The town of Stirling is a sleepy place to spend time, with few big sights beyond its impressive castle. But it’s perfectly situated for side-trips to a wide variety of other worthwhile destinations in Central Scotland. For the next few days, I’ll offer a sneak preview of some of the new listings we’re adding for the upcoming Rick Steves Scotland guidebook (available next spring). All of these are within a 30-minute drive of Stirling.
First up: The Kelpies.
Unveiled in 2014 and standing over a hundred feet tall (“the largest equine sculptures in the world”), these two giant, steel horse heads have quickly become a symbol of this town and region. They may seem whimsical, but they’re rooted in a mix of mythology and real history: Kelpies are magical, waterborne, shape-shifting sprites of Scottish lore, who often took the form of a horse. And historically, horses were used as beasts of burden — the ancestors of today’s Budweiser Clydesdales — to power Scotland’s industrial output. In fact, the statues stand over old canals where hardworking horses would tow heavily laden barges. But if you prefer, you can just forget all that and ogle the dramatic, energy-charged statues (particularly thrilling to Denver Broncos fans). A café nearby sells drinks and light meals, and a visitors center is due to open by late 2015. You can also take a 45-minute guided tour through the inside of one of the great beasts, to see how they’re supported by a sleek steel skeleton: 300 tons of steel apiece, sitting upon a foundation of 1,200 tons of steel-reinforced concrete, and gleaming with 990 steel panels.
Cost and Hours: Always open and free to view (£2 to park at the horse heads, free to park elsewhere). Tours-£6.95, daily at the bottom of every hour 10:30-16:30, reduced schedule Oct-March, tel. 01324/506-850, www.thehelix.co.uk.
Getting There: They’re in the park called The Helix, just off the M-9 motorway — you’ll spot them as you zip past. For a closer look, you can exit the M-9 for the A-905 (Falkirk/Grangemouth), then follow Falkirk/A-904 and brown Helix Park & Kelpies signs from there.