From the Beano to the Binos
Following last weekend’s trip to Dundee, home of the Beano, we were now travelling to the home of the Binos. Stirling Albion is a club I have deliberately saved for a time when we could spend a couple of days in the city.
Why? There is just so much to see and do in the city of Stirling. Visiting only the football club seemed a little like visiting Cairo and not bothering to see the pyramids.
Stirling offers a wealth of Scottish history, architecture and important figures, and I wanted a proper taste of it.
We decided to travel up on Thursday, stay for a couple of nights and travel home Saturday after the game. As it turned out, our timing was impeccable too. Albion had won the League Two title the week before and our trip coincided with the presentation of the trophy.
Despite it being a Thursday start, it very much resembled a normal Saturday for us. A slightly later start was the only real difference, with the 08:05 bus up to Newcastle. The bus took longer than normal and we didn’t arrive in the Toon until almost 09:15.
The usual Greggs brekkie followed and we munched our treats in the train station as we waited for our train. The 09:53 to Edinburgh Waverley arrived ten minutes later than scheduled. This meant we would more than likely miss our 11:33 connection to Stirling.
Luckily, we weren’t on a matchday schedule and we sat back and relaxed.
We made up a little of the lost time on the journey up, but as predicted, we missed our connecting train… by ONE minute!
Oh, well! Only half an hour until the next one and at 12:03, we left the Scottish capital, headed toward Stirling. The train pulled into Stirling station fifty minutes later and we disembarked to begin our mini-Scottish break.
Stirling – The Lost Guest House
We walked through the city centre toward our chosen lodgings – the Lost Guest House.
Considering its name, we found it very easily and checked in. Apparently, it’s very important to this guest house that you bring a photo ID with you for the check-in process. It does mention this in the email they send out to you but I rarely check the fine print. Usually, nearly everywhere has a very similar checking-in process to any other.
The guy who checked us in made it sound like a big favour that he was going to ‘let it go this time’ after I had shown him my bank details and our Two Together train card pass (which included our photos!) It was also the precursor to his explaining all of the woes of running a guest house and how much of a pain customers could be…
Not the best way to be welcomed if I’m honest.
After cutting him short before he got too carried away, we went to our room and dropped off our bags.
We then headed back towards the city centre and up the hill towards our first tourist destination.
Stirling Old Town Jail
Admission to the Old Town Jail is £12.00 per adult – a little expensive, I think.
An audio guide is provided to take around with you. A plaque on the wall tells which corresponding number to press on the guide handset. These little audio clips sound great to start with but soon start to feel a little too long-winded and we eventually stopped listening to them.
The ground floor is made up of cells and each one helps tell the story of Stirling and its relationship with crime and punishment over the years. There is also an observation tower that has impressive views, although I recommend you visit here before the Wallace Monument to avoid disappointment at the view.
The view here is great, it just pales in comparison to what is on offer from the Wallace Monument.
I don’t want this review to sound bad, however, and I do recommend a visit here, I just want to point out what I perceive as its small faults so that you are aware.
From here, we made the short walk up to Stirling Castle. I imagine this place can get very busy in peak tourism times but with it still being spring and us turning up relatively late in the day, the foot traffic was very reasonable and gave us a great visit.
Stirling Castle reminds me of the one at Edinburgh, sitting on top of a volcanic peak and not having a traditional turret and parapet look to it. It is more a series of buildings that sprawl across the plateau and it looks more like a royal residence that had been fortified.
Standing outside the castle, is Robert the Bruce, a name entrenched in both Scottish and Stirling’s history books. A fitting figure to stand guard outside the castle walls.
We were advised by the gentleman at the reception in the Old Town Jail, to get our castle tickets from the information centre. Apparently, for some reason that nobody knows, they are cheaper at the info centre than at the castle itself.
You can get them at the same reduced price of £17.50 per adult, by booking online in advance.
Thus, we already had our tickets to hand when we went inside and had them scanned.
There is a lot to see at the castle and if you wanted to see everything, listen to all the audio and talk to all the people in costume etc, you would need a lot more time than we had spare. We reluctantly skipped a few bits and bobs but it was still a great visit.
The chapel interior was somewhat of a disappointment, I have to say. To say it was sparsely furnished would be an understatement. The floor was of a similar wood decking to that you see in many modern houses and strangely, the roof was similar.
