Ochils: Tillicoultry-Dollar Circuit

The Law (NS 910996, 638m)
Andrew Gannel Hill (NN 918005, 670m)
King’s Seat Hill (NS 933999, 648m)

17.4 kilometres
910 metres of ascent

Tillicoultry-Dollar route
Click to enlarge
Contains OS OpenData © Crown copyright and database right 2018
Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

Another loop in the Ochils, this one taking advantage of the Devon Way cycle/pedestrian path to make a return from Dollar to Tillicoultry. And, again, it was designed so that the return limb of this clockwise loop passes over the outward limb of my previous loop—the Glen of Sorrow circuit. As well as providing a kind of neatness that’s gratifying in itself (to those of a particular turn of mind), this sort of design lets me revisit Matters Arising from the previous walk.

I started by walking up the Mill Glen from Tillicoultry—a deeply incised gorge featuring a path that clings precariously to its sides, zig-zagging back and forth across the river on an impressive seven bridges within a single tortuous kilometre:

Mill Glen, Tillicoultry
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The last bridge deposits you at the foot of the steep southern face of The Law.

The Law above Mill Glen, Tillicoultry
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The exposed rock at the start of the path is a little awkward to negotiate, and I wouldn’t fancy coming down it in wet weather or snow, but above that first section it’s simply a matter of grinding upwards. And as I did that grinding, I met a man coming down who introduced himself by declaring “I see you’ve chosen the hardest way up!”

Now, in my experience, anyone who greets you with a sentence beginning, “I see you’ve chosen …” is under the impression that you’ve made a mistake, and that you need to have that explained to you. So I pointed out that he seemed to have chosen the hardest way down, and then we parted amicably on a score of 15-all.

The Law eventually levels out into a grassy ridge that takes you on to the shoulder of Ben Cleuch. Here’s the view back along the ridge:

Looking along The Law ridge, Ochils
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You can also see that it’s a bit misty, which wasn’t in the weather forecast. And a dense gloom to the west suggested that an anticipated weather front had decided to arrive half a day early. I’d originally intended to make the short excursion to the top of Ben Cleuch, but a sudden blatter of rain made me reassess my plans—it would be nice to get around my planned hills in decent visibility.

So I turned instead towards Andrew Gannel Hill:

Andrew Gannel Hill, King's Seat Hill beyond, from the head of The Law track
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At the stile in the foreground, I would start to retrace the short Andrew-Gannel-to-Cleuch section of my previously reported circuit, Ben Cleuch From The North.

I crossed the relatively slight intervening dip and was soon approaching the summit of Andrew Gannel.

Summit of Andrew Gannel Hill
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The lone figure, hood up and back turned to the damp wind, continued to contemplate the distant misty scenery during the time it took me to reach him and walk past him. I’m not sure what he was looking at, but he seemed sufficiently intent that it would have been churlish to interrupt his meditation.

I’ve written before about the question of who (if anyone) Andrew Gannel was—see my walk report Ben Cleuch From The North for that.

From Andrew Gannel, I headed towards my final summit of the day—King’s Seat Hill.

King's Seat Hill from the descent of Andrew Gannel Hill
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Now I was retracing the outward limb of my Glen Of Sorrow Circuit, though I was able to ascend more directly than I’d previously descended, because I could easily pick out the appropriate path as I stood in the marshy col between the two hills.

This time, I remembered to stop and take a picture of King’s Seat’s summit ridge:

Summit of King's Seat Hill, Ochils
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The little cairn in the foreground marks the true summit—the rocky outcrop in the distance, beyond the summit pool, hosts a lovely shelter cairn, but is slightly lower.

My descent took me past the Spitfire memorial, which I described in detail last time I came this way. Farther down, I paused to investigate a geological feature I’d marched past during my previous ascent:

The Kames, above Dollar Glen, Ochils
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These narrow, jagged, rocky ridges flanking a deep cleft are called the Kames. Or so it seems—the feature name on my 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map sits a bit farther south than the ridges, on an area of undistinguished undulating moorland, but the original Ordnance Survey Name Book had this to say about the toponym:

This name applies to a Rugged and Rocky Ridge, situated on the south east of the King’s Seat Hill. Property of Sir A. Orr. The Ground is being much broken in consequence of some parties boring, endeavouring to discover lead some years ago

There are actually several of these ridges, parallel to each other, and their name comes from the Scottish word kame, meaning “comb”—a reference to the shape of a cock’s comb. Scotland actually boasts a number of placenames incorporating kame or kaime. And, because this sort of landscape feature is often formed from gravel deposited by a glacier, the word kame has become a technical term in geology. I’ve spent a bit of time trying to find out if these Kames are also kames in the geological sense, but have come up empty.

