13 – The Highlands – Reflections on the Wallace Monument

Anti-timetable tourists. Freedom in a cage. The feeling of the monument. Braveheart: The sculptor who turned William Wallace into a movie star. A halo of darkness around Stirling. 

We never visited anything as tourists. All that we saw, we saw as free people wandering. Tourists were around us, they spent money, bought tickets, joined coach trips, were shepherded around by local history experts and drivers, their journeys pre-planned and budgeted. We had no budget and no timetable, we travelled moment by moment, however and where ever we decided, and laughed while we did it.

wallace monument

Our first day in Scotland, we saw the Wallace Monument. It was visible above the tree tops, on a hill outside Stirling. Immediately eye catching and mysterious, especially if you aren’t expecting it on the horizon. The structure itself has foreboding designed into it, amplified by the Gothic look and the ornate spines at the top that form a fragmented point. Enough to give pause to a marching army. From a distance, and against a blackening sky, it looked as if it should hold the Eye of Sauron. We didn’t know at the time, but the Wallace Monument was built to commemorate Scottish freedom fighter and rebel, Mel Gibson, of whom there was once a statue in the car park.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace in the film Braveheart

The statue, actually commemorating William Wallace, was designed in Gibson’s likeness after the success of the Braveheart movie (Gibson played Wallace). The decision to present the historic Scottish hero as the obnoxious Australian actor, was met with significant controversy. The statue was vandalised numerous times. That is to say, Mel Gibson, was vandalised numerous times, and now, the statue of Gibson’s Wallace, sits inside a blue metal cage, the word ‘FREEDOM’ engraved underneath.


You won’t find many more hilarious examples of absurdity in your travels.

Even this famous Scottish attraction was visited late at night. We made our way blindly and cautiously up the hill, feeling for the path with our feet, a single, weak torch between us.

At the summit, we found the tower. There were no lights. I suppose the Scottish tourist board doesn’t encourage people to explore their historical sites in the dead of night. We circled the monument a while but didn’t stay long. It had a kind of oppressive atmosphere, although I imagine it would have been even worse in the daytime, when hoards of tourists would be walking backwards down paths to take full-frame photos of the thing.

wallace monument 2

I stood on a viewing platform, in front of the grey stone monument, alone except my travel partner, looking down at Stirling. Around the city, the countryside stretched dark and lonely for miles, but just below us was a huge orange mess and criss-cross of light. Still, it was encouraging to see that besides for Stirling, a halo of darkness surrounded everything. The horizon was free of unnatural light.

About Luke Smith

I travel around and write about it. When I'm not travelling around, I write about whatever seems meaningful to me at the time; these are usually meditations on current events, finding ways to survive the crushing existential grind of modern civilisation or vaguely philosophical musings.
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4 Responses to 13 – The Highlands – Reflections on the Wallace Monument

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    We didn’t make the Wallace monument on our trips… and to be fair, have no desire to see the Gibson statue. But the unlit nights… they were a joy.


  2. Pingback: The Lake District and the Highlands ’13 – Complete Contents Page | Journeys Through Pre-World War 3 Britain

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