The only real decor was a mural that ran around the walls of the chapel under the roof.
Again, a minor observation which shouldn’t put you off going. Stirling Castle is absolutely worth visiting and yet again, tremendous views await you as you look out over the walls into the valley below and the hills on all sides.
Food and Drink Required
Having left the castle, we were tired and hungry, time to find somewhere to sit down and eat. We first headed to the Settle Inn for a sit down and a refreshing drink. We ordered our drinks and sat at the rear of the pub in what can only be described as a cavern-like room.
It looked cosier in the front of the pub but all the seats were taken and to be honest, we were just glad to rest our legs for a bit.
Once we had supped up, we headed out to look for a pub where we could grab some food too. We headed for Nicky-Tams in the city centre.
An interesting little music-themed bar with album covers and instruments on the wall, with the promise of live music at 9 pm.
We ordered drinks and sat down with a menu. I chose the steak pie with chips and Mrs Hopper went with the Balmoral Burger. Both were excellent and had good portion sizes, too.
We had another pint to wash down our dinner before wearily deciding to head back to the guest house for the night.
With travelling early morning and having done quite a lot of walking, we didn’t feel any guilt for hitting the hay around the same time as the music would have been starting back at Nicky-Tams.
So, Thursday was in the bag and a good Thursday it had been.
We had a good lie-in to cap off our early night and this left us refreshed to tackle our next quest.
All that energy would be needed, too, for what lay in store…
First, we picked up some goodies from Baynes. They are basically a Scottish version of Greggs and a damn good one too.
Our target was the Wallace Monument, some two and a half miles from the guest house.
Old Stirling Bridge
This also would give us the chance to take in the old Stirling Bridge, close to the scene of the original Battle of Stirling Bridge. This is where William Wallace (not Mel Gibson) saw off the English in 1297.
The original wooden bridge was deliberately collapsed by the Scottish as part of the battle strategy.
As an Englishman with Scottish blood, I’m glad those days are gone and hope it remains that way.
Nowadays, this is a serene and tranquil area and the place we chose to sit and eat our snacks by the river. There are two further bridges here, too. A road bridge to our right and beyond that, a train bridge. The old Stirling Bridge is now pedestrianised and closed off to all but foot traffic. Presumably, this is due to weight constraints.
Having eaten our snacks and admired the views of and from the bridge, it was time to move on.
The Wallace Monument loomed closer and closer on the side of the Ochil Hills, which run most of the way along the Forth River towards Edinburgh.
Stirling – Wallace Monument
We walked past the William Wallace pub and marked it as a likely spot to recover on the way back to the city. Once past the pub, it was uphill all the way.
We came to the shop/restaurant at the bottom of the path leading up and assumed we could get tickets there. We found out that entry is at the monument itself, at the top of the hill.
There are two choices from here. You can take the free shuttle bus, or you can walk the steep path. Having already walked this far, we decided to take the shuttle bus to the top of the hill and walk back down.
I’m glad we did!
The hill is very steep and the bus up meant we had enough energy left to conquer the 246 steps up to the top of the monument.
We paid £11.30 each for entry and this is the best money we spent on the trip! Technically, you have an hour to go up and back down again. I don’t think anybody is going to run up and fetch you if you extend over this time.
Steps and More Steps
Thankfully, the climb up the Wallace Monument‘s 246 steps is punctuated by three floors where you can take a breather.
Normally, William Wallace’s sword is on display on one of these floors. Sadly, some climate protestors decided it was fair game and damaged the case in which it was contained. This meant we missed out on seeing old Bill’s sword and two more supporters were lost for the climate change movement…
What does William Wallace’s sword have to do with it anyway? Seriously?
Shouldn’t they be targeting MPs and businesses that are harming the planet, rather than historical and irreplaceable artefacts?
Anyway, rant over and steps to climb…
Also contained on the three floors are busts of important Scottish figures from history, a screen showing how Stirling looked back in Wallace’s day, stained glass windows, design your own shield, and a weapon display.
Wow! Breathtaking View!
Having gained the final floor, you walk around the perimeter of the monument before climbing a final set of steps. Once up these, you have the most breathtaking view I have ever seen. It really is like being in an aeroplane coming into land. The major difference is that this view isn’t isolated to a small window.
