If you’re familiar with central Scotland, you’ll probably be aware of the Ochils. They’re the hills that give the backdrop to those great national landmarks, the Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle. The hills you see as your plane curves in to Edinburgh airport, to the north of the River Forth, at the point where the Firth gives way to a more modest but still tidal river. The hills that lift your heart as you travel north, by train or by car, towards Stirling – the first real hills of Scotland’s northern high lands, their craggy land mass rising suddenly up from the Ochils Fault in dramatic and tempting contrast to the flat, rich farmlands of the carse. Their southern flank comprises astonishingly attractive steep, sometimes craggy backdrops to the conservation village of Blairlogie and the small Hillfoots towns of Menstrie, Alva, Tillicoultry and Dollar.
Running northwards from the Hillfoots towns you’ll find a series of glens, each with its very special attractions, and its own character. Here you can visit spectacular gorges (Alva Glen, Dollar Glen), with footpaths leading the more adventurous walker right up the glen. Elsewhere the glens offer great routes into the heart of the Ochils (Tillicoultry Glen, leading to The Law and the track above the Gannel Burn, both leading up to the highest hill, Ben Cleuch; Silver Glen, leading up from Alva Glen, to Ben Ever, and on via a pleasant ridge walk to the western approach to Ben Cleuch; Menstrie Glen, offering a steep route up the eastern slopes of Dumyat).
By these routes, and others, experienced walkers can find their way right to the heart of the hills – Ben Cleuch (the highest, at 721 metres), Ben Ever, Ben Buck, King’s Seat Hill. Others are content to try the smaller hills towards the edges of the Ochils range – such as Seamab Hill, Innerdownie, Dumyat – each with its own character, each offering a great walk with some lovely views.
Car-borne visitors can enjoy the Ochils too – whether it’s a drive along the Sheriffmuir road, to the west – an ancient drove road, still retaining a distinctive, quaint character, with its single track meanderings and some lovely views to the hills of the Loch Lomond National Park – or the delightfully scenic A823 road through Glen Devon, leading to Glen Eagles, to the east.
And as well as all they have to offer by way of scenery and good walking, there’s also several thousand years of history to be experienced in the Ochils – from the remains of a number of dùns, ancient hill forts reaching back into pre-history; through the picturesque Castle Campbell, nestling in the hills above Dollar; to the exceptional old grave yard at Old Logie Kirk. Less obvious, but equally fascinating, we have the remnants of significant agricultural communities, including the one that thrived in Menstrie Glen in the 1750s, along with the owner’s parkland and mansion house; the remnants of silver and copper mines, near Alva, and above Menstrie Glen; and much more.
It is all of these, and much, much more, that inspires the Friends of the Ochils to want to do all we can, to protect and enhance this wonderful range of hills, to be kept for the enjoyment of all those who care about them, against the many ravages that, sadly, the greedy corporate world has been trying so hard to impose over recent years.