friends, I've learn more about Britain and myself; I am now a certified ANGLOPHILE! :) Not only are there landscapes, monuments and gardens of England that I'd love to see, but it's the people who I want to meet, both the historical figures, and the people now who make up this great place.

    Thank you for your wonderful photos and narrative! Have a great week! Anita

  16. First of all Mike, I would like to say that we do not ever claim to Mel Gibson as our own! He's actually Australian! We have enough loopy people without claiming him to the mix :)
    Second... I find it sad that people think that William Wallace was a made up character? As you mentioned they didn't know he was real in Birmingham? Mind you, there is still so much of history that I don't know about, so I should zip it and not judge!!
    Great piece Mike!
    Have a great week,

  17. Hi Tammy - our chum Gibson was apparently born in New York and went to Aussie when he was 12 or so. What I've seen on the Internet says he is American - happy to correct that if you can quote the source. As long as no one claims he's English. My comment about Birmingham was a bit of a tease - Birmingham is the UK's second largest city - it's far from remote and I'm sure there are people there who have heard of Mel Gibson. Or William Wallace. Really appreciate your comments - you know you are a 'no reply blogger'? - will try to dig out an email address. Have a lovely week yourself.

  18. There is a William Wallace memorial in Clerkenwell on the outside of St Bartholomew Hospital. Do you know it?

    1. Hi - yes - thank you very much. There's a bit about it here -

  19. As usual, a great post, Mike.... I was at this very spot on my trip last year. I did try to climb the the first turn, I decided it would not be that easy coming back down. One slip, and my entire trip would have been in jeopardy. The day of my visit, it was over cast...the photos were not as good as the ones you have taken, but I wrote a post anyway.

  20. Written like an Englishman Mike, you don't work for the 'Daily Mail' by any chance?

    1. Thank you very much; of course, I'm flattered. Not sure about the Mail though - in time I'd like to aspire to loftier heights, like the Sunday Herald or maybe even the Beano. Appreciate your visit.

  21. Great story. I've loved the story of Wallace since I first read it. Looks like you have a very interesting blog; I'll be back. Thanks for visiting mine.

  22. Thanks for the tour and photos...and no Greyfriars Bobby? He is legendary. :)


Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.