Alva Glen is situated next to the village of Alva which is only about a 20 minute drive from Stirling. This makes it a great option for those looking to combine a day of history with an outdoor hike. The trail is very much a walk of two halves which is one of the reasons why this is another one of my favourite walks in Scotland.
Alva is one of several settlements at the bottom of the Ochil Hills which are collectively known as The Hillfoot Villages. There is a 21km walk that passes through the villages known as The Hillfoots Diamond Jubilee Way. It is also possible to do this longer trail and include diversions to the various glens along the way including Alva Glen. The route is based on the old King's Highway.
The first section of the Alva Glen trail takes you through a shaded waterfall-filled wooded gorge, with a designated path that follows the Alva Burn upstream. In many ways this is also a heritage trail as you pass various structures dating back to the period when Alva was at the heart of the textile industry.
This area is now a haven for nature thanks to the hard work of the Alva Glen Heritage Trust which was set up in 2003. Their aim is to restore and regenerate the glen which was once an industrial centre. However, the dams, weirs and sluice gates that were built to ensure a year round water supply to the numerous mills still remain. You can also see the pipe that fed the water to the mills in order to drive the machines.
The second section of the walk opens up and involves some proper hill-walking. From here you can visit the viewpoint at Smuggler's Cave and access the surrounding Ochil Hills which feel a million miles away from the bustle of Stirling and even the shady gorge below.
Along the way you can read about the history of the glen on various interpretation boards. I love the stark contrast on this route despite it covering a fairly short distance. It definitely ticks my box of a walk where the reward outweighs the effort.
Alva Glen Walk Details
DISTANCE - Approx 2 miles return journey from the designated free car park, although there is the option to reduce the distance or continue further if you wish
TIME - The walk takes on average 1 1/2 hours depending on how often you stop to admire the scenery!
TERRAIN - A mixture of designated pathways, bridges and rough, rocky terrain. Walking shoes or boots are advised.
DIFFICULTY - Most of the walks I feature on my blog are easy to moderate as I want to include options that most people can manage. I would say that the first half part of this walk is suitable for most levels of fitness. However, the second part involves some steep and rough hill-walking in places so falls more in to the moderate category.
If you enjoy the outdoors, be sure to check out my other recommended Scottish walks.
DISCOVER THE TEXTILE HERITAGE OF ALVA
As you walk from the car park to the start of the Alva Glen walk, look up and you might spy a curious figure of a prehistoric man. Textile mills were not the only industry in the glen, rock and gravel were quarried from here and silver was also mined along with other minerals.
The figure commemorates a prehistoric human skeleton that was discovered in the quarry that you walk past. Uncovered by one of the workers, James Murdoch, examinations concluded that the person was placed there after death. A few days later James Murdoch was killed at the same spot after a stone slab fell on him leading to conspiracies that he had been cursed for disturbing the burial!
The trail continues past a series of waterfalls with obvious man-made features. This water supply was vital in powering the textile mills in Alva Glen. The first mill was opened in 1798 and by 1830 nine mills relied on the water. Controlling the flow of the Alva Burn was necessary to ensure that water was available all year.
The industrial expansion was also responsible for the growth of Alva as a settlement, with mill-worker cottages built alongside grander homes for the mill owners. However, by the mid 20th century the industry had went in to decline and Strude Mill, the last in the area, closed in 1976. The distinctive building has now been turned in to residential flats and it is worth viewing the exterior to get an idea of how different the area would have once looked when all the mills were in operation.
The walk through the glen criss-crosses the Alva Burn via bridges and ironwork that are a throwback to its manufacturing past.
However, thanks to nature's amazing ability to reclaim a landscape, along with the efforts of the Alva Glen Heritage Trust, the gorge is now an oasis of green. From low hanging leafy branches to moss covered rocks, it is a proper woodland walk buzzing with wildlife. On my visit during the summer months, colourful wild flowers also carpeted the ground.
While this section of the walk is beautiful in its own right, it is the next section that really makes this a 'wow' walk for me because it feels so unexpected. As you keep heading upwards, eventually the views start to open up.
All of a sudden you are thrust into an altogether different scene as you realise you are above the tree tops surrounded by hills. The path evolves in to a rough hill track and the climb requires more effort but the views are worth it.
It is worth pausing to enjoy the vista down the glen towards the River Forth in the far distance. This photo doesn't do it justice as it was taken on an older phone but take my word for it, the view is incredible.
The last section of this walk leads you to a gaping void known as 'Smuggler's Cave'. The Alva Burn flows far below and the chasm is home to a hidden waterfall. There is a way of climbing down in to the cave, however I haven't tried it so i can't say how difficult it is.
This is where I ended my walk and returned by the same route. If you prefer to continue then trails through the Ochil Hills can be accessed from here.
While you are in the area I also recommend checking out some of the other amazing artwork by the creator of The Kelpies on the Andy Scott Sculpture Trail.
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