FORCE OF NA­TURE

From fairy­tale wa­ter­falls to rolling mountain tops, wind­ing river­side paths to deep, dark caves, walks in Stir­ling­shire and the Trossachs pos­sess a raw beauty that is truly un­ri­valled, says Jamie Dey

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Won­der­ous wan­der­ings around Stir­ling­shire and The Trossachs

Stir­ling­shire is a bridge be­tween the High­lands and Low­lands of Scot­land, a county which moves from farm­land and carse to moun­tains and glens. A jour­ney north leads into the Trossachs, a pic­ture post­card part of Scot­land, espe­cially at this time of year when crisp frosts and a low sun give the land­scape a stun­ning rai­ment.

Stir­ling it­self is a great place for a stroll. A good ob­jec­tive is Cam­busken­neth Abbey, the burial place of James III. All that re­mains of the build­ing is the 13th-cen­tury bell tower, but from the cen­tre of Stir­ling it is eas­ily reached after cross­ing the River Forth.

It is pos­si­ble to con­tinue to Abbey Craig and then up to the Wal­lace Mon­u­ment. A shorter route up is avail­able from the vis­i­tor cen­tre but ei­ther way will give great views of the Ochil Hills and the Trossachs.

Below the mon­u­ment is the Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling’s cam­pus and de­spite the in­con­gru­ous con­crete build­ings the area around Airthrey Loch and up into Her­mitage Wood is a tran­quil place. Just be­yond is a won­der­ful hill, Dumyat, with a new car park at the bot­tom and a new path with views over Stir­ling and the rest of the Ochils.

The Darn Road be­tween Bridge of Al­lan (where Jam Jar is the best of sev­eral good eater­ies) and Dun­blane, with its stun­ning cathe­dral, is a pop­u­lar route, tak­ing you by the Al­lan Wa­ter and past a cave thought to have been Robert Louis Steven­sons’ in­spi­ra­tion for Ben Gunn’s cave in Treasure Is­land. (The au­thor vis­ited the spa town of Bridge of Al­lan in the 19th cen­tury in a bid to help al­le­vi­ate health prob­lems caused by a weak chest).

To the west of Stir­ling there is a huge ex­panse of flat land which, when de­scribed as blandly as that, sounds rather bor­ing. But the Carse of Stir­ling, backed by high hills and moun­tains, is a haven for wildlife, not least at Flan­ders Moss Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve. This is a prime time to visit for those who are wary of snakes, as adders love to do their thing here in the warmer months. In win­ter it is tran­quil and peace­ful with a board­walk lead­ing you over a damp and squishy car­pet of bog – which again is far more beau­ti­ful than it sounds.

Above the Carse of Stir­ling to the south rises the es­carp­ment of the Gar­gun­nock Hills, on the edge of the Camp­sies. A lovely lit­tle walk leads from the vil­lage of Gar­gun­nock to a rather spec­tac­u­lar wa­ter­fall – Downie’s Loup – tucked amid crags.

In the cen­tre of the Camp­sies is the vil­lage of Fin­try, the best place to be­gin a walk up Earl’s Seat, the high­est point of the range of hills. While just to the south is Dun­goil, a lit­tle hill walked up from the side of the Crow Road, which threads its way to the north­ern edge of Greater Glas­gow’s ur­ban sprawl.

Head­ing back north, Doune, on the edge of the Trossachs, has a won­der­ful old cas­tle to visit – it can get busy after be­ing used in both Monty Python and the Holy Grail and, more re­cently, the hit US TV se­ries Out­lander. From the cas­tle a walk along the River Teith is a won­der­ful way to spend an hour or so.

Up the A84 lies the town of Cal­lan­der, a hub for the Trossachs and a good place to en­joy a walk. Loom­ing above are ‘the craigs’, a lovely hill which can be com­bined with a visit

to the highly im­pres­sive Brack­linn Falls.

A lit­tle fur­ther north are the Falls of Leny, reached along the for­mer Cal­lan­der to Oban rail­way, which closed in 1965 and is now used as a cy­cle and foot path.

Nearby is the ex­cel­lent Lade Inn, in Kilma­hog, a good base for the falls or the much higher Ben Ledi above them. Al­though not a Munro this big hill is one of the best in the south­ern High­lands. The views of moun­tains and glens from the top is su­perb, some­thing that has been en­joyed for mil­len­nia as this was a place vis­ited by druids long be­fore the idea of hill­walk­ing for plea­sure be­gan in the 18th and 19th cen­turies.

The road from Kilma­hog to Loch Ka­trine feels like you are en­ter­ing the heart of the Trossachs. Sir Wal­ter Scott wrote about this area, bring­ing in tourists, and they are still com­ing to take a cruise on the loch, some walk­ing or cy­cling the 14 miles back.

Oth­ers go up Ben A’an, a minia­ture mountain with a pointed sum­mit which looks daunt­ing but is ac­tu­ally reached in a lit­tle over an hour. Across the loch, Ben Venue is an­other mountain which doesn’t reach Munro sta­tus but re­wards the walker with a great day on the hill. Aber­foyle, south over the Duke’s Pass, is an­other place for walks on a wide range of trails through the sur­round­ing forests.

Many, how­ever, will want a real Munro and Ben Lomond, the most southerly, does the job with a rel­a­tively long, if fairly rou­tine, path up it from the side of Loch Lomond. If that is too much, head up the smaller Conic Hill to the south and en­joy su­perb views over the wa­ter.

Left: Brack­linn Falls is a spec­tac­u­lar hide­away near Cal­lan­der. Above: Doune Cas­tle, a me­dieval strong­hold near the vil­lage of Doune, is well worth a visit. Below: The val­ley views from Ben A’an, above Loch Ka­trine, are not to be missed.

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