There is a panoramic view that allows you to see all the way to Ben Lomond in one direction and Edinburgh in the other. Today, the sun was out just enough for us to see the mist around Ben Lomond but we couldn’t see Edinburgh.
Stirling was laid out before us like a Google Map and it was breathtaking.
Photographs and videos really don’t do it justice. If you get a chance, you really should take a look for yourself.
Back Down Again
Having savoured the views for a good time, it was time to go back down again. I was not looking forward to the descent thanks to a conversation with someone on Twitter. Apparently, going up was the easy bit. Coming down you can see through the holes in the sides of the spiral staircase.
As someone who had a severe phobia of heights and still gets knee wobbles occasionally, this wasn’t good news. In fact, it had brought back all the old fears…
Still, nobody was going to come and help me and I had to get back down, so… here we go.
I concentrated on each step and looked only at the step. The chill wind was blowing through the slits but I concentrated on only my steps and before we knew it, we were back down. I have learned that facing your fears is the best way to conquer them and while I know I will always fear heights, I can at least face them these days.
The path back down to the gift shop is a nice one (when you are going downhill!)
There are little wooden carvings spaced out along the path that depict some more of the history. There was even a tame robin sitting on a stone halfway down. So tame that I thought it was a stuffed one until it flew off.
The William Wallace
We called into that pub we had passed at the bottom of the hill to recharge our batteries. Literally, in the case of Mrs Hopper’s phone.
A nice little bar with a good crew of locals at the bar and in one corner.
We decided our day of sightseeing was done and a little bar hopping was in order for the journey back. After leaving the William Wallace pub behind, we walked back past the Stirling rugby ground, over the bridge and back into the city centre.
The Curly Coo
Our first port of call was the Curly Coo – Coo being the Scottish accent for cow, of course.
This was a fascinating bar with a nice lady who ran the place and a very knowledgeable customer. The Coo is a whisky bar – yes, it sells other stuff but the speciality is whisky. One of the customers was a whisky expert who has lectured on the subject and we had a fascinating conversation about different types of whisky.
We also quizzed the landlady after our other friend had gone. Amusingly, she later told us she usually goes by the rule of allowing customers six questions before telling them to “f**k off”. Luckily, our questions weren’t annoying her and she happily chatted to us.
The most expensive whisky available sits on the “Second-Mortgage Shelf” and will set you back a mere £140.00 for a dram…
She told us she had started with six different bottles of whisky and has slowly built that up to a staggering three hundred varieties available in the curly Coo. We tried three of them while we were there and left a little redder in the face than when we had entered.
Next up, was Molly Malones. This was a busy pub where a couple of ladies who were out on a joint birthday celebration joined us at our table.
They were very friendly (and more than a little tipsy) and the time soon went by. We were both forcibly hugged before they left us and we were not long behind them to find our next pub on the way back to our lodgings.
No.2 Baker Street
Named after its address, this bar was one with a bit of live music on and we do like a bit of live music in the Hopper household.
The band weren’t the best we have heard but it’s still better than a jukebox and we enjoyed listening to them. Sadly, their mixture of soft rock and popular tunes was met with general malaise from the patrons.
After a couple of drinks here, we decided to head back and get some chips on the way. The Blue Lagoon chip shop wasn’t far from the guest house and was a perfect stopping-off point for food. We got our chips and headed back for food and sleepy time.
A thoroughly enjoyable but tiring day and time to rest our weary legs (and heads).
Saturday – Gameday!
We had to be out of the guest house by 11:00 and we were in no rush to do so before then. With the sightseeing we wanted to do, done and a few hours until the match, we killed time by lazing around playing phone games on the bed.
At about 10:55 we headed to reception and checked out. We asked if they could store our travel bags until after the match and explained our situation. They were kind enough to allow us to do so, so a big thank you to them for that.
Carrying travel bags into a football match is A) not likely to be allowed and B) awkward if they are.
We told them we would be back at around 17:30 to collect them and away we went.
The Wetherspoons in Stirling is called The Crossed Peels and sits opposite No.2 Baker Street. We headed there for our breakfast and ordered a large Scottish breakfast for me and an American breakfast for Mrs Hopper. These and the coffee went down very nicely and eased the slightly sore heads.
What didn’t ease the sore heads was the woman who was yelling at one of the waitresses for about three solid minutes. I have no idea what her beef was but she wasn’t a happy bunny.
