Whether Stirling is Scotland's smallest city is debatable, but the saying that he who holds Stirling holds Scotland has historical truth since as a strategically important crossing point over the Forth it is the brooch that holds Lowland and Highland Scotland together.
Battles were fought for centuries in and around Stirling, which became a royal burgh in 1130 and hosted the coronation of James VI at the Church of the Holy Rude in 1567. The city's transport history is just as rich, and stretches back to the 16th century, as John Damien had tried to fly from the castle ramparts in 1507.
Stagecoaches began crossing the Forth in 1833, and the railways arrived in 1848 amid fears that they would stop hens laying. The Barnwell brothers made Scotland's first powered flight here in 1909, the city had trams until 1920 and a port until 1939, and in 2008 the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine Railway reopened.
The railways pioneered destination marketing, promoting Bridge of Allan as a health-giving resort, and in 1899 the components of the steamship Sir Walter Scott were conveyed over the hills from Dumbarton for assembly at Loch Katrine.
Nowadays Stirling is a retail centre with a large hinterland and a diverse economy, with employment supported by health, financial services, food and drink, and education - Stirling having been chosen as the site of Scotland's first new University for over 400 years, which opened in 1967. Successful local companies include Graham's at Bridge of Allan, Scotland's largest independent dairy,
Nextbike have rapidly expanded cycle-hire and Waitrose have opened a new store in the city. However the city's topography has limited the number of radial and orbital routes, putting employment centres at a distance from each other, and there is a perceived lack of local control over transport provision.
Tourism has benefited from the restoration of Stirling Castle and the enduring fame of the Wallace Monument, from investment in the Hotel Colessie at the former Royal Infirmary and from Andy Murray's upgrade of the Cromlix House Hotel. The new Bannockburn Centre was ready in time for last year's 800th anniversary celebrated as part of the Year of Homecoming, which occurred alongside Armed Forces Day, and Stirling also provided a base for many visiting the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
Nevertheless despite experiments in hop-on-hop-off buses tourism remains overwhelmingly car-dominated, and there is a concern that one-off events such as those in 2014 while loved by the politicians disrupt supply chains, destabilising tourism's base markets which are driven away by the cost and congestion. With UK and overseas visitors already in decline, it may be that Stirling will have to look to the electrification of train services under the Edinburgh and Glasgow Improvement Programme due for completion in 2018 to provide sustainable benefits to its connectivity.
The Scottish Region thanks Stirling University for hosting the event.
Report by John Yellowlees.
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