So in a huff, I turned and drove towards the Ochils. Problem is, I have walked them so often and in so many ways that I just didn't want to go somewhere old hat as it were. As I drove, I remembered Dollar Glen, which I have cycled past a good few times during the 'incarceration', and settled on that. I seemed to recall walking up there with the kids many years ago, but I was sure we hadn't gone as high as King's Seat Hill, at 648m, so that was the objective.
I parked at the bottom of West Burnside, a delightful road on one side of the emotively named Burn Of Sorrow which rolls down from the high hills, originally powering mills, similar to so many of the Hillfoots glens. The houses tell of Dollar's Victorian opulence from this industry, as well as the classy Dollar Academy, set back in Academy place. Even the wee fountain was built with 'excess funds from an exhibition', illustrating the prosperity.
Walking up past the golf clubhouse and up Mill Green, I passed a few families and dog walkers enjoying the park-like nature of the green, reclaimed as it was by various local projects to cut back the undergrowth and establish an area for picnics and the like. Princess Anne opened it originally, and very nice it is too. Then it is into the steep-sided glen itself.
If you take the West path, it rises in a series of wooden steps and walk ways that keep kids from falling into the burn far below. It was here that I remembered for definite toiling up here with my wife and three young kids, initially aiming for the high hill, but realising at Bank Hill that it was far enough! It's a steep pull. The woodland has an abundance of mature oaks amongst the more run-of-the-mill beech, birch, alder, rowan and aspen, and it is a joy to take your time on the sharp switchback path above the tumbling water. There is an easier track which takes the more direct East bank towards the castle, nestled as it is at the confluence of the burns. It was originally called 'Castle Gloum', or Gloom, which rather than be derived from the darkness of the woods on this overcast day, is more likely from the Gaelic meaning 'chasm', which certainly abound. It was built in the early 15th Century, and is a splendid example of that era's Scottish architecture.
I took the path West, out onto the open hillside, cutting up steeply through the bracken. It really is a sharp pull onto Bank Hill at 346m, where there is a cairn. As you are coming up from pretty much sea level, the views open out immediately; the Firth of Forth, the industry at Grangemouth, Edinburgh, Fife and even far away Bass Rock. I pressed on, following an easy trace, through what I surmise were ancient land slips that have created some devious defiles in the hillside. I made mental note of them as excellent snow-holing locations in times of lowish level winter conditions!
The onward slog up to King's Seat Hill at 648m is pretty unremarkable, apart from the lovingly tended memorial cairn to three young Canadian Spitfire pilots who crashed into the hill in January 1943, all aged 22 years old. You can only imagine the carnage, as each plane plunged one by one into the hillside in zero visibility. Despite the impact, one pilot survived, yet spent 2 days on the hill in full winter conditions before being found and rescued. So near to warmth and succour, yet so far.
After pausing there for a while, I made the summit, happy in the cool, breezy conditions that kept me comfortable and insect-free. So the plan was a there-and-back... but wait, what about those two inviting hills to the North East? Tarmangie and Whitewhisp Hills. They look so inviting. I could make a wide traverse via the bealach at Andrew Gannel Hill, and cross the Maddy Moss. Let's do it.
And so I did. Okay, so maybe the Maddy Moss idea was a little off-piste, but it was relatively dry underfoot despite the torrential rain of the day before, (when I ascended Earls Seat Hill, the highest in the Campsie Fells, getting sodden through....lots of seats these aristocracy had eh!?), so I made good progress. There were one or two deep re-entrants to negotiate, and I did wonder whether the more direct up and down route would not have been better as I toiled upwards, but where's the adventure?
The traverse of the two hills followed an old wall, with great views North to the Creiff and Comrie hills, the munros at Lochearnhead, the Lomond Hills in Fife and beyond to the Firth of Tay. I was loving it. What made it better were the cloudbursts all round, over Stirling, Falkirk and Auchterarder, but I stayed dry all day.
I made a steep grassy descent South East off the col of Saddle Hill, through the sheep fank and picked up the track back down the the castle. I should have taken the Eastern track for an easier descent, but ended up back on the Western one, so had some re-ascent before the wooded walkway back down to Mill Green. Pretty though it was, I could have done without the effort!
What a great way to spend an afternoon that started so inauspiciously, but boy was I looking forward to my tea.
I have little positive to say about the effects of the Covid crisis, but as I mentioned in a previous blog, getting to know my local area more intimately has been a small consolation. If you haven't been there, do go, it's well worth it.