Escape the festival: Centre of attraction

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Right at the heart of Scotland, Stirling makes a great place to head for when you escape Edinburgh at Festival time.

Right at the heart of Scotland, Stirling makes a great place to head for when you escape Edinburgh at Festival time.

It’s a quick train or bus ride away and a straight run up the M9 in a car.

Not only is its formidable castle an icon of Scottish history, it is one of the country’s most familiar landmarks.

Towering above the River Forth, the castle has been witness to many memorable events.

It was a favourite among Stewart kings and queens and was the childhood home of Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI.

The castle’s story is told in an exhibition held in the vaults and covers the earliest times to the present day.

Costumed characters in the roles of bodyguards, court officials and servants will bring to life the 16th-century workings of the castle.

For groups with children the Engine Shed is worth a visit as it has an interactive exhibition which is suitable for all ages as well as a 3D theatre and augmented reality.

Its aim is to inform visitors about the structures around them and the team behind it also hosts regular skills workshops and fun activities.

In the castle’s shadow is the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge and a modern commemoration is on display at the town’s Smith Art Gallery and Museum until September 2.

Malcolm Robertson’s dramatic four-metre Brothers in Arms statue honours the roles of William Wallace and Andrew de Moray in the 1297 defeat of the English army.

The city has a wide selection of independent retailers and most are found in the 19th-century Stirling Arcade, which is one of only five of its kind left in Scotland.

It has a collection of boutique shops as well as a relaxed atmosphere and spaces for eating and drinking.

Just a few minutes away is the more recently-built Thistles Stirling shopping centre, which houses more than 90 big brand and speciality shops.

The city is also the gateway to the Trossachs with its scenic mountains and lochs.

Heading towards Callander, a popular destination in any tour of the Trossachs, families may find it hard to pass Blair Drummond without a visit.

The safari park – a family favourite since it opened in 1970 – is home to animals from all over the world. Lions, elephants, ostriches, zebras and rhinoceroses are just a few of the exotic beasts on its reserves.

There is a chance to celebrate the lemur on August 18 and 19 as the park hosts a weekend focused on the Madagascan animal.

Beyond Blair Drummond you enter the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park – 720 square miles of stunning landscape to explore.

A favourite drive from Callander takes you past lochs Venachar and Achray before climbing through the trees to the Lodge Forest Visitor Centre above one of the Trossachs’ other tourist hubs, Aberfoyle.

The Duke’s Pass was built by the Duke of Montrose in the 19th century to improve access to his estate, and was later upgraded to accommodate Victorian tourists.

One of Scotland’s most distinctive landmarks – the Wallace Monument – is heading for a milestone.

Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the 220ft tower, which rewards those who climb its 246 steps with a breathtaking panorama of central Scotland.

The National Wallace Monument’s Hall of Heroes celebrates the lives and legacies of some of Scotland’s most famous figures, such as Robert the Bruce, James Watt, Hugh Miller and Robert Burns.

Soon to stand proudly alongside the busts of 16 historic men are those of Scottish heroines Mary Slessor, a missionary, and Maggie Keswick Jencks, co-founder of the Maggie’s Centres.

Their stories will feature alongside those of other women such as Dorothée Pullinger, founding member of the Women’s Engineering Society, and artist Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.

The monument overlooks the site of the 13th-century Battle of Stirling Bridge, which was part of the Scottish Wars of Independence and where William Wallace and Andrew de Moray successfully led an army against the English. Wallace’s sword can now be viewed in the Hall of Heroes.