A south western view of the Ochils in winter.

Nobody ever writes about the Ochils. The Southern Uplands, The Cairngorms, Glencoe, The Trossachs, The Mamores, but never the Ochils. I know some of those are a bit more spectacular than my local range, but not even TGO mentions them. Even the Pentlands get more column inches, not that there is anything wrong with the Pentlands…

I grew up in the shadow of the Ochils [quite literally, my Mum and Dad’s home is on the lower slopes], and I’m as guilty as anyone for taking them for granted. Every day, there they were, just out of the window. I wasn’t much into hills when I was younger. Admittedly, I prefer to spend time in amongst those higher, more northerly ranges. The Ochils are rolling mounds, devoid of Lochs, trees [except forestry plantation on the eastern and western fringes] and exposed rock [except Dumyat, that’s Dum-aye-at to you non-locals]. Boring. The naming of the hills is definitely more lowland then highland too, there’s no Garbhs or Sgurrs here, although Whitewisp and Tarmangie do have a certain charm. The Law sounds pretty badass. Hillfoot Hill is a bit of a paradox. My favourite of the bunch though is Skythorn Hill, dunno why exactly, but it conjures up some interesting imagery for me.

Ben Lawers from the Ochils

However, a few years back I was on the train from Edinburgh to Stirling. The train was about five miles or so out of Stirling station when the Ochils came into view, the steep southern escarpment rising up from the Forth Valley. I heard one of the other passengers [presumably a tourist, maybe Dutch ;-)] gasp and point out the ‘mountains’ to her friend. I guess I’d just never been in awe of them. Familiarity something, something… I must admit, it wasn’t until I was living in Edinburgh that I really noticed how much they change colour from season to season.

But recently, particularly when I’m after a quick fix, the Ochils are my first choice. Admittedly, this is more due to proximity than anything else, but the Ochils have one thing those other hills don’t: the view to those other hills. It seems odd, but the past few times I’ve bumped into someone on an Ochil summit, they’re invariably taking in the views to the south, over the River Forth and Central Belt, boring bridges and whisky bonds, shopping centres and supermarkets, the same stuff they see every day of the week. I keep wanting to suggest they turn around and look north to the Lawers Group and beyond, or out west to the Trossachs. Strange…

So anyway, this all serves as a rather long-winded intro to my trip report. Given our glorious weekend forecast, I decided on Friday to shelve the gardening and take to the hills for a camp [forgetting that I was supposed to be playing poker on Saturday night. I say playing, but it’s more alcohol based TBH…] The Ochils were first choice, as it was short notice and given the price of diesel at the moment I wanted to keep it local. Margaret was going to the garden centre, so I dropped her off and skipped past Asda for some supplies [Apricot Geobars, not bad, very fruity and a John West tuna/pasta thingy].

A short twisty drive later I was in Glendevon. Top Gear have filmed here, motorcyclists seem to like it. It’s certainly enjoyable if the road is clear and you like driving. I parked up at the Forestry Commission site at Whitens and grabbed my pack from the boot. As my Gorillapod had still not arrived [ordered two weeks ago!], I had relented and taken the big tripod. I was packing the big lens too, but decided to leave the wide angle at home. Even with the weight of the tripod, the pack felt lighter and more comfortable following my recent bout of gram counting. Warmer weather meant less in the way of warm wear to be carried, although I did wish I’d packed spare socks, more on this later.

Green Knowes windfarm.

Although there are no lochs or lochans in the Ochils, the Glendevon area and eastern end of the range has a few reservoirs, but coupled with the new windfarm at Green Knowes and the plantation forests, it’s clear that this is an industrial landscape. I can tolerate all of those, but the approval in 2007 of another windfarm between Ben Cleuch and Upper Glendevon Reservoir is a step too far. If built, it will result in windfarms to the north, east and west of the Ochils. I’m not anti-wind power, but everything in moderation… the bastards have got to keep taking and taking. I know we have energy needs to meet, but we should start by cutting consumption, not trying to build our way out of the problem. However, that’s a whole other topic that I don’t want to get into. Hopefully it’s been canned, there is no sign of any site prep work yet.

