I originally had an ambitious plan this weekend to set off for two completely different places on the two days, using a Citylink Explorer ticket, but a cold and snowy weather forecast didn't inspire me to head north - there seemed to be quite a bit lying, apart from whatever might fall.
So I made a plan to set out for relatively southern Lochearnhead instead, but it seems to have joined the list of places I am doomed never to reach. The first time I tried, last autumn, the bus had vanished - this time was the more usual complaint of missing the train (although there were extenuating circumstances), but due to reading the timetable back to front, or something, I thought I could still get a bus much earlier than I actually could, and set off for Stirling regardless.
The last time I knew I should really have headed into the Ochils, so this time I decided that there would be no dithering - partly because any attempt to figure out where else I could go would probably have led to me missing the 9:10 Dollar bus as well. So I set off along the edge of the hills (forget Conic Hill, *that* is what a geological fault looks like!), and got off where everyone else going for a walk did, at the bottom of the road leading to Dollar Glen.
It was a very pretty road, with a burn down the middle and trees covered in pink blossom lining it, and then a path led on across the open space at the Mill Green, and into woods full of bluebells.
The path climbs on in adventurous fashion, with wooden walkways involved, to come up to Castle Campbell (which I decided I didn't have time to visit), and onto the open hillside. I went slightly the wrong way, round a fenced area on the Whitewisp side of the burn, but I was soon over a bridge and climbing up where I should be, with the castle down below.
The path ran along the top of a tiny hill and down to a gate and then the long climb onto Kings Seat Hill began - over odd bumps at first, and through a tiny valley where some people were sitting out of the wind for a rest.
Further up the slope was smoother, and worn into stepped footprints - it was the kind of slope which curves away without any particular view ahead, and just a case of keeping going,
Further up a memorial to WW2 airmen acted as a landmark, and beyond that the slope eased off towards the summit.
I eventually came to the huge cairn and shelter at one end of the summit area, which would have been an impressive marker if it had actually been anywhere near the summit.
The real summit was way along at the other end, and only marked by a much smaller cairn - this seemed to be an Ochil habit.
I didn't find it easy at first to work out the geography of where I was going next, until I realised that Andrew Gannel Hill was an outlier of Ben Cleuch, which was lurking in the background. It was quite a distinctive hill in its own right, however, with a little peak to the summit.
Two main paths led down from the summit, but I was heading along a smaller path in between them, down to cross a fence near a corner, and then climbing again.
I thought I might have ended up doing a silly jump from range to range, but it turned out that it was King's Seat Hill that was a little range of its own, and once I got over from it the rest of the hills were well linked - I could see them stretching away.
The peaked top of Andrew Gannel Hill really does fall away from under your feet, with quite a dramatic view down to the steep valleys below, but once again it isn't actually the summit.
The true summit isn't really even marked - it's just by the fence to the north, with a view of windfarm and highland hills.
I had a fence to follow now, on through a damp place and over Skythorn Hill. I was very impressed by the variety of stile architecture in the Ochils - coming on to Skythorn Hill it was one like the skeleton of some kitchen steps, and one like a normal stile but without the lower bar.
On the other side of the hill it was one really like nothing I'd seen before, a kind of platform of steps in a right angled fence corner. The fence carried on but ran steeply down into a dip and out again, so the path took a more sensible line towards Tarmangie Hill to meet it again.
You meet Tarmangie Hill from the side, following the fence up again until it turns a corner to lead along the main ridge - this time there was no stile, but an enormous gate which looked like it might be hard to unlatch, but turned out not to latch at all.
Since I hadn't thought of ending up here, I hadn't checked the plans, but I had picked up a bus timetable at Stirling, and now I finally thought to look at it - which was a good thing, as the last Saturday bus had got a good bit earlier since I first wrote out the plan - I had plenty of time, but not time to spare as I once would have done.
Once again Tarmangie Hill had two summits, one at each end of a tiny ridge - this time the first was definitely the highest, and the second a little viewpoint perched above the valley.
The second cairn did have a better view, down into a long valley below, although slightly marred by tree felling.
Whitewisp is another New Donald and Donald Top, and an extension of the same ridge - no stile needed to get me there, either, because the fence wires had dropped to about ankle level.
The views were definitely more varied at this end of the ridge, not just straight up at the front and fade away slowly at the back - from along here I could look over Glen Eagles to Strathearn and the hills rising again beyond.
Whitewisp also bucked the trend by having one summit and one cairn - this was definitely the eastern end of the ridge, with a view over low ground to Loch Leven and the Lomond Hills.
Innerdownie was in mysterious lands off the edge of the bit of map I had downloaded in a hurry - if I zoomed out a bit I could see where I thought it was, but then it didn't have any name. I was pretty sure where I was going, though - it's quite distinctive on the map, even unnamed, half trees and half not.
The fence here had a brand new ladder stile and equally brand new gate, and then another fence led on again. It did pass a little plantation of trees on the left, which gave some welcome shelter from the wind, but most of what was marked as forestry on the map had been cleared and was now open land with a scattering of assorted trees - much more attractive, but quite a change from what the map showed.
It was a longer walk than between most of the tops, but pleasant - passing a tiny rocky place about a metre high with signs warning that it was a quarry you might fall into, and climbing up to the summit.
This is a bit of an outlier from the main range, with views along the more varied hills at the 'back', and open views to the north.
It hadn't been very clear on the map when I first looked if there was a good way down through the trees, but as it turned out there was a better path than there had been for a lot of the day, running on straight down the ridge of the hill.
This was nice walking - it was just a bit of a mystery to me where I was going to end up, and although I could sometimes get a glimpse of the road to either side I could never see it straight ahead to know how far I had to go. Further down there was a plantation of trees to the left, although still the scattered broadleaf trees to the right, and then open ground again, and then more trees and a helpful sign telling me where I'd come from.
Further down again I could see a village quite close below me, although I couldn't remember its name, and after a while the path slanted off to the right to go down steeply towards it through open woodland.
It turned out to be Glendevon, and had a helpful sign telling showing me local walks and telling me that the bus stop at Yetts o' Muckhart was about two miles away, which gave me plenty of time. I came out on a very minor road, and when I saw a little bridge signposted as a path to Auchterarder it also appeared to be a path to the main road, and I took it as I wanted to walk through the houses.
It would have been nice if among all the marked paths around the area there had been one to the bus stop, because it was an unpleasant road to walk down, with tight bends and fast cars and not always much verge. I sat down for a little while at the end of the reservoir - there hadn't really been anywhere else to stop - and had a snack, and then went on past houses now to find my way through the very odd junction and to the bus stop, and the journey back along the foot of the hills.
If the bus had still been running later I would have tried to get something to eat at Pool of Muckhart, but as it was I got something in Stirling before getting the train home.
So that was the Ochils - I would rather have been further north, but it was a good day, and it had felt like a job half done for quite a long time.
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