After she had finally left, one of those families that every city has came walking in. The noisy kid who refuses to do anything he is told and causes general mayhem. A mum who lives with her nose buried in her phone and a grandmother who out of necessity does the parenting.
All to a crescendo of yelling and a lack of awareness of others around them trying to have a quiet drink or eat their food!
Man, was I glad when they left!
So, not a relaxing meal but it killed time and we headed for the Forthbank Stadium, home of Stirling Albion.
Stirling Albion – The Walk to the Ground
Again, this was another chance to test our flagging stamina. Another walk of well over a mile to the stadium. We had lots of time though and it was a relaxing stroll over the train lines and along the Forth River.
We eventually reached our destination and got our first glimpse of Stirling Albion’s Forthbank Stadium.
Stirling Albion – Forthbank Stadium Exterior
Outside the Main Stand, there was a small crowd gathered around a car. Not just any car, either.
A McLaren supercar decked out with Stirling Albion crests on the bonnet and the doors. Either the chairman had treated himself to a promotion present or he had splashed out on it for the day and had it detailed in Binos regalia.
Either way, it was drawing quite a bit of attention from anyone who walked by.
We went by and headed towards where a game was taking place at the far end of the stadium. It looked like it may have been one of the young Stirling Albion sides in action. A decent gathering of parents and onlookers were gathered on the bank to watch. We stayed briefly before moving on around the Forthbank Stadium.
This whole area seemed to be a sports complex. As well as the football ground there were five-a-side pitches, the 3g pitch the young players were on and a hockey pitch. There may have been more, too. These were just the easily visible things as we did our perimeter walk.
Those wonderful Ochils were providing their spectacular backdrop as always.
On the opposite side of the stadium was a car park and ‘Visitors’ was written above the turnstiles. An indicator that the Forfar Athletic fans would be located on this side of the ground.
Or maybe not. It also says ‘Visitors’ at the south end of the ground, so we would have to wait and see.
As with most lower-league Scottish grounds, it was probably a fluid situation dependent on the number of fans turning up from each team.
The path brought us back to the West Stand from where we had started. A new batch of people was eyeing over the McLaren as we went into the club shop just inside one of the entry gates. Unfortunately, there were no club crest pin badges available, so I will try to get one on eBay.
Stirling Albion – Forthbank Stadium Exterior Gallery
While we sat outside the Main Stand and waited for the turnstiles to open, I got chatting to an Albion official. The small talk about groundhopping and football led to us finding a mutual acquaintance.
Dave Bussey of West Auckland.
I wish I had caught the name of the guy I was talking to but I forgot. Still, I’m sure there aren’t many people working at Stirling Albion who buy a West Auckland season ticket.
I love how these random chats I have around the country make it all feel a little smaller.
While we were chatting, the turnstiles had opened and I left our new friend to get on with his job.
We bought a programme and joined the queue to get in and also managed to get a team sheet. These were being distributed freely to people in the queue.
The programme itself proudly stated ‘Champions’ along the bottom, for anyone that may not have known there was a party today…
Entry to the Forthbank Stadium is by cash or card at the turnstile and was £15.00 per adult.
Stirling Albion – Forthbank Stadium Interior
Built in 1992, to replace the old Annfield home of Stirling Albion, the Forthbank Stadium opened for business in 1993.
It has a total capacity of 3,808 and the playing surface is natural grass.
Four floodlights tower above the ground and are located in each corner, in the traditional style.
We entered via the Main Stand on the west side of the stadium. This is a single-tier, all-seated structure for home fans. It stretches three-quarters of the pitch’s length and is fully roofed.
This side of the ground contains the hospitality suites and the club offices, as well as the dressing rooms and players’ tunnel etc.
There is also a ramped area allowing access for disabled supporters to view the game.
North and South Terrace
Both ends of the ground are identical and contain a small section of terracing.
With the seating capacity at the ground being listed as 2,508, I assume these terraces can hold approximately 650 people each.
Both sections were unused for today’s game.
Across from our vantage point, the East Stand completes the picture.
It is almost a mirror image of the West Stand, though not quite as long. Home fans were located on the left side of the stand while visiting ‘Loons’ supporters gathered on the right-hand side of the stand.
There didn’t appear to be any kind of official segregation between the two sets of support.
The East Stand also houses the press room, police control room and detention facilities.