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
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.