The Great Outdoors (UK)
Stefan Durkacz has a high old time in the Ochils
I NEVER GET TIRED of extolling the virtues of the Ochils, the extensive tract of high hill country that rises abruptly from the Central
Belt lowlands. That great rampart dominates the landscape north of the Forth between Stirling and Glendevon. It’s easy to dismiss the Ochils as bimbling country, spoilt as we are in Scotland by challenging and remote mountains. These hills are deceptive, though. There’s a lot of space here, and scope for some big walks. Given their location as well, the views are second to none. Up there, 2000 feet above the lowlands of the Forth estuary, it’s a very different world – a true abode of the hill gods.
The highest and bestknown of the hills are right
on the southern edge of the range, from Dumyat in the west to Ben Cleuch and King’s Seat Hill towards the east. Hidden behind these tops, however, is an area of obscure, self-effacing upland stretching north for miles towards Strathallan. West Fife’s water supply comes from the reservoirs secreted here at the head of the River Devon.
It’s not an area of the hills that I know well, so I decided to use a fine early summer day to go exploring and also to test the premise that the Ochils are great for long and challenging tramps.
Blue skies belied a slightly chilly breeze as my long early morning shadow and I climbed the rising miles of grass and occasional bog over Common Hill and towards Wether Hill, where I paused for a second breakfast. The A823 Glen Eagles road behind me was still quiet, waiting for the sun to bring out the inevitable noisy motorbikes. I’d be well out of earshot by then, I hoped.
The series of rounded tops between the Glendevon reservoirs and Strathallan are spacious, with some deep, narrow nicks between them adding character. The gap beyond Craigentaggert Hill carries the route of a very old drovers’ track that crosses the hills, linking the village of Blackford in Strathallan with Tillicoultry to the south.
Beyond, the hills started to feel particularly empty and remote as I tended south, crossing Core Hill and Sauchanwood Hill. The long drag up to Blairdenon was rewarded with vast views from west to north into the southern Highlands. The familiar sentinels were all there on the distant horizon: Ben Lomond, Ben Ledi, Stuc a’ Chroin and Ben Vorlich. I was back on more familiar ground now, and made short work of the upland miles to Ben Cleuch and Andrew Gannel Hill beyond, under a vault of blue sky, the Forth estuary laid out below me a view that never gets old.
The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur as I ran much of the way back to Glendevon, mostly a long, easy downhill in glorious golden early evening light. I’m no runner, so I think that gives an insight into how I felt after another great day in the Ochils – the hills that never disappoint. [Captions clockwise from top] Upper Glendevon Reservoir, Wether HIll and Common Hill from Scad Hill; Bengengie Hill from Alva Moss; Strathallan from Craigentaggert Hill