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.
Royal Deeside in Aberdeenshire is an ideal area of Scotland to base yourself if you are a lover of castles and the outdoors - I'm definitely a fan of both. I spent a few days in the region and split my time between scenic walks and historical ruins, with a few great restaurants and cafes thrown in for good measure.
One of my favourite local walks was to Burn O'Vat, an amazing bowl-shaped geological feature which was carved out by glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age. I visited early in the morning as it apparently gets quite busy later in the day. I was lucky to have it all to myself although I did pass lots of people headed that way on my walk back to the car park.
The walk is situated in the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve which has many more trail options. I didn't have time to explore any more of them on my visit, however you could easily spend a good part of the day there.
Burn O'Vat Walk Details
DISTANCE - Approx 1 mile return walk from the designated car park, You could also add on the Culblean Circuit to make it a 4 mile walk
TERRAIN - A designated pathway at the start, although climbing over streams and rocks is required to gain entry
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. Overall this is an easy walk, however you do need some mobility and confidence to climb over the rocks. Waterproof footwear is also recommended as you need to cross a couple of streams. If the rocks are particularly wet and slippy or if the water is high, extra care needs to be taken.
FOLLOWING THE WALK
The route is well signposted and crosses a green wooden bridge before carrying on past a second bridge and then coming to an abrupt stop at a rock face - or so you think!
If you look closely, you will spot the narrow entrance-way which leads to the natural amphitheatre beyond. The next section to reach the gap does require a bit of agility to get over the boulders and across the stream, but isn't too strenuous and is actually quite fun!
Arriving at the entrance feels a bit like an Indiana Jones moment, with the possibility of ancient treasures or a forgotten civilisation hidden beyond the giant moss covered boulders. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic but its hard not to let your imagination run wild in a place like this, especially when there's no-one else about.
Crossing the stepping stones, negotiating the well placed tree trunk and the glimpses of a waterfall just add to the feeling of adventure although I should probably add that waterproof footwear will come in handy if the water levels are high or your balancing skills are lacking!
My social media followers obviously know me pretty well as it was thanks to the recommendation from someone on Instagram that I first became aware of The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail. They knew about my love of hidden gems and public art thanks to other blog posts I had written about the Andy Scott Sculpture Trail and the Caol Ruadh Sculpture Park.
After they sent me some images of intriguing carved figures from their own visit to this woodland walk at Feshiebridge, I knew I had to add it to my Scotland travel list.
I found the figures to be thought provoking and mysterious, like ancient woodland spirits passing on their wisdom. Being the only one in the forest, at times the walk even felt a little creepy, as some of the figures lurk in the shadows and can appear quite lifelike. In fact, it is their appearance of having some animation and a philosophical soul that makes these sculptures more than a work of art to be admired.
However, being made of reclaimed wood that is exposed to the elements means these striking pieces won't last forever. The trail has been opened since 2007 and unsurprisingly some are already starting to rot and some have had to be cut down and placed on the ground for safety reasons. Some people are disappointed by the lack of preservation but this was part of Frank Bruce's vision. That his work went through the natural cycle of birth, life and decay.
I've no doubt many of the sculptures will still be around for a few years yet but if you do plan to visit, you might want to add it to your list sooner rather than later. I've written a guide with all you need to know below.
Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail Walk Details
LOCATION - Feshiebridge in the Cairngorms National Park - about a 20 minute drive from Aviemore and Kingussie
DISTANCE - A 1 mile circular route from the designated car park
TERRAIN - A compact accessible path that is also suitable for wheelchairs and prams
DIFFICULTY - Easy
TIPS - There is a charge for the car park so make sure you have some change
ABOUT THE SCULPTURES
As with all art, the sculptures are designed to make you think and in this case there are strong themes of politics, Scottish culture and our relationship with others. The individual pieces are united under the title 'Patriotism & Poverty'.
Most of the sculptures are carved from reclaimed wood, some of them from ancient Caledonian Pines which actually came from the forest they now sit in. The wooden pieces emphasise the natural shape and features of tree, with knots and branches looking like arms and legs.
There are also three stone pieces on the trail which will remain as a legacy once the wooden ones have gone.
Some of the stops have information boards which explain the meaning of the piece, others are left for you to interpret. I've posted some of the sculptures below, with a bit about their background. However, I have also omitted a few so you are left with some surprises if you do visit.
Scotland is blessed with countless wonderful walks all around the country. Even in cities and towns, you are never far away from a green space filled with nature. Finding rewarding walking trails on my travels around the country is one of my favourite things to do and when I discover somewhere extra special you can be sure I will also share it here with you.
The circular walk at the Birks of Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire definitely falls in to that category. This beauty spot even managed to captivate Robert Burns who was inspired to compose 'The Birks of Aberfeldy'. Prior to his poem, the area was actually called the Den of Moness and renamed after his lyrics were put to a pre-existing melody and became a popular song.
The route takes you through a mossy woodland and up past tumbling waterfalls until you reach Upper Moness Falls, the highest on the walk. I think it is a pretty magical place and obviously Burns did too, so if you fancy following in both our footsteps, read on...
Birks of Aberfeldy Walk Details
DISTANCE - Approx 2 miles from the designated free car park, add on about 1/2 mile each way if you are walking from Aberfeldy town centre
TIME - The walk takes on average 1 - 2 hours depending on how often you stop to admire the scenery!
TERRAIN - A mixture of designated pathways, wooden walkways and steps. Steep climb on the way up.
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 circular route around The Birks of Aberfeldy is more towards the moderate category as there is some steep climbing in parts. However, provided you have good mobility and a basic level of fitness then it is achievable. If you do need a wee break then there are benches and view points where you can enjoy a wee breather.
TIPS - I would recommend following the trail clockwise - this direction is the most rewarding as you climb up past the many waterfalls but it does involve lots of steep steps. Alternatively you can head anti-clockwise which involves walking uphill on a slope and coming down the stairs on the way back. For the purposes of this blog, I'll be referring to the clockwise route.
FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ROBERT BURNS
From the car park turn left and cross the first of several wooden footbridges over Moness Burn. The start of the walk is flat and easy going. Before long you will reach a sculpture of Rabbie Burns sitting on a bench, notepad in hand. Take a seat next to him and take in the scenery that inspired Scotland's National Bard to put pen to paper.
Burns visited in August 1787 and a little further along the way you will find the actual spot that he was alleged to have sat at while composing his famous poem. Although some of the woodland has changed since his visit, the oak, ash, hazel and birch trees are still there.
The birch trees are the stars of Rabbie's poem - 'birks' is the Scots for birch trees .
Follow my Scotland travel adventures on social media
If you have found my blog useful and would like to support me in creating future Scottish travel content, you can by me a coffee on my Ko-fi page. All 'coffee' donations are hugely appreciated