Gargunnock Hills

Gargunnock Hills

Gargunnock Hills

I’d spotted this ridge when we took a scenic route to Stirling and thought it looked worth a visit.  I keep forgetting that I can reach this part of the country faster than parts of south Ayrshire and so usually discount it: I’ll need to work on that. It is a lovely escarpment that jumps out of the upper Forth valley and apart from a steep first hour we were promised a longish but straightforward day.  Ah, the best-laid plans of man+dog…

Saltire over the Forth valley

Saltire over the Forth valley

Looking down on Gargunnock

Looking down on Gargunnock

We parked in the attractive village of Gargunnock and then headed for the hills following the track through Hillhead farm. The sky was blue, the sun had warmth, the Swallows were twittering overhead: a perfect early-Autumn day.  The track up is good with lots of switchbacks giving plenty of opportunity to take in the view: and what a view!  The whole of the southern Highlands is in front of us across the flat valley of Flanders Moss and all the way around to Stirling.  On the edge of the escarpment overlooking Gargunnock someone had placed a flagpole with a tatty Saltire flapping: we couldn’t work out if this was a political statement or a metaphor 1.

Trig Point on Carleatheran

Trig Point on Carleatheran

When the track gave out we followed the numerous quad-bike tracks across the moor heading for the summit cairn of Carleatheran.  At 485m we weren’t going to need supplemental oxygen but the view to the north was stunning 2. For your pleasure I’ve stitched together a panorama of photos and annotated them with the view points we could make out.  The cairn is a good lunch spot giving a bit of shelter.  It was a little odd having the trig point in the middle: we could imagine future archaeologists wondering on the significance of the stone circle around the concrete obelisk.

Serious moorland transport

Serious moorland transport

Jazz on Carleatheran

Jazz on Carleatheran

After lunch we continued west following some newly created tracks.  This is a well-tended grouse moor and we were lucky not to meet a shooting party which would have messed up the plan. I don’t remember seeing so many well maintained grouse butts; there was even a smart gamekeepers’ bothy and its outside toilet.  We also passed the most serious piece of moorland transport we’ve ever seen.  As we were outside the bird breeding season Jazz could go off and do her Grouse survey work and she reported back that things here are looking very healthy.  We took the path down into the valley beside the splendidly named Backside Burn 3.

Spout of Ballochleam

Spout of Ballochleam

Track down

Track down

Spot the path

Spot the path

The track heads north towards the Spout of Ballochleam where a small burn drops over the escarpment.  We now drop back down the face of the hill. The map had promised a path through some forestry along the base and this is where the plan started to go south.  We managed to find the start of the forest track and it looked great but in the middle just gave up.  So we spent a frustrating hour following promising “paths” down fire-breaks only for them to peter out.  When we finally emerged we were in rough pasture hemmed in with stone walls and rusty fences and so I got to work on my Spaniel-lofting technique.  All a bit frustrating and time-consuming.  However, we eventually reached a quad-bike trail heading in the right direction but this also gave up and was replaced by some posts for a path.  Clearly, this is the work of some sadist whose goal was to see how bad a route he could make and still get the punters to follow it.  The sly so-and-so 4 forces you to follow it because you need to cross lots of gorse and only one narrow path has been cleared through it: the fact you have to drop down into muddy gullies at the end of long day didn’t endear me to this person.

Jazz flushing Pheasants

Jazz flushing Pheasants

Evening sunshine

Evening sunshine

As we cleared this we ended up in a large field with no sheep and I could tell Jazz wanted to have a sniff. What I didn’t expect was for her to spend the next 30 minutes quartering the entire field flushing Pheasants.  I was exhausted: how could she not be?  So while she went off on her sniff-a-thon I watched the evening sunshine over the hills and fields. In these situations she looks like a real working dog and I don’t have the heart to stop her, but eventually I had to put her back on the lead to head back to the village, otherwise she’d still be there.

This was a tougher than expected walk thanks to the second half through forest and moor.  I’d thoroughly recommend the first bit to get the view north though.  Apart from the views there was one additional highlight. At one point 5 I saw a Red Kite having an aerial tussle with a ring-tail Hen Harrier. However, when they stopped they spent the next 15 minutes together circling around the moor – it really looked as if they had teamed up.  Seeing two such lovely raptors together at close quarters was fantastic.

Notes:

  1. Jazz likes a bit of intellectual debate during the early part of the walk: it takes her mind off the fact that lunch is 3 hours away.
  2.  The view south was spoiled by a new wind-farm over the Touch Hills; and the view west had the Fintry Hills in the way.
  3. Which raised a smile as I’d had a nice curry the night before.
  4. I won’t repeat Jazz’s language at this point.
  5. And I won’t be more specific for reasons that will become apparent.
Distance:22km
Effort:
Scenery:
Do It Again: