12 Sep 2010

The many rewards of a hike in Dollar Glen


I have dozens of failed photos from our visit to Dollar Glen. There seemed no way to capture the depth of the place, the layers of green.

Massive ferns brushed our skin as we walked under tall trees, the rustling leaves constantly shifting the light at our feet.

The moss, sponge-like and dripping, clung in vast carpets over sheer rock faces and wrapped itself like a sleeve around fallen logs.
Everywhere around us the sound of streams and waterfalls added to the Glen’s atmosphere of luxurious clutter. Not surprisingly, Dollar Glen is one of the most popular walking destinations in Clackmannashire, Scotland’s smallest historic county, which borders Perth and Kinross, Stirling and Fife.

The relatively easy uphill climb is made all the more wonderful when you emerge at the top to see a ruined castle rising up through the trees.
Originally known as Castle Gloom, the land and castle were taken over in 1465 by Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll, and it has been known as Castle Campbell ever since.

After being destroyed by royalists in 1654, it was left to fall into ruin, but today it still makes an impressive sight, nestled as it is among the forests at the top of the Glen.

Castle highlights include the cobbled entrance into the gardens, where the last of the summer roses still blooming against the high walls.

The trap door leading to the pit prison has been propped open so visitors can gape down into the cold, dirt-lined space and imagine what it would have been like to sit there alone in the dark for days or even weeks.
But the thing I adored most of all had to be the two carved masonry masks in the top floor ceiling.

At one time oil lamps would have hung from their mouths and I couldn’t help thinking that modern light fittings simply do not compare.

The castle’s tower can still be climbed and offers spectacular views over the valley below and over to the Ochil Hills behind.

The lure was too great and despite the threat of rain we couldn’t resist a hike up to Bank Hill. We had only just hit the bottom when the wind started to howl and the rain swept over us, but there was no stopping.

Nearing the top of the steep slope, my clothes wet, my chest heaving and my legs rubbery with fear as much as exertion (for I am a supremely lacking in confidence when it comes to climbing), I looked up to see my beaming Scotsman, engaged in an enthusiastic rendition of the Rocky dance.

It is easy to see why hill walkers around the country are drawn to this area, where even a short hike can reward visitors with dramatic views and the sense of being blissfully alone in the world. It is places like Dollar Glen and the Ochil Hills that make me all the more passionate for Scotland.

We are finally off to the Highlands for a couple of days - what a way to start the week!

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