30 Years of Braveheart: How the Wallace Monument Continues to Make an Impact

Estimated read time 5 min read

Visitor Experience Assistant Sally Jeffrey on climbing the 246 steps of the Wallace Monument everyday and her devastation after climate change protesters attacked the Wallace Sword.


I get to work just before 9am. I shuttle all the staff up on the bus and we get ready to start the day. I am an odd job Bob, so I do a bit of everything. I am in charge of opening and closing the monument. Everyday I walk up the 246 stairs to the top of the tower and raise the flags, signalling we are open. On the way up I pass through our museum rooms, switching on the exhibitions, the lights and doing maintenance checks. I love climbing the stairs. Yes, I am hot and bothered by the time I reach the top, but I am the first person each day to see that incredible view from the top. In the winter I get to watch the sunset at night. It’s a privilege to look after it. We are just the caretakers for this moment in its history.

I started working at the Wallace Monument eight years ago. I have always loved history, I studied it nearby at the University of Stirling, it’s my passion. I had just had my daughter when I saw the job come up and I knew it was for me. I have had other jobs in tourism, I used to work at Burns House Museum in Dumfries.

‘The monument means so much to so many people.’

I get the chance to speak to people from all over the world. Languages aren’t really my thing, but I get by with some standard grade German now and again. The visitors adore Scotland. I talk to people who are here tracing their family history, or folk who tried to make it to the top once before but didn’t succeed and are back to try again. And of course, we have the Braveheart enthusiasts, that is still a huge draw to the monument. It’s incredible to think after nearly 30 years the film still has an impact here everyday. The building itself is amazing and being able to tell its story and history is very rewarding. The monument means so much to so many people. For a building to have the effect it does is incredible.

I have the chance to be involved in lots of special occasions. People get engaged at the monument and we know nothing about it until they come downstairs glowing and flashing a ring. But I had the chance to be involved in one particular proposal which stayed with me. The man had come to the monument prior to tell me his plans, how he wanted to pop the question at the top then have a glass of wine to toast the engagement. It was a ridiculously windy day, blowing a gale, and this lovely woman turned up in a dress and heels and gallantly walked up all the stairs to the top. She couldn’t for the life of her work out why they were the only ones there. I pretended to head up to the top with them to check the wind speed and was able to capture the whole thing on film for them. It’s so lovely to be part of something so special in someone else’s life. Not everyone can say they do that at work.

The Wallace Monument.

I see lots of famous faces. One of the loveliest was comedian Susan Calman who was filming here recently. It was a wonderfully sunny day and she was such good fun. She had a great laugh with all the staff, doing reenactments with our actors and having sword fights with them. It gave the place a real boost and we got lots of visitors on the back of it. A personal favourite was when the All Blacks visited. Being a huge rugby fan, it was very exciting. They walked to the top, there wasn’t much manoeuvrability going around the tight spiral staircase. Rod Stewart loves the monument, he has visited a few times. He stopped in on Hogmanay last year with his son. Others like Ellie Goulding, Novak Djokovic. But people are on their holidays, so we tend to leave them to it. 

‘It was the first time I cried at work.’

Last year when the Wallace Sword was attacked by climate change protesters I was devastated. I think it was the first time I cried at work. The last time it was attacked was by suffragette Ethel Moorhead who symbolically smashed a glass case in 1912. I was integral in protecting the sword, getting it out of the building and bringing it back when we had a new case. People in 100 years will talk about that to visitors and I have been part of that history. It will live with me forever. 

The days I find difficult are seeing people who desperately want to reach the top but can’t because they become paralysed by fear. I never want to disappoint anyone, I am a people pleaser, so I do a lot of hand holding. Just spending that extra ten minutes with someone can help them make it to the top so they can have this wonderful experience.

I get away from work pretty sharp, it’s a well oiled machine so shutting down doesn’t take too long. In the evenings I am normally shuttling my kids to various activities or reading. I often end up back at the monument on my days off because the children love it so much and we only live ten minutes away. 

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