IDEAS for walks come from a variety of sources – previous knowledge, suggestions from friends, news items scanned from the press or, in this case, by chance encounter.
Travelling back home on the London train I found myself sitting beside Hazel and Ian Greenhalgh and their daughter. We got talking and noticing my Ordnance Survey Stirling map, Ian suggested that Plean Country Park could offer a good walk for The Scotsman.
Ian had heard of Torwood and a nearby signal station, whose name suggested Roman origin. A glance at the map established that Torwood, with a nearby broch and castle, lies just south of the village of Plean. And, yes, the course of a Roman Road runs close by to the south-west. A few weeks later Rhona and Jimbo joined me on an exploratory short winter walk, covering country park, minor road and ancient broch and castle, the successful outcome described below.
Situated within the triangle of land enclosed by the M9, M80 and M876, the 200-acre park is adjacent to Plean, from where it is well-signposted. Plean House was built in the early 19th century by a wealthy East India trader. Later coal was mined until 1963. Stirling Council bought the estate in 1988 and turned the once industrial land into a country park, nowadays with beautiful and varied woodlands.
The remains of two once barren coal bings are now showing healthy regeneration of native trees. Plean House was inhabited until 1973, but soon after was vandalised and only the skeleton remains.
The park is criss-crossed by a number of marked and unmarked trails for walkers, bikers and horse riders; routes shown in the informative leaflet map, available at the large car park, map ref 827868. Follow the Horse Trail that weaves south through the mixed woodland and crosses a burn, heading to the South Bing. Note the brown wooden markers and fingerposts. As to be expected, some sections of the Horse Trail can be rough and muddy. At the curve on the trail look out for the leaflet path, mapped but not signposted. If you meet a broad track and the canter section then you have gone too far. A short descent leads to the Roman Road, map ref 824860.
Head south-east on the minor road, passing on the left Glen Road, to reach the village of Torwood. On the right is a broad lane with a Public Right of Way signpost, Denovan 3km. Go up the lane a short distance to a large cleared area on the left. On the right a plank of wood spans a ditch and so to a path that slants to the right through mature trees. A modest 65m climb suddenly leads to the highest point in the area, graced with the impressive Torwood or Tappoch Iron Age Broch, one of the best preserved in the Lowlands. First excavated in 1864, the walls at ground level are 20ft thick. It is a lovely spot.
Descend south on a charming weaving path, one of many, to reach the lane, map ref 833844, west of Torwood Castle. Once the seat of Clan Forrester, the castle, built around 1566, is undergoing a slow restoration under the auspices of the Torwood Castle Trust, but it is not open to the public.
Return by the lane to Torwood then to the junction with Glen Road and so by the latter towards Plean. Just before the village, turn left at the gates and follow the gradually rising lovely South Drive.
MAPS Ordnance Survey map 65, Falkirk & Linlithgow, or map 57, Stirling
DISTANCE 5 miles
TERRAIN Paths and minor roads
START POINT Plean Country Park car park, map ref 827868
TIME 3 hours
NEAREST VILLAGE Plean
RECOMMENDED REFRESHMENT SPOT Carronbridge Hotel, Carronvalley, Denny