Ochils: Glen of Sorrow Circuit

King’s Seat Hill (NS 933999, 648m)
Andrew Gannel Hill (NN 918006, 670m)
Skythorn Hill (NN 926013, 601m)
Cairnmorris Hill (NN 933016, 606m)
Tarmangie Hill (NN 943013 645m)
Whitewisp Hill (NN 955013 643m)

14 kilometers
930 metres of ascent

Glen of Sorrow route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

I mentioned the Glen of Sorrow when I wrote about my circuit of Glen Sherup, and promised I’d write more about it on another occasion. So, this is the occasion.

The Glen Sherup circuit fired me with enthusiasm to continue a series of clockwise circuits in the Ochils, each one bordering a previous circuit, so that I can conclude my walk by crossing previously visited hills in the reverse direction. This one borders on both my Glen Sherup circuit and, at its northern end, some hills I traversed when I made my approach to Ben Cleuch from the north. The only “new” hill this time is King’s Seat Hill, but its traverse occupies the whole outward side of my loop.

So the idea this time was to follow the watersheds of the Burn of Sorrow, which flows through the green cleft of the Glen of Sorrow. Downstream, in the Dollar Glen, the Burn of Sorrow merges with the Burn of Care. And in The Ochils: Placenames, History, Tradition (1995) Angus Watson tells us that Castle Campbell, at the confluence of the Sorrow and Care, was once Castle Gloom (there’s still a Gloom Hill nearby). And there’s a folk-etymology linking the name Dollar to dolour, “pain”. This is all splendidly gothic, and is attached to a legend that the daughter of an early King of Scots was once immured at Castle Gloom after falling in love with an inappropriate suitor. Sadly, having intrigued us with all this, Watson immediately pours cold water on the whole thing. He offers Gaelic glom, “chasm”, as a suitable etymology for “Gloom”, given the steep sides of the Dollar Glen; he links “Dollar” itself to a Pictish word dol, “valley”; and he points out that the Sorrow and Care were often less glamorously known as the Wester and Easter Burn in the nineteenth century.

I parked in the Dollar Glen car park, a little short of Castle Campbell, and on the south side of Gloom Hill, and popped across the road to descend steeply into the leafy ravine of the Dollar Glen. This proved to be a tactical error—the path to the damaged Long Bridge was still blocked off on the east side of the glen, so I had to make a little detour south, to cross the Dollar Burn at a lower bridge.

Dollar Glen
Click to enlarge

As you can see above, the burn itself is not a challenge to cross—it’s the ridiculously steep and overgrown banks that are the problem.

Then I followed the path on the western side of the burn steeply upwards, and eventually out on to the open hillside, where a good path took me up on to the little knob of Bank Hill, which has an improbably large cairn.

Bank Hill cairn, King's Seat Hill beyond, Ochils
Click to enlarge

Peeping into sight beyond the cairn, you can see my first objective of the day, King’s Seat Hill. (Like the King’s Seat in the Sidlaws, no-one seems to know which king, if any, was associated with it.)

The path weaves around a little through a succession of lumps and low ridges, and then it’s just a steady grind up the hill. We were having a heatwave—which is to say, the temperature was forecast to exceed the local heatwave threshold for three successive days. Those who live closer to the equator than Scotland (or far from moderating maritime climatic influences), will be amused to learn that the Scottish heatwave threshold is 25 degrees Celsius. But it’s not what this place is used to, and it’s potentially damaging in terms of drought and wildfire risk, as well as the risk to pale Scottish hillwalkers toiling upwards. So I was only mildly surprised to meet a man descending the hill towards me, clad only in a hat, boots and a pair of royal blue Y-fronts.

A small cairn eventually pops into view on the sky-line, giving the unwary a little lift of excitement, and a moment in which to imagine that they’ve got up the hill faster than expected … and then the real top comes into view beyond it, still some way off. But any surge of self-pity is soon obliterated on reading the memorial plaque affixed to the cairn:

Spitfire Memorial, King's Seat Hill, Ochils
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On 16 January 1943, three Spitfires from the Operational Training Unit at Grangemouth were on a formation-flying exercise but were diverted to land at Perth because of bad weather. In poor visibility, all three flew into the ground near the summit of King’s Seat Hill. Two pilots, one American and one Canadian, were killed. The third, an Australian, broke both legs but managed to crawl down the hill in the snow to be rescued two days later by a local farmer. You can read a little more about the incident here. The cairn sits at an altitude of about 570m, close to the spot where the Spitfires crashed, just 80 metres below the summit of King’s Seat Hill.

I find it’s an odd feeling, making the last pull up from the cairn to the summit, reflecting on how close those pilots came to getting over the hill, which was probably the highest ground along their flight-path.

There’s a nice big shelter cairn at the top, which was playing host to three ravens when I arrived, all mucking around in the westerly wind, hovering and wheeling, apparently just for the sheer joy of it. The true summit is a little farther on, beyond a pretty little summit pool, and gave me a view of my next destination, Andrew Gannel Hill. In the photograph below its summit is bang in the centre of frame, with Ben Cleuch looming behind it to the left.

Andrew Gannel Hill and Ben Cleuch from King's Seat Hill, Ochils
Click to enlarge

(I wrote about who, if anyone, Andrew Gannel might be when I made my previous visit to the hill.)

At the bottom of the dip below Andrew Gannel, I found I had to climb over a fence, which, so far in my exploration of the Ochils, is an unusual experience. Then it was a fairly easy ascent to reach the grassy summit.

Glen of Sorrow, flanked by Tarmangie Hill and King's Seat Hill, from Andrew Gannel Hill, Ochils
Click to enlarge

The view above looks down the length of the Glen of Sorrow, with Tarmangie and Whitewisp on the left, and the bulk of King’s Seat Hill on the right.

