SNOWDROPS are out in force around Scotland - a sign that spring is about to spring upon us - and the tiny flowers are being celebrated in a festival organised by Visit Scotland: ring 0845 119 2811 or go to www.visitscotland.com/snowdrops to find out more.
As well as offering the chance to see thousands of snowdrops, this walk passes through the former Valleyfield Estate, which was owned by the influential Preston family in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its gardens were designed by the acclaimed Humphry Repton, who is credited with coining the description landscape garden. The botanist and explorer David Douglas, of fir-tree fame, also worked on the estate early in his career.
The route can be very muddy and slippery in places, so stout footwear is needed. Guided tours to view the snowdrops will be offered today and next Saturday and Sunday at 2pm around Valleyfield Wood. They will start at the Riding for the Disabled centre at the top end of this walk, and tea and coffee will be available. Contact 01383 889359 or www.westfifevillages.co.uk
DISTANCE: 3 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED: Undulating 100 ft or so.
TIME: 1.5 to 2 hours.
MAP: OS Landranger 65.
PARK: Take the A985 east from Kincardine Bridge or west from the Forth Road Bridge, then the B9037, which is signed to High Valleyfield and Newmills from the Kincardine direction and to Torryburn if travelling by the other route. Park on the north side of the road between High Valleyfield and Newmills, beside a sign indicating improvement works to the entrance to Valleyfield Wood.
WALK: Go to the back of an ugly BT building surrounded by a security fence, and follow a wide path on the left. This was a carriage drive built by Repton, which follows the Bluther Burn upstream. Ignore paths going left into a housing estate, and pass by a green metal gate below a bridge carrying the A985.
The path crosses and re-crosses the burn via ivy-clad stone bridges before climbing. Look for a footbridge down to the right, then pass by a muddy path leading to it. About 25 yards on, go right on a narrow path through the trees. To your left is the former site of Valleyfield House, now demolished.
The path takes to the top of the high riverbank, covered with snowdrops, before dropping to a muddy section, then a gravel path. Go right here, cross a small bridge and head right along a riverside path. On the far bank is Repton's Island - not so obvious these days, but in Valleyfield House's heyday, residents and guests are said to have enjoyed boating around it. It was created by a weir and small canal, now ruined.
Go right after wire-encased rocks used to reinforce the bank, along a narrow path through large patches of snowdrops. After heading through a tunnel of rhododendrons, you reach a more defined path. Go left then right up a steep bank; at the top of steps go left past a yew into the ruins of a walled garden.
Ignore two old doorways on the right - though you can go through them to explore what's left of estate glasshouses - and walk to the end of the garden.
Go through a doorway and look left at a carpet of snowdrops before heading up to the right, towards the decorative Repton's Arch. Just before this note a standing stone on the right - one of several erected around the estate as ornaments. Once through the arch, continue to a well-defined path.
If you want tea or coffee today or next weekend at the Riding for the Disabled centre, go left down to a tarmac track, then right. Here you can read a detailed information board about the estate.
Otherwise, go right and look left at the site of a former deer park. Drop down past the entrance to the walled garden, to the footbridge seen earlier. Don't cross the bridge: head left along a narrow, muddy path by the side of the burn. Take care, as steep drops crop up in places.
The path reaches the second stone bridge crossed at the start of the walk. Go left here, retracing your steps to the car park.
REFRESH: Apart from hot drinks offered at the Riding for the Disabled centre, you can head for Culross, a mile-and-a-half from the start of the walk.
WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA: Culross is a picturesque village in which to while away a few hours. Looked after by the National Trust for Scotland, its 16th and 17th century buildings are some of the best preserved in the land: www.nts.org.uk