THERE is no royalty here now. Monday evening, September 7, 2020 and the King’s Knot belongs to dogs and dog walkers. Sitting beneath Stirling Castle’s rock, squeezed in between a golf course and the grand houses of Kings Park, it is a physical reminder of another time, of when Stirling was at the heart of Scotland’s story.

The King’s Knot, a three-tiered octagonal earthwork that rises to three metres high, was once part of the formal gardens of Stirling Castle that looks down on it. Another earth structure, partly truncated by Raploch Road, called the Queen’s Knot can be made out too.

This and the area that surrounds it was once royal land, the “King’s Park”, dating back to at least the 12th century (the first reference dates to 1190 during the reign of William the Lion). Jousting, hawking and hunting were the order of the day in the park long before anyone smacked a golf ball down the first fairway.

The origins of the King’s Knot itself are slightly murky. The term “knot” meant an ornamental garden in late medieval times. According to the Historic Scotland sign at the site, “the garden with its octagonal, stepped mound, or knot, was probably laid out in 1627-8 by William Watts, a ‘skilful and well-experimented’ gardener who was brought from England to supervise the Royal Gardens at Stirling and elsewhere.”

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At the time the gardens had been neglected, and “for lack of attendance become wilde and overgrown with bushes and brambles,” according to a warrant sent from Whitehall to John, Earl of Mar, the principal treasurer of Scotland. As a result, the warrant claimed, they were “an imputatioun to that wholle kingdom.”

It’s been suggested that the work to restore the gardens to their previous splendour was taken out to mark the “hamecoming” of Charles I – his Scottish coronation - in 1633. Their renewed splendour wasn’t to last, though, and by 1777 Nimmo’s History of Stirlingshire argued that because of “long neglect, and the natural wetness of the soil, the place is now little better than a marsh.”

It was only in Victorian times that the knot’s historical significance was properly recognised and in 1867 the Office of Works restored it to its present condition.

There are suggestions – based more on romance than evidence – that, long before William the Lion, the knot was once the site of King Arthur’s round table. Whatever the truth of it and whatever its former glory, now the King’s Knot is a much-loved dimple in the landscape, a marker on the edge of Stirling of what once was.