From this point, I was skirting the headwaters of the Burn of Sorrow, the Maddy Moss, at first following a faint path downhill, then crossing to the north side of the boundary fence to traverse Skythorn Hill and reach Cairnmorris Hill. In the view below, the peak poking above the forestry is Innerdownie Hill, which I crossed during my Glen Sherup circuit, but wouldn’t be visiting this time.

Innerdownie from Cairnmorris Hill, Ochils
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From the top of Cairnmorris I headed straight downhill through trackless grass to reach the gate in the col below Tarmangie Hill, glancing south from time to time to admire the green whaleback of King’s Seat Hill.

King's Seat Hill from south side of Cairnmorris Hill, Ochils
Click to enlarge

As I was approaching the summit of Tarmangie, I noticed a familiar figure climbing over the stile on the sky-line, and then descending towards me. It was an old friend from the days of The Angry Corrie, and something of an Ochils Old Hand. We stood and chatted for a while, exchange route plans, and then carried on with our respective days—but this chance meeting was going to mean that our lives would intersect again amusingly, quite soon.

From Tarmangie, I carried on across the high moor towards Whitewisp Hill. Last time I was here, during my Glen Sherup circuit, the air had been alive with skylarks, but now they seemed to be having a quiet day off—I had to content myself with the alarm calls of shy meadow pipits instead.

From Whitewisp, my plan was to drop down into the glen over Saddle Hill. The Ordnance Survey mapping shows no path here, but the Harvey’s Ochils map depicts an intermittent path, and OpenStreetMap (whose contributors, admittedly, tend towards an optimistic interpretation of the word “path”) showed a link all the way down from the summit of Whitewisp to the highest bridge over the Burn of Sorrow.

And it certainly started off well, with an obvious visible line along the spine of Saddle Hill:

Saddle Hill and Dollar from Whitewisp Hill, Ochils
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I trotted merrily down this, and then began the steep descent directly towards Castle Campbell, visible in the distance below. Actually, a very steep descent, in parts. I soon reached a point at which the path was going down so steeply, with an alarming boulder at the bottom to punish any loss of balance, that I had turned sideways and was about to step tentatively down on to my first stance … when the phone in the top pocket of my rucksack, just behind my head, made a loud bingle-ta-BING! noise as it received an incoming text. I briefly levitated (or so it seemed at the time), then recovered my balance and permitted myself a few harsh words at the phone’s expense before resuming my sidling descent towards more level ground below.

Once safely there, I paused to yank out the phone to check my messages. The chime had been to announce the arrival of a text from my friend, the Old Ochils Hand, telling me:

Meant to say, from Saddle Hill the path that jinks back L to sheepfold is better than one down nose. Head towards castle for 2 mins then L at junc.

Oh, that path.

But now, with the castle in sight at the bottom of a gentle slope with a clearly visible path, my troubles were over.

Dollar and Castle Campbell from Saddle Hill, Ochils
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Well, not. The path sort of disappeared at roughly the spot the good people at OpenStreetMap told me it was going to turn right and descend towards the burn and the bridge. There seemed to be an obvious grassy line descending between two banks of bracken, so I followed this for a while, only to find myself on steepening, densely overgrown ground. Note: On a later trip to the far side of the Burn of Sorrow, I was able to look across at my route here, and identify where I’d gone wrong. When I was deposited at the head of the gully, I should have turned hard right and sought out a line that traversed and descended towards the bridge. Here’s the annotated view from the far side:

the final section of the descent from Saddle Hill to Dollar Glen
Click to enlarge

So I clambered back up the way I’d come, and then noticed a narrow slot disappearing into the shoulder-high bracken in approximately the right direction. The fact you can’t actually see it in the photograph below serves to illustrate what a marginal route it was.

Castle Campbell and Gloom Hill, Dollar beyond
Click to enlarge

Anyway, off I went. The “path” was a bit intermittent, and something fairly large was grunting and moving around in there at one point, but eventually I was spat out down a steep embankment, in a slightly dishevelled state, directly on to the tarmac of the narrow road serving the castle. And directly in front of an elderly pair of tourists, one of whom emitted a sort of croaking yelp as I leapt, Cato-like, from concealment.

From there, a short walk got me back to the car. During which, I passed the gate and sign directing walkers out on to the open hillside along a track that leads up to the sheepfold at Craiginnan—yes, the same sheepfold reached by the Saddle Hill path that “jinks back L towards sheepfold”. Just thought I’d mention that.

2 thoughts on “Ochils: Glen of Sorrow Circuit”

  1. Since you mentioned heatwave…
    We’re having one here in California and I was actually thinking about you! I was thinking if this occured in Scotland it would just melt and slide off into the Atlantic.
    My sister the RN lives in Northern California where the last four days the air temps were 113, 115 and 117! (At that point it’s almost irrelavent if it’s C or F!) Sis declaried it “Obscenely hot.”
    I’m thankful it only got to 104F locally at its worst.
    And today it seems to want to be actually pleasant.

    Well have a care sir. I enjoy your travelogues and hiking tales as always. I oddly grow concerned for you when you show some of your pictures due to worrying about rattlesnakes and bears, two other problems you probably don’t have in Scotland. Once my hiking group stumbled into early summer rattlesnake mass emergence. On a two meter wide moutain trail. Something you would have to see to believe! (I missed that day unfortunately and had to settle for pictures.)

    1. Yes, that high bracken would not have been a particularly sensible route to take in many other parts of the world. I did think briefly about bears when I heard the rummaging and grunting off to my left, but about the worst it could have been in these parts was a feral goat.

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