I decided to make a small detour to walk through one of the deep gullies between the ridges. It was a pleasant enough diversion, albeit a bit leg-breaky in places where larger rocks had accumulated.

Descent through the Kames, above Dollar Glen, Ochils
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After I’d found my way out on to the moorland again, I followed a fence-line for a while until a gate let me reconnect with the path system.

As I approached the final descent into the head of Dollar Glen, I paused to look across the Burn of Sorrow, to see if I could figure out how my descent route from Saddle Hill had gone astray in its last few hundred metres. From this vantage point, my error was obvious.

the final section of the descent from Saddle Hill to Dollar Glen
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When the Saddle Hill path had appeared to terminate at the head of a gully, I tried to descend to the burn that way—which quickly becomes overgrown and very steep. Instead I should have turned sharp right, and picked up a descending path through the bracken which would have taken me to the bridge over the Sorrow. Easy once you know.

Down, then, passing into the glen below the ramparts of Castle Campbell.

Castle Campbell, Dollar Glen
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Dollar Glen is like a replay of Mill Glen, albeit slightly muddier. I took some photographs, but low light and lots of trees make them pointless. Eventually I popped out in a little area of parkland on the edge of the village of Dollar, and followed the Dollar Burn as it descended, in rigidly canalized form, through the town. I was aiming to reach the Devon Way, a mixed-used cycle/pedestrian path that would take me back to Tillicoultry along the north bank of the River Devon. I ended up with a choice between following the east bank of the Dollar Burn through what seemed to be the grounds of a primary school, or crossing the burn on a bridge and walking down its west side. I chose the latter, walking through a residential area and then down a narrow path sandwiched between the river and people’s garden fences. Eventually I had to squeeze out through a narrow gap between a bridge railing and a tree, which you can see to the left of the picture below:

Stepped weir on the Dollar Burn
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It wasn’t ideal, and the walk down past the primary school looks luxurious by comparison.

The Devon Way (like many other modern cycle routes) follows the line of a now-defunct railway line—in this case, one that used to connect Kinross and Alloa. And the platform of the old Dollar railway station is still visible, though the station buildings are all gone and replaced by modern housing.

Remains of old railway platform on the Devon Way cycle path
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Like many of these old railway routes, it can make for quite tedious walking—long straightways between embankments aren’t my favourite.

Devon Way cycle path
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But later there were views of the River Devon on the left, and across the fields to the steep southern face of the Ochils on the right. I photographed this odd enclosure without being sure what it was at the time:

Tait's Tomb, seen from the Devon Way
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I wondered if it was an old walled garden that had grown seriously out of hand, but couldn’t see a house that might be connected to it. Later, a bit of research with old maps told me that it was a private burial ground belonging to the old Harviestoun Estate, owned by the Tait family—which accounts for its local name, Tait’s Tomb.

Eventually I popped out in Tillicoultry next to the monstrous Sterling Furniture shop, just as the rain started in earnest. Then it was just a short traipse along the high street to get back to my car.

4 thoughts on “Ochils: Tillicoultry-Dollar Circuit”

  1. With all the hill walking you do I’m wondering how your knees are coping . Some areas you cover are a tad on the rough side of pleasant . When the view is wonderful you probably forget the effort involved or discomfort in joints or do you ?
    Hope you have great , non arthritic knees and hips

  2. No arthritis so far. I have mixed family history, so I hope I’ve got my mother’s joints—she was a long-distance walker well into her 80s, and seems to have no significant arthritis at the age of 98.
    The knees grumble, but it’s just soft tissue stuff, which unfortunately seems to take ever longer to settle once initiated.

  3. After looking at the series of photos here I feel compelled to update an old bit of survivalist lore I know.

    “All roads lead to somewhere…except in Scotland.” 🙂

    Happy April 1st Doc.

  4. Hi Don:
    A sort of corollary to that maxim appeared on the Discovery channel’s “First Man Out” series, in which survivalists race each other across difficult terrain in challenging environments.
    In the last season, one of the locations was the Ardnamurchan peninsula in Scotland. As they raced along the length of the peninsula, the competitors could easily have dropped into Kilchoan or Acharacle for a nice cup of tea and a plate of soup, maybe a bath and a bed for the night. But if you had to judge from the broadcast footage, you’d think that there were not only no roads in Ardnamurchan, but that it was completely uninhabited.

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