THE oldest reservoir in Scotland looks like a pleasant lowland loch, nestled in the shadow of hills. The origins of Clackmannanshire's Gartmorn Dam, however, lie in Scotland's industrial past.
It was in 1713 that Sir John Erskine, the sixth Earl of Mar, had this feat of engineering constructed to provide a water supply for his mines. These mines, which were in operation until the 1980s, needed the water to power drainage pumps. Today the area is a haven for anglers, walkers and cyclists. Good tracks and paths take you all the way round to the reservoir, making it an ideal spot for an easy stroll.
This route around Gartmorn Dam is both pleasant and informative, thanks to boards dotted along the way, placed by the ranger service.
The first section takes you through woodland where smaller paths split off at points to go up steps to lead to views over the water. The main, well-made path keeps roughly to the shore.
It is on this part of the walk that you get the best views of the Ochil Hills, rising steep-sided from the Forth Valley. There are plenty of places to stop and admire the water by little pebble beaches. These are good picnic spots, although there is a designated area set aside near the top of the reservoir (signed off to the right).
A little further on there is a good viewpoint (also signed up a hill on the right). It is worth the effort for the great view of the Ochils.
Look out in particular for great crested grebes, wigeon and red squirrels. A bird hide is passed on the walk, and a key for it is available from the visitor centre at the start.
The top of the reservoir brings you past fields and a really good view down the water (before you enter woodland) that serves as a reminder of the industrial heritage of the area. You also pass the ruins of Sheriffyards colliery, where coal was extracted before being sent by rail to the port in Alloa. The mine shut in 1921, and the only trace of the railway is the path, which follows the line of the old tracks.
More farmland is passed, as well as the bird hide (sited near reed beds), before you return to the car park. This is a great walk that is suitable for all the family. The terrain is easy underfoot, but it is muddy in places so it's a good idea to wear boots or stout footwear.
DISTANCE 3 miles
HEIGHT CLIMBED Negligible
TIME 1–2 hours
MAP OS Landranger 58
PARKING Take the A908 north, out of Alloa, to Sauchie. Turn right opposite the post office to go down Schaw Court. This turns into Gartmorn Road and at the end reaches two schools and a track, which continues to the visitor centre at Gartmorn Dam.
IN SUMMARY Walk up to the end of the car park and follow a path past the visitor centre, to the side of the reservoir and then along the dam. At the end, go left down a path through woodland. The path goes along the length of the reservoir – ignore the paths going off to the right.
At the top of the reservoir, just after passing a sign for a viewpoint on the right, go left and cross over a wooden footbridge with a red arrow on it. Follow a path past a whitewashed farmhouse and on to a track. Drop down to take a path going off to the left, following a sign for the visitor centre.
The path follows the reservoir all the way to a car park. Walk to the end of this and go left to follow a minor road for about 100 yards, back to the visitor centre.
REFRESH Tea, coffee and hot chocolate are available at the visitor centre. Otherwise, head to Stirling, where you will find a wide variety of places to eat and drink.
WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA Stirling is only a few miles away, and its castle and the Wallace Monument can keep you busy all day. Alternatively, you could head to Dollar and take a look at the imposing ruin of Castle Campbell, which stands above the town. The 15th-century fortress is cared for by Historic Scotland (01259 742408, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk).