With its mighty castle perched dramatically on a ridge above its rooftops, Stirling is one of Scotland's most historic towns. Once upon a time it was Scotland's capital and is still known as the gateway to the Highlands. It's also a thriving modern city - Scotlands newest in fact with excellent arts provision, a go-ahead university and excellent shopping.
Also dominating the skyline is the National Wallace Monument. These are the two cues for the visitor to find out more about the city's history, and its heroes, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. The latter was brought to the big screen by Mel Gibson's 'Braveheart' and the film's appeal has increased Stirling's already considerable status as a tourist attraction.
Today the castle not only attracts on average 400,000 visitors each year, it is the setting for large-scale events, historical plays and pop concerts. Bob Dylan, REM and Ocean Colour Scene have all played Stirling Castle Esplanade and legendary Scottish band Runrig played their 30th birthday concert at the castle.
In fact, Stirling has excellent provision for arts and nightlife. In the centre of the Old Town is the Tolbooth, a popular theatre and arts centre serving the 85,000 strong community and designed by leading architect Richard Murphy. Other buzzing arts venues include Changing Room, a contemporary art space that houses regular exhibitions and Albert Halls, a thriving venue for concerts and conferences as well as local community activities.
More arts events are to be found at the MacRobert Arts Centre situated on Stirling University campus. The centre has an excellent reputation as a film house, theatre and Scotland's leading venue for children's theatre. The University itself is a cultural powerhouse and houses the Stirling Centre of Poetry that presents readings by prominent Scottish poets. Film & Media Studies at Stirling University is one of its flagship degrees and sets the tone for the cultural ambience.
Robert Burns to Robert Muir 1787, (Carse is the Scots word for land beside a river bank.)
Clustered around the steep slopes beneath the castle, the cobbled streets and atmospheric alleyways of Stirling Old Town are one of the finest medieval cityscapes in Scotland. But Stirling is a modern, compact city as well and is a sought after place to live as it is ideally situated for commuting to both Edinburgh and Glasgow. In fact, its key location in the middle of the central belt makes it highly desirable and it has one of the highest qualified work forces in Scotland. In particular, there is a concentration of administrative skills in both the private and public sector, especially the financial sector.
Although many commute, Stirling has attracted diverse businesses, with its prime location and wealth of business parks and industrial estates. Prudential Insurance, the Bank of Bermuda and drinks company Maxxium have relocated in recent years to join the likes of SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency), and innovation and development companies like BioReliance and Zeda Ltd. An investment programme of over 140 million has helped make Stirling one of the UK's fastest growing areas with high employment levels and high business success levels.
Stirling has been voted 11th out of 189 UK cities and towns for its quality of life by 21-44 year-olds. There is good primary and secondary education provision in the city with the second or third best qualified school leavers in Scotland. Learning is a way of life in Stirling. From the age of three, theres a nursery place for every child who wants one, and at the other end of the scale, One Foot in the Web sessions help older people keep up with technology.
Early learning is encouraged through play - in nurseries, playgrounds, parks, and on the converted Superbus. Pupil councils and student forums encourage children to voice their opinions and share ideas. Student representatives sit on Stirling Council's Children's Committee to ensure young people's views shape decision-making.
Stirling University is located on the edge of the city in a campus that is arguably the best in Europe. The enviable mix of location, environment, reputation and facilities are critical to its success in attracting academics and sponsors. 8,500 students from over 80 nationalities come to Stirling to learn. The former First Minister Jack McConnell graduated from the University and then went on to be leader of Stirling District Council.
Stirling was the first Scottish university to offer post-graduate taught courses in physical education and sport; the first British university to build a golf course; the first Scottish university to offer sports scholarships; the first British university to build an indoor tennis centre. Today, Stirling is the home of the new National Swimming Academy and the Scottish Institute of Sport.
Finally, when you tire of the city there is some of Scotland's most fabulous scenery right on the doorstep. The Trossachs to the northwest have been described as the 'Highlands in Miniature' - its a beautiful area, Scotlands first National Park, with breath-taking hills, forest parks and the inspiring Loch Katrine. The Campsie Fells to the southwest are a range of low rolling hills where quiet country inns and lovely parish churches are to be discovered in the gentle glens, and further west, of course, is the magnificent Loch Lomond and the gateway to the magic of the West Highlands. For roads north, the M90/A9 is a stones throw away.
So Stirling not only holds together the Highlands and the Lowlands it offers the best of both worlds: old and new, town and country, business and leisure.