Leaving the car park, I climbed past Glensherup Reservoir, up the forestry road, following the fork round to the left and continuing up until I left the track for a short steep section through the trees. This eventually opened out onto the open hillside of Innerdownie. I made for the summit cairn up the steepish slope and sat for a while taking in the view and chatting to dog walkers. At 611m, most of the climbing was over.

Walking west along the plateau, I remembered that the Ochils are boggy as hell, but decided against putting on my Goretex socks, it was warm and the cool water running though mesh of my Salomons was quite pleasant. I assumed my socks would have time to dry out at camp. There was still evidence of the hard winter, and the were a few damaged trees. It’s seemed like just last week the hills were white with snow. Also, how come it’s April already?

I did notice evidence of a reforestation project on some of the slopes. I was familiar with the mounds in which the tree is planted and characteristic water filled holes from my time planting and mounding on a reforestation project in Wester Ross in my early twenties. I still sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I’d have stuck at it and gone to Forestry School as planned, I’m guessing I’d be healthier than I am just now…

Winter leftovers and broken trees.

I didn’t really have a firm plan for where to camp, it didn’t really matter as the Ochils are completely devoid of nice flat tent pitching areas. The best you can hope for is finding a nice mattress-like mossy spot amongst the tussock grass. This invariably results in a badly pitched tent, but can be quite comfortable if you get a good spot. This time, I didn’t. I settled for a spot known as Maddy Moss, between Cairnmorris Hill and Skythorn Hill with good views north and west.

I sat in the sun for a while and nearly dozed off, hunger kept me awake, so I snacked and pitched the Akto on an apparently reasonable spot. I got the camera out and amused myself taking photos for a while and tested the Caldera Clone for the first time in the wild. It worked superbly, there’s definite potential for some impromptu hillside pyrotechnics, particularly on uneven ground, but I was pleased with it overall.

West towards Lomond/Arrochar.

I didn’t take a change of socks or my pile/pertex boots, and my feet were frozen in my damp socks as the sun started to go down. I resorted to jumping up and down to try to warm them up, it didn’t really help much. I stayed out until the sun dipped over the Trossachs leaving an impressive light show. But soon as it was over headed for the tent/sleeping bag to try and warm up, the dram of 16 year old Highland Park probably didn’t help much in this regard. πŸ˜‰

I lay half in/half out the tent staring at the stars for a while, but was getting sleepy. Unexpectedly, a firework display started over toward Blackford so I sat and watched before turning my attention to the sky again, Orion was doing his thing over south-west, but wouldn’t stay still for a photo. I dozed off with the tent still open shortly after this was taken.

I awoke at 6:30, having had a restless night, my mossy mattress failed to even out the bumpy ground beneath and my feet never did warm up, although my socks had mostly dried out hanging from a guy line overnight. Sunday proved to be more of the same weather-wise, and the morning light tempted me out of the tent. I wasn’t hungry so and was keen to get moving to warm my feet up, I packed up and headed back toward Glensherup, having decided to do a circular route rather than retrace my steps back to the car. There’s always something disappointing about linear routes, I find.

I had a steep descent into Glensherup before encountering a dead sheep with a large hole in it’s side, I never noticed it until I almost stood on it – that woke me up. I managed to dodge it and hopped over the burn to find a place to climb back up the other side of the glen and pick up the forestry track which would allow me to make good time and get home to spend the day planting vegetables in the garden. The section through the forest until I got to the path was a quagmire resulting in more wet feet, I was prepared this time and already had my Goretex socks on, but the Salomons needed hosing down once home.

The forest track was a bit of a depressing end to the outing however, plantation forests are soulless places, a million miles from the ancient Caledonian pine forests of the Cairngorms. If there is one thing worse than plantation though, it’s the mess that’s left behind by felling operations. Still, it did allow for a clear view of Glensherup Reservoir, flat and calm, until the Anglers arrived and ruined it for everyone πŸ˜‰

So a short jaunt, but one I was grateful for… I arrived home tired but refreshed, mentally at least, it was good to wind down after a couple of weeks of studying for my SCSA exam. I’m looking forward to getting some quality time outdoors this summer, the weather can’t be as bad as last year, can it?

Give yourself a pat on the back if you read this far…

I walked up a hill and slept in a tent.