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The March Stones of Stirling

The history of march stones and the walking or riding of the marches in Scottish towns and cities dates back many centuries. At a time when maps were almost unknown and at best inaccurate, the best way to delineate an area and its boundaries was by easily recognised landmarks and topographical details, such as rivers and streams, trees, ditches hedges, walls etc. When these were not evident a march stone would be utilised. To make sure that these areas were not encroached upon, a regular inspection of the markers took place. In Stirling these inspections ranged from 1 year to 7 years. From this we get “The Walking Of The Marches” The responsibility for these inspections fell upon The Guildry, The Seven Incorporated Trades and the Burgh Council and was conducted by them under the direction of The Captain of the Birlawmen. The Birlawmen were representatives of the three agencies and would carry with them on the day, a pick and shovel which was used to turn a ceremonial turf at each part of the Burgh boundary.

The first official mention of marches in Stirling comes from Burgh records and is 18th March 1611. There is a loss of Burgh records before this date and therefore, at the moment, we don’t exactly know when they started. In Scotland the earliest recorded reference is Selkirk in1509. Stirling could easily precede this date, being one of the earliest Royal Burgh’s formed by David 1st 1124-1153.

The Walking of the Marches continued up until 1975 when the regionalisation of Scottish council areas took place and many ceremonials were discontinued, this included the Marches and the office of Provost. There was a period of almost 40 years without a Walking of the Marches. This happily changed in 2014, when the then Deacon of the Hammermen had discussions with Provost Mike Robbins and proposed a revival of the Marches. The proposal was immediately embraced by the Provost and the tradition of Walking the Marches here in Stirling continues to this day and will hopefully flourish for future generations.

The March Stone here at Cowane’s Hospital, installed in March 2022 is No 4 in a series of 5 March Stones, kindly created and gifted to the City of Stirling by Historic Environment Scotland. This Stone celebrates 900 years of Guildry history in Stirling and has on its slanting top face a reversed 4 which is the ancient symbol of the Merchant Guild of Stirling.

Each stone is numbered:

No.1 – marks the revival of the ancient custom of The Walking the Marches. This custom had been in abeyance for a period of about 40 years, being reintroduced in 2014. It is located in the grounds of the Smith Art Gallery Museum.

No.2 – represents The Seven Incorporated Trades of Stirling and was placed outside Historic Environment Scotland’s Engine Shed building in 2017.

No.3. – installed in 2018 on the Back Walk, next to the Albert Halls, is the City of Stirling March Stone. Stirling achieved City status in 2002.

No.4. – as stated above is the Guildry March Stone.

No.5. – is not yet in place but will celebrate either or both the Historic Environment Scotland training facility here in Stirling or Forth Valley College.

By Stuart Campbell, Deacon Convenor, The Seven Incorporated Trades of Stirling