The Ochils are a series of rounded grassy and mossy hills that gently slope to the north. The southern side is quite different.
The Ochils Fault, a natural break in the earth’s crust, caused the land south of the fault to be “thrown” down into what is now the flood plain of the Forth, and the resultant escarpment is breached by a series of attractive glens which lend themselves as ways to the hilltops or as through routes.
Jimbo, the Mountain Hare and I were bound for Dollar Glen to climb 648m King’s Seat Hill, a Donald, Scottish hills south of the Highland boundary fault at least 2,000ft high and with a drop of at least 98.4ft/30m all round. It is unlikely to be confused with its namesake, a modest bump by the Forth on which sits Clackmannan Tower. To make a circular route, the descent was to be by the Gannel Burn path, part of an old trade route from Blackford to Mill Glen, then a return from Tillicoultry to Dollar on the old Alloa to Kinross railway, nowadays a Tarmac path, the Devon Way.
The hope was that the forecast heavy rain would not arrive until the time of the railway walk – or later. It was not to be.
Map OS map 58, Perth & Alloa
Distance 6 miles
Terrain Tarmac road, then path
Start point Dollar (or Castle Campbell car park)
Time 3 to 4 hours
Nearest town Dollar
Refreshment spot Powmill Milk Bar, Rumbling Bridge
Start from the A91 in Dollar, only some 50m above sea-level. Castle Campbell lies at a height of 150m and driving to the castle car park is an easy option for those doing just the linear walk. (On the circular route it would be better to leave the car in Dollar to avoid a climb at the end of the outing.) Mind you, even from the car park there is a bit more to climb by Tarmac road before a descent, crossing the Burn of Care by ford or footbridge, to reach the well-preserved castle ruins overlooking the rocky chasm that is Dollar Glen, where the Burn of Sorrow joins the Burn of Care.
Originally named Castle Gloom (the Gaelic glom means chasm), the fortress, built in the early 1400s, became the chief lowland stronghold of the Campbells of Argyll. The 8th Earl of Argyll sided with Cromwell’s invasion and occupation of Scotland. Clans loyal to the Stuart monarchy sacked the castle in 1654. The Earl was executed in 1661 by the restored King Charles II. Winter (October to March) opening hours (except Thursdays and Fridays) are from 10am to 4pm (last entry 3:30pm).
Before entering the castle, turn right on the wooded path on the north side of the oft-noisy Burn of Sorrow. Be grateful for the periodic wooden handrail being repaired on our day. At least the cheery workmen were being paid for their efforts, unlike this trio of walkers. Cross the burn by footbridge and so to open country, heading west to 346m Bank Hill. The very obvious path then goes NW for the long ascent, during which time our superb views south over the Forth had been lost to the mist. Pass by a memorial near where in January 1943 three Spitfires operating from RAF Grangemouth crashed, killing two of the pilots. Twenty-four hours later, a shepherd found the third injured pilot crawling in the snow.
By the time we reached the circular summit cairn (slightly higher ground to the NW) the rain was heavy – cue for full waterproofs and decision time – continue with the plan or retrace steps. Jimbo was for returning. Not at my best that day, I opted to go with him. The Mountain Hare, saying that his next outing with me would be reserved only for a better day, would have gone on but eventually decided to go back with us.
On descent we met another masochist, Ian McGraw from Glasgow.