Scotland is a land of castles, mighty fortresses on rocky heights, isolated keeps, elegant homes for great families and grim strongholds set on towering sea cliffs. In the great halls, great men discussed affairs of state against backdrops of regal splendor. Noble men and tyrants, kings and queens, lords and commoners all made their entrances and exits, and now only the stones remain to speak of centuries of drama. Stirling, situated on one of the many loops of the River Forth, beckons to you from whichever way you approach. It rises abruptly from the flat plains – a fortress-crowned rock with a grey town clinging to its steep sides – it’s a colorful but blood-stained history book. Because of its strategic position, guarding the route north, this was a fortress town since earliest times; bitterly fought over, bravely defended. The castle has appropriately been called the “Key to Scotland”. As a result, its possession has been the focus of contention for many centuries, with battles like Bannockburn being fought in its shadow. You’ll drive through the old town to arrive at the castle where every inch seems drenched in history and interest. There are views of hills all around and the promise of Highland scenery beyond. The present castle dates mainly from the 15th and 16th centuries when it was a principal royal residence. James III was born here in 1451, James V spent his childhood here, and the infant Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here on September 9, 1543. Work in the 16th century largely shaped the structure as it survives today. Your self-guided tour will show you the main features of the central turreted gatehouse with its flanking towers and curtain wall, the Great Hall, the Palace, one of the earliest Renaissance buildings in Scotland, and the Chapel Royal. Then, enjoy the splendid panoramic views from the battlements.